The secret of shapely legs revealed

Curves and length signal both frailty and strength, finds Roger Dobson

Kate Moss and Nicole Kidman have them; Greta Garbo did too. And for two pins, many women would gladly swap theirs, with something like half of women reportedly hating their legs.

Now plastic surgeons have defined the perfect pair: long with the bones in a straight line from thigh to slim ankle, the outline curving out and in at key points. Straight and slender legs are considered especially attractive, say researchers because they combine fragility and strength.

They spent 12 years of studying photographs of models and athletes. Using data from sources as diverse as Leonardo da Vinci, Greek statues and even Barbie dolls, they analysed legs widely accepted as the most attractive in the western world.

"The goal of this research was to have an ideal aesthetic model" – on which to base plastic surgery – says a report in the medical journal, Aesthetic Plastic Surgery.

The primary requirement for beautiful legs, says the study, is straight bones: a line going through the top of the thigh, the middle of the knee joint, and the middle of the ankle joint: "As soon as the column departs from the straight axis, it deviates from our perception of beauty."

But straightness alone is not enough: on the inside of the leg, the calf needs to have a well-defined convex curve, short, but pronounced, say researchers. And then a short concave curve as it descends into the ankle. The outside of the perfect leg has a much longer and smoother convex curve. The curves on the inside and the outside of the legs should not be symmetrical.

Mark Soldin, consultant plastic surgeon at St George's and Kingston hospitals, and a spokesman for the British Association of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgeons, said: "High heels make the leg more attractive because the elevation of the heel enhances the convexity of the upper calf muscles, while making the ankle region appear even thinner, more fragile and feminine."