Scientists unlock the secrets of women's sexual attractiveness

FOR WOMEN, it may come as a surprise. The men who stare at them across crowded rooms are not, after all, mentally undressing them. They are more likely to be weighing them up.

Curves, it turns out, are less important than weight in the eye of the 1990s British male. It is not the classic hourglass figure that sets men's pulses racing but simple slenderness. Sexual attractiveness lies in the pointer on the bathroom scales.

Or so scientists claim. In other cultures and at different times men may have shown different preferences in their search for the ideal mate, from the angular Masai tribes-women of Kenya to the voluptuous models of Rubens' imagination.

But in northern England at the end of the millennium, young men's desires are focused on women of a certain, narrowly defined dress size.

Traditionally, the most attractive body shape for a woman - as decided by her male admirers - has been said to be determined by the ratio of her hip-to-waist size.

A ratio of 0.7 - a curvaceous body in which the waist measurement is 30 per cent less than the hip measurement - was thought to be the ideal. The choice of this ratio is said to reflect evolutionary pressures, not those of the fashion houses, since it represents a fat distribution that leads to maximum fertility.

Drs Martin Tovee and Piers Cornelissen, lecturers in the department of psychology at the University of Newcastle, sought to put this definition of feminine allure to the test. They videoed 400 women students from the university wearing grey leotards and selected 50 representing the full range of body weights from emaciated to obese.

Still pictures of the 50 women with their heads obscured were shown to 40 male students who were asked to rank them for attractiveness. Despite the fact that women at all weights showed varying waist-hip ratios, it was their perceived slenderness that influenced the men most.

Those with a body-mass index, a measurement of fat/thinness that combines weight and height, of 18 to 20 were judged the most attractive. This is thinner than the average woman whose BMI ranges from 20 to 25, but markedly plumper than the seriously underweight and anorexic who were judged as unattractive as the obese.

Body mass index turned out to be far more significant than waist-hip ratio in determining the men's choices - redefining the ideal of sexual atttractiveness.

The choice has an evolutionary logic to it. Dr Tovee said: "What men find attractive in women are cues to their health and fertility so the partners they choose will produce lots of children and ensure the survival of their genes.

"A waist hip ratio of 0.7 was thought to represent a fat distribution that led to maximum fertility but other research shows that a BMI of 18 to 20 is a much better predictor of health and fertility." The students' preference for slender women demonstrates how evolutionary advantage is the father of desire. Even within the normal BMI range of 20 to 25, the plumpest people, although not overweight, are 20 per cent more likely to suffer heart problems than the slimmest.

"Weight is a very good predictor of health. We found there was a hierarchy of cues for attractiveness.

"The male students first chose women within the most fertile weight range and then discriminated them within that range on the basis of the waist to hip ratio."

The study is part of research into anorexia and grew out of the observation that anorexics whose periods have stopped and who are therefore infertile may still have waist-hip ratios like normal women, suggesting that the ratio is not a reliable indicator of reproductive potential.

Dr Tovee warned that women of normal weight should not conclude that dieting was the way to enhance sexual attractiveness. "Most women in this age group fall at the lower end of the normal range. They don't need to diet and could be doing themselves damage if they do. People with a body- mass index below 18 develop all sorts of health problems and were also found to be unattractive."

Although supermodels looked thin this was often because they were tall and their weight was therefore distributed over a larger frame. A short woman with the same vital statistics as a tall one will appear to have a more pronounced hourglass figure. Although Playboy models have grown thinner over the decades since Marilyn Monroe posed for the magazine they are also taller and have retained their curves.

"I get annoyed when people say supermodels are anorexic and look like stick insects. They are actually very shapely and they don't look like anorexics at all. Jodie Kidd is described as a waif but she is quite a strapping waif as waifs go. Her weight is just stretched out."

How they redefined feminine Allure

WOMEN WITH a body mass index of 18 to 20 were judged most attractive. Body-mass index is a measure of plumpness or slenderness obtained by dividing weight in kilograms by height in metres squared. A woman of 5ft 4ins weighing eight stone has a BMI of 19.1. At nine stone it is 21.5. In the top graph, waist-to-hip ratio offers no guide to attractiveness. In the bottom one, the male students' judgements follow a neat curve, peaking just below 20 before falling again.

The curve is steeper at the thinner end of the range rather than at the plumpest end. This means male perceptions of attractiveness fall sharply as BMI drops below 18 but decline gently as BMI increases above 20. Thin women are seen as much less attractive than plumper ones.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
News
i100
Sport
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
News
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
News
news
News
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
News
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Singer songwriter Bob Dylan performs on stage
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital