What’s more attractive? Men and women agree on everything apart from boob size

September 19th, 2012

I’m used to seeing pretty shoddy surveys and bits of research involving “156 psychology students” or “200 members of a dating site”, so it’s quite reassuring to see an actual experiment based on significant data. The Huff Post reports on a massive psychological experiment looking into what men and women find attractive in the female shape. It’s always been assumed that women are good at anticipating what males find attractive. The article lists a psychological theory that states that this is because when women know what men find attractive, they can rate themselves accordingly and subconsciously pick a mate who’s “in the same league”, ensuring relationship longevity. This also works in reverse – men rate themselves in the same way to find a woman not likely to trade up at the first opportunity. Interesting theory, though I’m not sure it matches up with reality. The very phrase “out of your league” wouldn’t have been coined if people (especially guys) didn’t constantly try to get it together with mates significantly more attractive than they were. Both men and women tend to also spend a lot of time trying to manipulate their physical appearance to match what they see as the other sex’s beauty ideal – so they can get a better class of date. And let’s not forget that according to evolutionary psychology, we’re not even trying to work towards relationship longevity. We’re trying to improve the human race by breeding children with those less genetically challenged than us.

But strange theories aside, it seems that men and women agree on most things to do with the female body – lower weight, narrower waist, longer legs (the sort of leg shape you get by wearing heels) – but disagree on one thing – breast size. It seems that women prefer smaller boobs and men still prefer larger ones. This is apparently (according to some research) why today’s fashion models have smaller breasts and Playboy models have bigger ones and also why mannequins have smaller breasts (this according to the article. Personally I’ve seen some mannequins with pretty huge breasts)- women look at fashion models and men look at porn, seems to be what this theory is saying. Roll on a flurry of explanations as to why that is – smaller breasts being more practical, androgynous body types being perceived by women as stronger, more intelligent and more “guy like” – qualities the modern woman appreciates and more. The trend of women viewing curvaceous ladies as ideal has been diminishing over the past 50 years, apparently.

Of course, it’s a chicken and egg thing. Little girls grow up looking at fashion models and they learn to shape their beauty ideals on what they see. If the women in these magazines had curvy bodies, full hips and large breasts, would this ideal be different? The fact that women’s magazines used to show curvy women and women used to view curvy women as more attractive in those days would imply to me that this is the case. At least, I see it as a theory that’s just as valid as the one that assumes women readers drive the visual choices these magazines make. Heroin chic, for example, which is pretty much the epitome of androgynous fashion, drew a lot of criticism when it kicked off and much of it was to do with the personal choices of fashion photographers who were actually either addicted to heroin or in love with models who were. And let us not forget fashion – I’m leaning towards thinking that androgynous, skinny body types are easier to design the sort of out of this world sculptural pieces high fashion seems to favour nowadays. You know, the sort of stuff that’s more about art and fantasy than reality. Narrow, straight bodies can take on whatever shape you give them. Curvy bodies tend to sort of dictate the style.

And here’s your radical feminist thought for the day – the richer and better fed a society is, the more it attempts to control its women by making the feminine body type ideal impossible to match for the vast majority of women. You could argue that this habit funds a huge industry of everything from gyms and supplements but beyond everything else, it also keeps women preoccupied with their appearance to the point where they become so obsessed with it, they forget the power they have over men.

Scientists say the androgynous body type is more masculine. I reckon it’s more child like, Lolita style. This body type, in reality, usually (not always, but usually) comes with a smaller boob size, unless you’ve got implants. Maybe women are just trying to be realistic. Of course, when we have heroins like Lara Croft to show us a totally unachievable body type with a tiny waist and gigantic boobs, I guess reality’s not necessarily high on guys’ minds. I guess if there’s one message we can take away from this research is: if you want to get that brain scientist quarterback underwear model, ladies, keep wearing those heels, popping the diet pills and stuffing your bra.

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Philip  |  September 25th, 2012 at 9:08 am

    I feel this kind of research – even if it includes a massive sample as in this case – is always culturally biased. The article implies that it’s only looking at ‘Western’ men and women. However, looking at it from a worldwide perspective shows that differences between men and women is probably a lot smaller, than differences between different cultures.

    My anecdotal experience from traveling around the world and living in different places is that there’s not only a difference in the perfect/size/shape/color of ‘things’, but also a very different weight attached to it.

    My impression is that in central Europe, skin color doesn’t tend to be as important as say in Asia (not even talking about different ethnicities). In Eastern Africa men prefer women to be a lot more heavy-set than people in the US would.

    If there’s a generalizing factor to beauty ideals, it’s probably to look like the ‘leisurely idle’. In Europe, a tan shows that you were on vacation, so it’s good. In Asia, a tan shows that you work in the outdoors, which is bad.

    In some places, being noticeably overweight is a sign of being more well off, so it’s good. In others, it’s a sign that you’re eating fast food instead of being able to afford gyms, organic health food and other niceties – and thus is bad.

    However, cultural issues aside, I’m having other doubts about this study: People were designing their own pictures. In scenarios like these, there’s a risk that people design what they think would adhere to an ‘attractive’ standard (as opposed to what they personally feel attracted to). This would correspond with your theory of women recreating fashion models and men recreating playboy models.

    There’s ways to avoid this: Use tests that measure attraction more objectively than by subjective input – e.g. reaction-based (Harvard University did a good example of that a few years back to determine to which degree people are prejudiced towards race / body type / etc.)

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