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Waist depth (side view) as an important criterion of women’s attractiveness
Rilling et al.(1, pdf) had male and female judges rate the attractiveness of women’s bodies in front, side and back views as well as a short video clip of women’s bodies rotated in space.
The stimulus set comprised of young adult women with a body mass index (BMI; a measure of how much weight a given height carries or weight divided by the square of height) between 18 and 24.
The authors found that waist depth, shown below, was an important predictor of women’s attractiveness.
In their sample, when individual effects, on attractiveness, of various body measurements were evaluated, waist depth and waist circumference predicted attractiveness better than BMI.
When they analyzed the effect on attractiveness ratings of all their measurements combined, then BMI did not significantly explain attractiveness, which suggests that BMI by itself explains overall attractiveness by capturing elements of various other body measurements, as one would expect.
The authors considered the possibility that many of the body measurements that were found to be related to attractiveness were tapping into a single underlying variable such as estrogen levels or the extent of feminization, but they found no correlations between estrogen levels and either attractiveness ratings or various body measurements. But the authors only had a sample of 43 women and among 20 of them who were not on contraceptives, higher estrogen levels were associated with greater hip circumference. Estrogen levels have been correlated with various body measurements such as breast size and waist circumference in previous studies that had a greater number of women not on contraceptives and where, unlike this study, the researchers made an effort to compare estrogen levels at the same stages of the menstrual cycle; example.
In addition, the anthropometric measurements employed in this study are not the best way to capture body shape data. Geometric morphometrics is a better tool and its use has clearly shown that there indeed is an underlying variable affecting the attractiveness of individual body parts and thereby overall attractiveness in women, and this underlying variable is the extent of feminization.
Two results in this study have either not been reported elsewhere or not expected beforehand. A higher attractiveness rating was associated with greater height as well as a tendency to have broader shoulders compared to pelvic width. These finds should not be dwelt upon for the time being because sampling issues can explain them.
Other finds in the study were consistent with previous research. Women with longer legs relative to height were rated more attractive. In front view, BMI explained more of the variance in attractiveness than WHR; 19% vs. 9%, respectively; contrast with 27% vs. 5%, respectively, in a previous similar study. And men and women raters rated women’s attractiveness very similarly.
The authors also made a passing reference to a sample of Playboy centerfolds (WHR = 0.67) and Miss Americas (WHR = 0.68) in comparison to their female sample (WHR = 0.74). It is time for researchers to learn a few things about Playboy Playmates and beauty pageant contestants.
- Rilling JK, Kaufman TL, Smith EO, Patel R, Worthman CM. Abdominal depth and waist circumference as influential determinants of human female attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior 2009;30:21-31.