When a man looks at a woman, he bases his assessment of her attractiveness largely on her body mass index (BMI) -- a ratio of weight to height, according to British researchers. Previous studies suggested that men evaluate a woman's attractiveness, in large part, on a comparison of her waist and hips, or her "waist/hip ratio." Earlier work even identified a specific ratio (0.7) that was supposedly the gold standard of attractiveness. The authors suggest that body mass index is more closely related to fertility and health than waist/hip ratio and, therefore, should be more important in determination of sexual attractiveness," they write. Body mass index is calculated as a person's weight in kilograms divided by his height in meters squared.
To test this hypothesis, the researchers asked a group of 40 male undergraduates to evaluate color images of 50 women, all of whom had their faces obscured. The women had varying BMIs and waist/hip ratios. The men consistently rated women with BMIs of roughly 20 as the most attractive. A BMI of 20 correlates with "ideal weight" according to many weight-control guidelines. But there was no consistent relationship between specific waist/hip ratios and attractiveness scores. Waist/hip ratio correlated poorly with attractiveness, whereas even small changes in body mass index radically altered the attractiveness rating.
The Lancet 1998;352:548.
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