About Body Issues
Read more about body issues and cosmetic treatments in ‘Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide. Book 2: Body, Teeth & Hair‘.
Women’s body shape
Most human cultures value female beauty more than male physical attractiveness. In terms of evolutionary psychology, this is probably because women’s bodies are more intimately and extensively involved with child-bearing and child-rearing.
‘Hourglass’ figures announce ‘reproductive capability,’ which is why, whether or not they are aware of it, heterosexual, virile males find these attributes attractive in females.
Researchers have deduced that women’s attractiveness to men is not concerned so much with body weight as it is about how that weight is distributed. This implies that women do not have to starve themselves or exercise incessantly to be attractive to the opposite sex.
Scientist Devendra Singh’s studies show that when men rate the attractiveness of silhouettes of women’s bodies, they usually pick the silhouette associated with the healthiest weight for women — neither too slender, nor too fat.
The ‘ideal’ body shape can be a cultural construct.
The instinct to choose fit and fertile partners has been fine-tuned over a hundred thousand years of evolutionary selection; however biology does not explain everything. The desire to procreate is not the only drive that influences our standards of beauty.
Douglas Yu, a biologist from Great Britain, and Glenn Shepard, an anthropologist at the University of California at Berkeley, found that among some indigenous peoples of Peru, males preferred women with a higher waist-to-hip ratio than that which is preferred in Western cultures.
There is some scientific debate about whether the 0.7 ratio ‘hourglass’ figure is a universal truth which applies cross-culturally. The hormones that make women physically stronger and better able to manage stress are also likely to reposition body-fat from the hips to the waist. Therefore, in cases like the Peruvian situration, where women have to be good providers and protectors, they may be less likely to have the 0.7 ratio ‘hourglass’ figure.
Men’s body shape
As discussed, science has shown that in general, heterosexual human beings tend to perceive beauty in members of the opposite sex who exhibit reproductive potential.
For females, the signs of a potentially good male mate include:
- Facial symmetry
- Body symmetry
- Greater height
- Broader shoulders
- Smaller differences between the measurements of waist and hips
- Larger differences between the measurements of shoulders and waist.
- Facial masculinity (A ‘masculine face’ has a relatively pronounced chin, strong jaw, narrow eyes and well-defined brow.)
- Waist-to-hip ratio: Studies show that women rate waist-to-hip ratios for men between 0.85 and 0.95 as most attractive, with 0.9 being the most attractive. This indicates a body shape in which there is only a small difference between the waist size and the hip size.
- Shoulder-to-waist ratio: Women also prefer the looks of men with broad shoulders and a relatively small waist. A low shoulder-to-waist ratio signifies a tapering ‘V’ body shape with broader shoulders and a narrower waist. A man with these body characteristics might be viewed as physically stronger, and thus more able to protect a partner and children.
‘In addition to preferring tall, symmetrical men… women may prefer a body shape that conveys information about a man’s dominance in the form of strength and ability to protect. We suspect that a body shape with broad shoulders and a narrow waist and hips will be optimally desirable to women.’
- Height: Researchers have computed the ratio of height difference that heterosexual women (usually subliminally) seek in a potential partner. When they were presented with pictures of men and women standing next to each other, women tended to be drawn to men who were 1.09 times taller than the female.
- Physical fitness: ‘The strength of the attractiveness-fitness relationship … suggests that signaling physical fitness may be one of the key functions of male attractiveness.’
- Scent: Researchers have discovered that women rated a man’s scent as more attractive the more his major histocompatibility complex (MHC) differed from hers. Scientists surmise that nature has created this association because the children of people with very different MHC sets may be blessed with stronger immune systems.
- Sound: Women preferred men with deeper voices. One study found that ‘Deep male voices … were judged [by women] as more attractive because they conveyed that the speaker had a large frame—but were found to be most attractive when tempered by a touch of “breathiness,” suggesting the speaker had a low level of aggression despite his large size.’
- Movement: There is even evidence to show that a man’s dance moves can attract women! One study identified specific movements within men’s dance that affected onlooking women’s perceptions of the men’s dancing ability, and which are thought to act as signals of male health, vigor or strength.
Another study found that people with more symmetrical bodies are likely to be more proficient dancers. This could mean that a man’s dancing skills are a way of signaling his physical fitness.
- Other attractive elements: Male attractiveness to heterosexual females is not all about looks, however. There is evidence that women also look for behavioral characteristics that signal a man’s ability to provide and protect.
Body mass issues
One problem arises when people equate body image with self-image. When people view themselves as being worthy only if they look attractive, problems such as eating disorders arise. Eating disorders can stem from low self-esteem, and from the gap between the cultural ideal of what we are told we should look like and the actuality of how we really look. ‘If Marilyn Monroe walked into Weight Watchers today, no one would bat an eye. They’d sign her up.’
Changing one’s body shape
Throughout history, human beings have resorted to ‘foundation garments’ to change their perceived body shape. Corsets—for both men and women—are among the most famous of these body-augmenting garments. Bustles, stomachers, codpieces, padded brassieres or chest flatteners, cage crinolines, high heels and girdles all pushed and pulled and pinched people into the body shape that was considered ideal at the time.
In Western societies, it was only around the 1960s that women stopped wearing foundation garments as a means of body-shaping. This was due to massive social changes, including feminism and a fashion for more revealing garments. Now that clothes were skimpier, elastic girdles could not be as easily hidden. No longer did women submit to the confinement of tight-fitting undergarments. The benefit to women’s health was enormous, but the trend also had its downside. Society demanded that instead of shaping their newly-liberated bodies with underwear, women had to shape them with diet and exercise. The number of people with eating disorders skyrocketed, and the demand for cosmetic surgery exploded.
We can change the shape of our bodies with diet and exercise. These days, clinics also offer an enormous range of body-shape-changing treatments to remove fat, cellulite and loose skin – from surgical methods to treatments that are completely non-invasive. Read about them in ‘Beauty: The Ultimate Cosmetic Makeover Guide. Book 2: Body, Teeth & Hair‘.
Some people are dissatisfied with one or more aspects of the way their body looks. However, all bodies are different, and all are beautiful in their own way.