Average-looking women are more attractive to young men than shapely Playboy centrefold models, according to a surprising new study.
The finding suggests that there's much more to the visual appeal of the female torso than the long-held view among human behavioural ecologists that a waist-hip ratio of approximately 0.7 is most attractive.
In a study involving 100 male university students, published in the journal Behavioural Ecology, a research team from UNSW and the University of Queensland tested a new and sophisticated statistical method - based on line drawings of torsos and studies of natural selection on wild animals - to test which female visual signals were most appealing.
The researchers, led by Professor Rob Brooks, who heads the UNSW Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, found that women of child-bearing age - 25 to 44 years - with average body shape were clearly preferred by the research subjects.
"We found no strong evidence that waist-hip ratio or body mass significantly influenced the attractiveness of the drawings among the research subjects," says Professor Brooks. "There was, however, strong preference for average values of all three traits."
The body shape with the most attractive measures is for a clothing size about size 14, with 101cm hip circumference (in imperial measure, about 40 inches) 77cm waist circumference (about 30 inches) and shoulder width of 43cm (about 17 inches). These dimensions are for a woman about 163cm tall (5 feet 4 inches), which is the average for Australian women aged 25-44 years.
The lead author of the study was Ms Misha Donohoe, also from the UNSW Evolution and Ecology Research Centre, for whom this was an Honours research project. The second author was Dr William von Hippel, of the University of Queensland.
A waist-hip ratio of 0.7 - indicating a waist 70% as broad as the hips - is thought to be physically attractive in women because it indicates maximum fecundity and evolutionary fitness.
But Professor Brooks notes that the effects of waist-hip ratio and of other indices of body shape and size on attractiveness are far from fully resolved.
"We showed that the waist and hip measures of average Australian women aged 25-44 were more attractive than those of older women or, surprisingly, than Playboy centrefolds, fashion models from the 1920's and 1990's and Australian escorts. This provides an interesting twist and new methods for the study of the evolution of human body shape."
UNSW Faculty of Science, Bob Beale - firstname.lastname@example.org or mobile 0411 705 435