Centre of attraction

Women who have a smaller waist in relation to their hips tend to be perceived as more attractive. Some argue this is an evolutionary tendency, a desire for women who are perceived to be more fertile, while others suggest it is just a product of the media who, from porn to Prada, laud the image of small waisted women.

The New York Times covers a fascinating study which tested these ideas in an innovative way – by seeing whether blind men, who have avoided the body-shape bias of visual media, would also find women with a lower waist-to-hip ratio more attractive.

The study, currently in press for the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, was devised by researcher led by psychologist Johan Karremans who tested the idea by using adjustable mannequins.

The blind stood before them; they were told to touch the women, to focus their hands on the waists and hips. The breasts on both figures were the same, in case the men reached too high. The men extended their arms; they ran their hands over the region. Then they scored the attractiveness of the bodies. Karremans had a hunch, he told me, that their ratings wouldn’t match those of the sighted men he used as controls, half of them blindfolded so that they, too, would be judging by feel. It seemed likely, he said, that visual culture would play an overwhelming part in creating the outlines of lust. And though the blind had almost surely grown up hearing attractiveness described, perhaps even in terms of hourglass shapes, it was improbable, he writes in his forthcoming journal paper, that they had heard descriptions amounting to, “The more hourglass shaped, the more attractive,” which would be necessary to favor the curvier mannequin over the figure that was only somewhat less so.

But, with some statistically insignificant variation, the scores of the blind matched those of the sighted. Both groups preferred the more pronounced sweep from waist to hip.

How this preference comes about is another matter of course, and the scientific article apparently suggests that as body scent is also a guide to attractiveness and is partly genetically determined it’s possible that blind men have come to associate body shape with attractiveness via smell.

The explanation sounds a little speculative to me, but the core finding of the study is fascinating.

The NYT article is also a great brief guide to attractiveness and waist-to-hip ratio argument.

Link to NYT on ‘The Anatomy of Desire’.

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