All About Women’s Body Shape

Viren Swami, Ph.D. and YouBeauty Attraction Expert, introduces you to the research on why your body shape is important to your health and beauty.

All About Women’s Body Shape

Among human beings, it is women who have tended to be considered more attractive when rated by both men and women, and female appearance receives more attention than male appearance, even across cultures. Indeed, it is much easier to find examples of the adoration of feminine rather than masculine beauty within literary record. As Jean-Antoine Petit-Senn put it: ‘There is no beauty on earth which exceeds the natural loveliness of woman.’ So too within the arts: depictions of idealised feminine beauty far outweigh those depicting the ideal man.

What for the art historian John Berger (1977) was an unfair emphasis on women’s attractiveness as a result of men’s dominance in most societies—what he termed the ‘male gaze’—is for evolutionary psychologists a natural result of evolutionary history. Competition among women for high-quality reproductive potential. Among the attributes that some evolutionary psychologists argue signal the reproductive capacity of a woman is her breasts.

At first glance, female breasts would seem to be a primary candidate of a sexually selected signal in humans. Permanently large breasts are an evolutionary novelty in primates, and in human breasts are perceived as an important component of sexual attractiveness, at least in some cultures. This is underscored by the willingness of women to undergo breast augmentation surgery in order to enhance their physical attractiveness. Of course, women may choose breast augmentation surgery for different reasons (aesthetic purposes, relieve physical discomfort, and so on), but the comparable frequencies of both augmentations and reductions suggest that, as far as breasts are concerned, both smallness and largeness may be experienced as undesirable or unattractive.

There appears, however, to be little evidence to suggest that breast size is associate with fertility, lactational output or health, which would seem to rule out a ‘good genes’ explanation for why men find female breasts attractive. An alternative explanation is that female breasts evolved under runaway selection as a sign of nulliparousity in women. Because breasts develop most intensely at the beginning of the reproductive age, some researchers have suggested that breasts evolved as a sexual signal of reproductive value rather than fecundity as such. In short, because breasts are a signal of reproductive age, men should have evolved mechanisms eliciting preferences accordingly. In particular, men should find large breasts more attractive than small breasts because this is a larger signal of reproductive value.  

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Swami, A. & Furnham, A. (2008). The Psychology of Physical Attraction. New York: Routledge. Taylor & Francis and Routledge website www.tandf.co.uk Many Taylor & Francis and Routledge books are now available as eBooks www.eBookstore.tandf.co.uk

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