Home > The Body > Volume Height Index and Female Bodily Attractiveness

Volume Height Index and Female Bodily Attractiveness

Recent debate on female body attractiveness has centered around the relative contributions of body-mass index (weight/height2: BMI) and waist-hip ratio (circumference of narrowest part of waist/circumference of widest part of hips/buttocks: WHR) on evaluations of female body attractiveness. The results from direct comparisons are consistent: BMI influences attractiveness ratings more than WHR.

Using scanned, rotating 3D images of Caucasian female figures as stimuli and attractiveness ratings made by Chinese students, Fan and colleagues (2004) published the following scatter plot (these plots show the male ratings only – there was no significant difference in the female ratings) of WHR and attractiveness rating (AR):

and of BMI and AR:

Several things are apparent:

  • BMI has a closer relationship to AR than does WHR
    • BMI accounts for 72.7% of variance in AR
    • WHR accounts for 1.4% of variance in AR
  • BMI/AR data appear to have a logarithmic trend
    • Log(BMI) accounts for 80.4% of variance in AR
    • Log(WHR) accounts for 1.7% of variance in AR

Having created 3D scans of their stimuli, Fan and colleagues were able to calculate the actual volume of each woman’s body. This calculation enabled them to introduce a third ratio: volume height index (body volume/chin height2: VHI). Given that BMI is an inexact estimate of body size/shape, it is likely that a more precise ratio: like body volume and height (at the chin) would predict attractiveness more precisely than BMI. And this is exactly what was found: Log(VHI) accounted for approximately 90% of the variance in attractiveness ratings in this study. A subsequent study (Fan et.al., 2007), that included digitally created, low-VHI bodies found the optimal female volume/height index to be approximately 14 liters/meter2.

Other factors contribute to female body attractiveness: leg length, waist, hip, and bust proportions, but these features seem to enter raters’ consideration after a preliminary analysis of body size.

Current data does suggest that size cues take priority over secondary sexual characteristic cues in evaluations of body attractiveness. It is tempting to suggest that size matters more than shape in evaluating female body attractiveness – but any statement of this sort would be premature. It is unlikely that perceivers estimate body size without utilizing shape cues and unclear what role secondary sexual characteristic cues play in this estimate. Perhaps eye-tracking studies are an appropriate next step?

Wayne Hooke

Fan, J., Liu, F., Wu, J., & Dai, W. (2004). Visual perception of female physical attractiveness Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 271 (1537), 347-352 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2003.2613

Fan, J., Dai, W., Quan, X., Chau, K., & Liu, Q. (2007).  Effects of shape parameters on the attractiveness of a female body.  Perceptual and Motor Skills, 105, 117-132  PMID: 17918555

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Categories: The Body
  1. Katkinkate
    May 25, 2009 at 5:21 pm | #1

    Interesting … so if I square my height and multiply by 14 I get an approximate figure of my most attractive volume. Then if I multiply volume by the average mass of one litre of human flesh I should have a ballpark figure of my most attractive weight. So, is there any estimations available of how much a litre of human weighs, on average?

    • whooke
      May 26, 2009 at 2:03 pm | #2

      You certainly can estimate VHI if you know weight and height, but, I don’t think the estimate would be particularly accurate. Remember, VHI captures AR better than BMI because volume is more closely related to shape cues than is weight.

      That being said, humans, typically, have a density that is similar to water (1 gram per cubic centimeter). I’m aware of the following formula derived from one study*, using U.S. Air Force personnel (males only):

      volume in liters = 1.015 weight (in kilograms) – 4.937

      As you can see, this formula suggests humans have about the density of water: 1 kilogram/liter at 4 degrees C. There is variation, based on relative amounts of fat and muscle, with fat being less dense and muscle being more dense. To get a slightly more accurate estimate, you could tweak the coefficient based on whether you sink or float in a pool, but I’m not sure by how much…..


      *Diane K. Wakat, Robert E. Johnson, Harry J. Krzywicki, and Lowell I. Gerber (1971). Correlation between body volume and body mass in men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 24, 1308-1312.

      • Katkinkate
        May 27, 2009 at 6:13 am | #3

        Thank you.

  2. Nadia
    June 3, 2009 at 4:56 am | #4

    There is an eye tracking study in the works:


    It finds that viewers do not fixate on the same regions when judging body attractiveness that they do when judging WHR.

    • whooke
      June 17, 2009 at 11:32 am | #5

      Thanks for the link!!!!


      • Nadia
        June 20, 2009 at 12:03 pm | #6

        No problem. :) One minus to VHI is that in some respects is that some argue that you should try and link purported measures to measures associated with health and fertility. For example, Rilling and Tovee pointed out that Singh’s drawings and other studies on WHR measure WHR as a ratio of widths, but the trait associated with health and fertility is the ratio of circumferences.

      • whooke
        June 25, 2009 at 9:41 am | #7

        Hi Nadia,

        I can’t quite follow your argument – but would like to! Could you restate this?



  3. Nadia
    July 10, 2009 at 6:48 am | #8

    Sorry I wasn’t clear. I meant that VHI itself does not necessarily have a relationship to quality like say BMI, WC, WHR, or Abdominal Depth do. Although it’s a very strong predictor that takes into account what the viewer sees, and it’s a visual cue to size. This is great for understanding exactly what influences judgments of attractiveness, although neither of the studies that involve VHI don’t utilize solely normal weight women.

    However, several studies attempt to link physical attributes correlated with attractiveness ratings to health or fertility. Some scientists (e.g. Tovee and Rilling) argue that it’s important to show the trait linked to health or fertility is associated with higher attractiveness, not just its visual cue. They point out that studies of line drawings or digital photographs measure WHR through dividing the width of the waist by the width of the hips across the front of the torso. But mortality and artificial insemination studies measure WHR by dividing the circumferences rather than the widths. If your goal is to link attractiveness to health or endocrine status, then another cue like BMI or abdominal depth might be preferable rather than VHI. As Tovee put it in his 2002 paper “If we are trying to correlate physical attractiveness to features that are linked to health and fertility, we must ultimately link attractiveness to WHRactual, rather than its visual cue, in the same way that we must link attractiveness to BMI and not one of its visual cues.”

  4. whooke
    July 10, 2009 at 9:32 am | #9

    Yes – VHI does do a better job of predicting attractiveness, but, we don’t really know yet just how/why. What features are we looking at and how are we making the evaluations?

  5. S
    January 8, 2010 at 7:08 pm | #10


  1. July 21, 2009 at 4:06 pm | #1
  2. August 6, 2009 at 12:41 pm | #2
  3. January 24, 2010 at 4:48 pm | #3

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