Home > General, Methodology, The Body, The Face > Why Do We Think We Like Hourglass Figures?

Why Do We Think We Like Hourglass Figures?

January 18, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

BMI – the ratio of body mass to height, typically correlates well with ratings of body attractiveness. WHR – a direct comparison of waist and hip measurements – also correlates with attractiveness. Recent research that compares the relative strengths of the two ratios generally finds that variation in BMI accounts for a greater proportion of variation in attractiveness ratings than does variation in WHR. The implication is that, at least in contemporary industrial/technological societies, levels of body fat matter more than how that body fat is distributed. I found myself reflecting on these ratios in relation to women’s body attractiveness today, and wondered how WHR would influence ratings of body attractiveness if BMI was held constant? My guess was that WHR would be more strongly correlated with attractiveness ratings when controlling for BMI in this way. (I couldn’t recall a study that explored this possibility and I also could not find one in the literature – if you know of one please post a link or citation.) My rationale was that if subjects are matched for BMI, then WHR variation would likely result from variation in estrogen efficacy. My hypothesis was that, other things being equal, curviness resulting from estrogen efficacy would more strongly influence attractiveness ratings.

So far my thinking has been pretty predictable. Then I reflected on estrogens’ role in developing the sexually dimorphic features that are found attractive in women’s faces (Smith, et.al, 2006). That’s when I realized that, to date, comparisons of WHR and BMI are done on ratings of body attractiveness alone. This practice is sensible, since cognitively, evaluations of faces and bodies are separate processes. But, since estrogens significantly influence both facial attractiveness and body attractiveness, these two ratings should be related. [There is some support for this relationship (Thornhill & Grammer, 1999).]

These musings leave me wondering: might WHR be a better predictor of overall attractiveness than BMI in women?

Wayne Hooke

Image of the 3rd century Bikini Girls mosaic from the Villa Romana in Sicily courtesy of Roundtheworld. Wikipedia Commons.

ResearchBlogging.orgLaw Smith, M., Perrett, D., Jones, B., Cornwell, R., Moore, F., Feinberg, D., Boothroyd, L., Durrani, S., Stirrat, M., Whiten, S., Pitman, R., & Hillier, S. (2006). Facial appearance is a cue to oestrogen levels in women Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 273 (1583), 135-140 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2005.3296

Thornhill, R. (1999). The Body and Face of Woman One Ornament that Signals Quality? Evolution and Human Behavior, 20 (2), 105-120 DOI: 10.1016/S1090-5138(98)00044-0

  1. Benjamin Michael Jones
    January 19, 2010 at 12:03 am

    Interesting as a Male the Hip to Waist Ratio is in my mind key to attractiveness and one could argue a built in response to Neandethal times of procreation; our DNA automatically aims to elect a strong and powerful mate in order to perpetuate our DNA coding and so the subtle attraction is the WHR is the start. One could also argue that it is actually Sacred Geometry, use to make the universe in it perfection from the smallest cell to largest celestial system, is actually functioning correctly when our measurements fall within certain parameters as these would cause the shape of the body to emit a different energy signal to other. In fact just as an ION-Voltage Gate within the Neuron changes it’s shape to all chemicals of different polarities to pass through the membrane, on could liken this process similar to how humans define attractive as we see only a small select numbers are consider attractive when basing it on ratios. The more interesting question would be can an individual discover how their parameters are set up? Social, Genetic etc Can the be influenced, or do they change over the years? (I would argue yes) If so then the suggestibility would be that from a completely logical aspect one could take the measurements of some one and in turn use this as form of attractiveness related to that person as I’d also wager that there would be a mathematical equation to balance the two individuals out s that each lies within and accept range, no doubt formed by our DNA. Interesting enough another more fun question to ponder is how DNA know when to look and what to look for, this influence must come from a higher permeable source of energy. To that m friend I’ll leave it to you to figure out.

  2. J
    January 24, 2010 at 10:58 am

    In response to your request for a journal article examining the relationship of attractiveness of WHR when BMI was held constant, one (sort of) covers this by Fan et al., 2007 – (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17918555?dopt=AbstractPlus). He finds that WHR is more predictive of attractiveness when BMI is at or around the optimal level.

    Hope this helps

    • whooke
      January 24, 2010 at 5:23 pm

      Thanks for this one – I had thought of this one but I am not sure that the control of BMI here (which is statistical) will be as powerful as other types of control. As it turns out, I did find 3 newer studies that did something like I was musing over and I just wrote-up a blog entry on this topic.


  3. kites_puppies
    April 23, 2010 at 3:37 am

    I know I’m late, but FWIW, in the Grammar/Thornhill paper that you cite, BMI was more highly correlated with facial attractiveness than WHR. It would depend on the extent of the WHR–facial attractiveness relationship, as BMI tends to outstrip WHR on the body front and you can perceive body fat from the face. But anyway, some fairly recent findings.

    Grammar and Thornhill from the paper you mentioned
    WHR and female facial attractive= .013
    BMI and female facial attractiveness= -.168

    Penton-Voak, I.S., Little, A.C., Jones, B.C., Burt, D.M. & Perrett, D.I. (2003). Measures of human female condition predict preferences for sexually dimorphic characteristics in men’s faces. Journal of Comparative Psychology, 117: 264–271.

    WHR and female facial attractiveness: -.276

    Facial attractiveness signals different aspects of “quality” in women and men
    Pages 93-112
    Deborah K. Hume, Robert Montgomerie
    EHB 2001 Volume 22, Issue 2.

    BMI and facial attractiveness in women: -.45

    So, there is evidence for a BMI facial attractiveness relationship as well.

    Remember the overall correlation between female facial and body attractiveness was around 3.in the 1999 EHB paper. Peters et. al 2007 in Animal Behavior looked at face versus body contributions in overall attractiveness, and she found the face/body correlation at around ~.2-.3 in women.

    This paper has actual WHR and E2 correlations, and the relationship is in the ~.2-.3 range.

    Another paper found a -.46 correlation between BMI and female facial attractiveness and -.51 correlation between WHR and female facial attractiveness, though it was .38 WHR and female facial attractiveness when controlling for BMI. (BMI had a .28 correlation when controlling for WHR).

    Brewer, G., Archer, J., & Manning, J. T. (2007). Physical attractiveness: The objective ornament and subjective self-ratings. The Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, 5, 61-70.

    Jasienska G, Ziomkiewicz A, Lipson SF, Ellison PT, Thune I, 2004. Large breasts and narrow waist indicate high reproductive potential in women. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London: Series B 271 :1213-1217.

    weighted averages between facial attractiveness and anthropometric measures
    using raw correlations: BMI had a -.357, including the adjusted correlation in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology Paper then it drops to r=.301. In contrast, WHR is less than .3 using simple correlations and close to .2 when using the adjusted number in the Journal of Evolutionary Psychology. Note: these estimates weigh sample size.

    Two other studies found a BMI and facial attractiveness linkage.

    Davis, C., Shuster, B., Dionne, M., & Claridge, G. (2001). Do you see what
    I see? Facial attractiveness and weight preoccupation in college women.
    Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 20, 147–160.
    r=-.45 with a sample sample size of 100.

    Another study with 19 women found a relationship such that r=-.55 (Grammar was one of the co-authors).

  4. kites_puppies
    April 23, 2010 at 3:38 am

    the adjusted correlation is -.301

    And Wayne, you cited 18-19 as optimally attractive BMI, but some would argue that extends to 20.

  5. whooke
    April 25, 2010 at 5:21 pm

    I have to be more careful with my musings….. Thanks for the thorough reporting of data connecting face/body ratings and BMI/WHR!!!! In summary, there’s a modest relationship between facial and body attractiveness: with BMI showing a slightly stronger relationship to facial attractiveness than WHR. This suggests that increased levels of body fat have a more negative effect on ratings of facial attractiveness (probably due to the direct deposition of fat on the face) than the increased levels of estrogen have on feminizing facial features (which, increase attractiveness ratings).

    And thanks too for pointing out that I have low-balled the optimal BMI score. All things considered, underestimating that one is undesirable.


  1. January 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: