Caution: Curves Ahead
In my last posting, I found myself musing about how WHR would influence ratings of body attractiveness if BMI was held constant. Recent research comparing the relative roles of BMI and WHR have tended to support a more prominent role for BMI over WHR. That is, the total amount of body fat seems to matter more than how that body fat is distributed. One recent study (Cornelissen, et.al., 2009) claims to have resolved the debate, concluding:
that although WHR appears to be an important predictor of attractiveness, this is largely explained by the direct effect of total body fat on WHR, thus reinforcing the conclusion that total body fat is the primary determinant of female body shape attractiveness.
I have found 3 recent or in press publications that have in many ways addressed my question [Singh, et.al. (in press); Dixson, et.al. (2010); and Dixson et.al. (in press)] and each reaches the opposite conclusion from Cornelissen; WHR is more important than BMI in determining female body attractiveness. Each uses before/after images of micrograft surgery in which fat is removed from the waist and implanted in the buttocks/hips (producing results similar to the liposuction on the right). This cosmetic surgery minimally impacts BMI but does reduce WHR. Using this methodology, each study concludes that WHR has a greater influence on attractiveness ratings than BMI.
- Novel methodology
- Results found in several cultures: China (Dixson et.al. (in press); Papua New Guinea (Dixson et.al. (2010); Samoa, Komodo Island, Cameroon, and New Zealand (Singh et.al. (in press)
- Not all before/after stimulus images show that a reduced WHR is more attractive to raters. WHR does not explain all of the variation in ratings.
Dixson et.al. (2010) suggest that studies which have found BMI to be more important than WHR have used stimuli with a wide range of BMI’s and a relatively restricted range of WHR’s – which likely would have the effect of inflating the influence of BMI. These three studies in effect do the reverse: use an expanded WHR range and a reduced BMI range: not surprisingly, they find the reverse outcome. It looks like this debate isn’t resolved after all….
Photo courtesy of Dr. Mordcai Blau and David A. Copeland 2009
CORNELISSEN, P., TOVEE, M., & BATESON, M. (2009). Patterns of subcutaneous fat deposition and the relationship between body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio: Implications for models of physical attractiveness Journal of Theoretical Biology, 256 (3), 343-350 DOI: 10.1016/j.jtbi.2008.09.
Dixson, B., Sagata, K., Linklater, W., & Dixson, A. (2009). Male preferences for female waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index in the highlands of Papua New Guinea American Journal of Physical AnthropologyDOI: 10.1002/ajpa.21181
Dixson, B., Baoguo, L., & Dixson, A. (in press). Female waist-to-hip ratio, body mass index and sexual attractiveness in China. Current Zoology.
Singh D, Dixson BJ, Jessop TS, Morgan B, Dixson AF. (in press). Cross-cultural consensus for waist- to-hip ratio and women’s attractiveness. Evol Hum Behav.