Home > General, Sex/Gender Differences, The Body > BMI and Self-Rated Attractiveness

BMI and Self-Rated Attractiveness

Frederick et.al. (2006), utilizing survey data primarily from readers at msnbc.com found a clear relationship (plotted in the image to the right) between BMI and body satisfaction. In this study, women tended to feel best about their bodies when their BMI was between 17.5-20 and men tended to feel best when their BMI was around 23-24. Using the standard rules-of-thumb for categorizing BMI values, women prefer being slightly underweight to on the low-side of normal weight. Men, on the other hand, prefer being at the higher end of normal weight. While no single illustration can accurately depict BMI (a range of heights/weights/ body types can produce identical BMI scores), the following images (available from BMI-Club) might be helpful.

Optimal BMI range for women’s self-rated body satisfaction (above).

Optimal BMI range for men’s self-rated body satisfaction (above).

Approximation of the point at which each sex’s BMI score predictably results in a “My body is unattractive” self-evaluation (above).

Approximation of the non-optimal BMI level for both women’s and men’s self-rated body satisfaction (above).

Noteworthy observations:

  • men are more satisfied with larger BMI scores (not surprising)
  • optimal BMI scores for both sexes do not predictably produce an “I have a good body” self-evaluation in either sex


Conclusions based on the data used in this study may not generalize well to the larger population.

  • web surveys are limited by demographic differences in access to and use of the internet, sampling frame problems, response rate problems, (for external validity) and controlling access (for internal validity) (see Wiersma for a brief, accessible introduction or, e.g., DOI 10.1108/10662240510590360
  • MSNBC.com is the most popular news site on the web; the age-distribution of web news consumers is improving, but is still skewed toward the young and the educated, sex differences exist in preferences for what types of news are pursued, partisan political/ideological differences result in use of different news sources; etc. (Pew Research Center Report)
  • a recent review comparing self-report with objective measures of height and weight found a trend of under-reporting for weight and over-reporting for height in self-reports; with significant levels of variation between studies and widely divergent methods of measuring or estimating height/weight (doi: 10.1111/j.1467-789X.2007.00347.x)
  • for women the mean BMI in this study is 24.2 while the mean self-reported BMI in the NHANES study is 27.2 (and the mean measured BMI in the same study is 28.0)
  • for men the mean BMI in this study is 26.6 while the mean self-reported BMI in the NHANES study is 27.6 (and the measured BMI in the same study is 28.0)

Wayne Hooke

FREDERICK, D., PEPLAU, L., & LEVER, J. (2006). The swimsuit issue: Correlates of body image in a sample of 52,677 heterosexual adults Body Image, 3 (4), 413-419 DOI: 10.1016/j.bodyim.2006.08.002

  1. Eli Dapolonia
    August 14, 2011 at 10:29 am

    This is interesting. I don’t think it really alters the validity of this research, but it should be noted that there are some fundamental flaws with the Body Mass Index as a measurement of fitness. It’s really just a reformulated version of World War II era height/weight tables. For example the current UFC heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez is 6’1″ and 240 lbs. with a BMI of 31.8 – but it would be inaccurate to suggest he is less fit than a couch potato that is 6’1″ and 160 lbs. and has a BMI of 21.2. Body fat measurement would present a much more accurate metric.

  2. Eli Dapolonia
    August 14, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Sorry, I probably should have left a link to some support.


  3. whooke
    August 15, 2011 at 11:27 am

    The last time I looked into BMI’s relationship to health I came away with the conclusion that the measure retains some value at a group/population level (for example, it can be useful in predicting medical expenditures for a state/region/nation) and that it has little value (though, still non-zero) for specific individuals.

    As a measure of body attractiveness, BMI is a crude measure – which can be illustrated by playing around with the BMI-Club image generator. Even so, it is an easy to gather measure that can be used to explain quite a bit of the variation in attractiveness ratings (see, for example: https://psychologyofbeauty.wordpress.com/2009/05/25/volume-height-index-and-female-bodily-attractiveness/#comments).


  4. Eli Dapolonia
    August 15, 2011 at 10:54 pm

    I hope all of this is going to be developed into a book. You have a really amazing collection of data here. Your blog categories would make great chapter headings.

    • whooke
      August 18, 2011 at 7:22 am

      I don’t have any book plans….


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