2 Comments »Posted on Wednesday 17 June 2009 at 10:39 am by Jessica Bland
In Health & Medicine, Musings, Psychology

New Scientist this week reported the findings of an Australian study, which shows that the figure most men find attractive corresponds to the average UK size 14.

Looking at outline sketches of  different female torsos,  a 100 students from New South Wales were asked which they were most attracted to. Their preference for the fuller figure surprised researchers. Previous research  showed  that a 0.7 waist-to-hip ratio is most attractive irrespective of the woman’s size.

This is brilliant. I can eat as many ice creams as I like this summer, and I will only become more rather than less attractive. My stomach flab will start to roll; my thighs will wobble in places where they don’t normally have any jelly. But, apparently, none of that will matter to the boys.

Or will it. Put that body in skinny jeans and white t-shirt and it might not have scored so highly. Put it in a leopard print bikini, a tight short skirt or a strapless dress and it would probably do even worse.

Fashion is not, on the whole, created for the fuller figure. Whilst the naked silhouette of a size 14 might be more attractive, the same body but dressed often suffers from unflattering and uncomfortable lines.

So I can only roll my eyes when The Daily Mail report on this study is accompanied by pictures of curvier celebrities. There is a giant leap between what is most attractive in line drawing and what looks better in skin tight leather.

And mankind, or at least one of them, is inclined to agree. I find myself making the same point as Tom Sykes – Daily Mail journalist and resident irritant. Instead of arguing about why we don’t see size fourteen on the catwalk, he goes for the Playboy angle. Size fourteen girls aren’t the fantasy. The fantasy is the Playboy centrefold because that’s what sells.

I don’t really agree with that: couldn’t the fantasy be constructed by the magazines rather than the other way round? Isn’t a young boy who buys Playboy being influenced by those images of glamour more than the images are pandering to his tastes?

Perhaps. But that’s not the point here.

What is interesting is that both Tom and myself  looked to ways to belittle the research. Before someone showed me his comments, I had already written that it was “a 100 students from New South Wales” that were surveyed and that only line drawings were used. He went a little further:

What it actually shows is that the 100 male students surveyed at the University of New South Wales are pathetic wimps, desperate for a quiet life and terrified of offending anyone.

But the sentiment is the same. The research’s results didn’t fit with the way we see things. And so we tried to find holes in it.

I can’t imagine Ronaldo making me his next trophy. But his and Paris Hilton’s romp in LA last week was no surprise. That’s how the world works. At least, that’s how the world I live in works.  And it’s a little painful to realise that even I am willing to dismiss science if it doesn’t fit.


  1. 2 Comments

  2. This was also the subject of a lunchtime talk at Wellcome Collection a few weeks ago with a researcher from UCL (name escapes me). He conducts similar studies and the audience seemed equally sceptical when he admitted they used line drawings.

    By Mun-Keat on Wednesday 17 June, 2009 at 11:27 am

  3. I am not sceptical of their techniques. I am only sceptical of the easy generalisation that is made (more by the press than by the researchers). Attraction to a particular silhouette is not the primary driver of attraction in a fully fleshed-out societal context. But the story is not as exciting if this obvious fact is allowed to get in the way.

    Good to know other people picked up on this difference too….

    Cheers Mun-Keat

    By Jessica Bland on Saturday 20 June, 2009 at 10:59 pm

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