Much more than a ratio: multivariate selection on female bodies

J Evol Biol. 2010 Oct;23(10):2238-2248. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2010.02088.x. Epub 2010 Sep 6.


Studies of the attractiveness of female bodies have focussed strongly on the waist, hips and bust, but sexual selection operates on whole phenotypes rather than the relative proportions of just two or three body parts. Here, we use body scanners to extract computer-generated images of 96 Chinese women's bodies with all traits unrelated to body shape removed. We first show that Chinese and Australian men and women rate the attractiveness of these bodies the same. We then statistically explore the roles of age, body weight and a range of length and girth measures on ratings of attractiveness. Last, we use nonlinear selection analysis, a statistical approach developed by evolutionary biologists to explore the interacting effects of suites of traits on fitness, to study how body traits interact to determine attractiveness. Established proxies of adiposity and reproductive value, including age, body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio, were all correlated with attractiveness. Nonlinear response surface methods using the original traits consistently outperform all of these indices and ratios, suggesting that indices of youth and abdominal adiposity tell only part of the story of body attractiveness. In particular, our findings draw attention to the importance of integration between abdominal measures, including the bust, and the length and girth of limbs. Our results provide the most comprehensive analysis to date of the effect of body shape and fat deposition on female attractiveness.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Asian People
  • Beauty*
  • Body Constitution*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Body Size
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Selection, Genetic*
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Young Adult