What’s The Sexiest Look? 

Good genes?

Evolutionary psychology says some bodies are better than others, reflecting healthy, fertile genes.

Mostly, the focus is women’s bodies.

But if it’s true, why are men drawn to so many different body types?

And why is the preference influenced by culture?

West Africa’s obese ideal 

First let’s go to West Africa where obesity is beautiful.

Obese beauty ideal

In Mauritania, West Africa a woman named Mint Ethmane told the Wall Street Journal that when she was eight years old her mother began force-feeding her.

She was required to consume milk and porridge morning, noon and night… not to mention pre-breakfast feedings. And she was awoken at midnight and forced to drink several more pints of milk.

If she threw up, her mother made her eat the vomit. If she refused to eat, her mother pinched her toes between wooden sticks creating unbearable pain.

Hmmmmm… and yet few Americans find obesity hot.

Maybe different body types are healthier in different places?

Kim Kardashian

Today’s Western beauty ideal? It depends

Let’s take a look at three different cultures with a similar gene pool: modern America, modern Britain, and 1890s Europeans.

A recent survey found that American men today most want to sleep with these women (in order of preference):

Kim Kardashian, Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Ariana Grande, Beyonce, Kaley Cuoco, Sophia Vergara.

Mostly, these women are curvy. So curvy is best (presumably the healthiest and most fertile)?

Yet skinny Mila and Ariana come in at #3 and #4? Hmmmm…..

So who do British men most want to sleep with?

Kate Middleton, Emma Watson, Kelly Brook, Keira Knightley, Charlotte Crosby, Kate Moss, Sienna Miller.

Kiera Knightley

Now the data is reversed, with slim predominantly signaling the best (healthiest and most fertile) genes. But curvy is good too.

????

1890s erotic dancers

Whether curvy or slim is more preferred today, we are seeing just a few body types: slim all over, slim with big boobs, or hourglass with large breasts and large butt.

Now take a look at 1890s erotic dancers and the body ideal shifts again: some of the dancers do fit the modern western ideal. But others have a lot of junk in the trunk but not much up top.

The preferred body type

So far, the preferred body ideal appears to be obese, skinny, top-heavy, bottom heavy, and all points between.

Hmmmm, looks like we can all stop worrying about whether or not we (or our partners) fit some narrow beauty ideal.

—-

Story of Mint Ethmane from the Wall Street Journal 12/29/04.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on July 13, 2017, in body image and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 44 Comments.

  1. reading this I know I’m going to bang on about blindness again, so if you ever get tired of it feel free to say so. from where I sit, it’s not about sexy looks it’s more about a sexy sounding voice with touch prohibited unless ones intentions are to be in a relationship I’m either very fussy or with lack of relationship experience exploring different body types is particularly of women is very restricted however it’s said that when you put a hand on somebody’s elbow or on their shoulder it should placate a need to explore the shape of the body i.e. the face etc. just thought I’d do what I usually do when I comment on blogs like this but it’s putting my views out there and no doubt repeating myself so much that I feel people get tired of the stuff I go on about when it comes to blindness. I’m no doubt using it as a platform of sorts.

    • The fact that you are blind reminds me that some people insist that men are necessarily visual when they clearly are not. And when what is sexualized — considered to be visually attractive – varies so much from place to place. And time to time.

  2. Having worked previously for a cosmetic surgeon, I’d like to keep it real. Kim Kardashian, Scarlett Johansson and Beyonce have had breast augmentation. So if a woman has had a little help in getting what nature didn’t give her, then the perception that she is reflecting healthy fertile genes is a lie.

    I have to wonder, in the US at least, if the fact that many entertainers have had these procedures are taken into account by those espousing this so-called evolutionary psychology.

    I do agree that in reality those old saws, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” and “one man’s meat is another’s poison”, do seem to apply. That should be a relief to both men and women.

    • Evolutionary psychology isn’t perfect. Even Charles Darwin– who started the ball rolling–found problems. He pointed out that while middle class men cared more about looks (at that time women didn’t have much to offer in the way of money) upper class men cared more about money than looks.

      There are even different schools of evolutionary psychological thought. They don’t all agree with each other. And some of their theories contradict themselves.

  3. I think women a woman’s bodily appreciation stems from the culture she lives in. If she lives in a culture that praises women who appear a certain way, she would also feel some sort of pressure to live up to those beauty standards. However, I believe women are on some level capable of taking back these beauty standards set by men in the first place. We have to tell ourselves what we consider to be perfect or beautiful, and the men will adjust.Evidently, as one goes from place to place, and region to region, their definition of beauty is defined by their culture and the men of that region.

    • Yeah, evolutionary psychology picks us apart and yet there’s no need to. And women and men would both be better off if we stopped picking women apart. Men who don’t get “the perfect women” would feel better. And Lord knows women would feel better about ourselves. Hopefully educating people that there is no real ideal will be a step toward that.

      • I think men do find various bodies sexy and attractive. This means there are plenty of men who find various shapes attractive so women don’t have to feel they aren’t attractive. But I don’t know if it’s all equal and all culture. Health and fitness are part of sexual attraction I think and it’s been found evident with facial structure and facial symmetry. Like if talking about looks. It’s subjective and objective at the same time. For example, subjective as in people have different tastes and the difference in how attractive someone is or degree. Someone hot to one person, may be attractive to someone else but not “hot”. An example of it being objective though. If someone had a picture of say Ryan Gosling who many find very handsome and say comedian Louie Anderson and their faces or maybe whole body included.

        Subjective in the sense that sure there will be women and gay men who might find Gosling cute or alright, but not hot like many do and some might find Louie Anderson more attractive than Gosling. But I’m pretty sure if walking through high cities and asking tons of women and gay men. And all across America, like a survey and I believe even across cultures and in europe, maybe india, africa, I still believe much much more women would say Gosling is more attractive than Anderson. The survey, poll results would show there is some objective aspect to beauty where everybody has their own tastes, but there is a conventional look and structure that more people find attractive or favor over other or that’s more aesthetically pleasing generall.

      • American women might find Ryan Gosling pretty attractive, but Women also differ on how muscular they prefer men.

        You find even greater variations when it comes to women’s bodies with obesity preferred in some cultures — even though it’s not fit. And Victoria’s Secret Angels preferred here — even though their bodies are very unhealthy. Victoria’s Secret Angels eat nothing but kale and dehydrate themselves just before the show. That’s not healthy.

        Evolutionary psychologists assume that any preferred look is evolutionarily helpful. Clearly it’s not. Looks that aren’t fit aren’t always preferred. They assumed that facial symmetry was preferred because it was healthier. Turns out it’s not.

        I agree that it is better to be fit than not. But that has nothing to do with the shape you’re born with. And the shape you were born with is what evolutionary psychologists have focused on.

  4. theburningheart

    ‘De gustibus non est disputandum’

    Is an old adage in Latin occasionally cited in our day. It means: ‘About matters of tastes, do not dispute’. 🙂

    • Well I can read that more than one way. All I can say is that there’s clearly no “Perfect” look that all women must aspire to order think better of themselves.

  5. I believe more women across the globe would rate ryan gosling atleast more attractive and better looking than Louie Anderson based on looks anyway. It seems looks anyway are more objective. They are subjective in the way I explained with us finding different people attractive or different levels someone is attractive between each other. But there do seem to be preferences to looks of men and women, “conventional good looks” and I believe it can be cross cultural. I’m straight guy so there’s no like sexual attraction judgement that has anything to do with it and Louie Anderson is an ugly dude and many see it that way, women, gay men, straight men so on. And even straight men, which shows security in their sexuality can acknowledge that Gosling is a good looking guy.

    • Yes he’s a good-looking guy but good looks don’t determine a person fitness or worth. And good looks do tend to vary by culture. Bill Gates isn’t the most attractive man around, but he’s pretty amazing. And as I mentioned, every body type for women has been valued somewhere.

      • I think aesthetically, some facial symmetry or facial structures have to be favored as far as averages go, even cross culturally. Each culture probably likes different things, but when you have looks on the opposite side, I think more will favor one over the other which shows some objective aspect of what humans generally like overall.

      • Generally speaking people prefer symmetry. And yet Harrison Ford is pretty hot!

        Supermodel Rachel Hunter once said that it is our flaws that create our beauty and make us interesting. I agree with her.

        And what good does it do to insist that one particular look is better than others. Most women and men end up feeling bad about themselves, either because they don’t look perfect or because their partner doesn’t look perfect, or both. Not only do you get widespread low self-esteem. And then sex suffers because people are too distracted worrying about how they look. And all of this for no good reason.

  6. There are many more factors that make a person desirable other than body type, so I suspect the surveys mentioned are flawed.

  7. To add to the discussion, sage Vatsyayana’s treatise on sex, written in the 2nd century CE, appears to have it right. According to him, a man should fix his affections upon a girl of good upbringing, who is three years or more younger than himself; the girl should be of good disposition, with lucky marks on her body, with good hair, nails, teeth, eyes and breasts, neither more nor less than they ought to be, and no one of them entirely wanting, and not troubled with a sickly body. The man should also possess similar qualities. In sum, a woman young in years, of good health and features, good upbringing and disposition would certainly be the choice in any culture worldwide.

    • Actually, it’s not.

      Victoria’s Secret Angels are deathly thin, yet considered highly attractive — they eat only kale for months before the show and dehydrate themselves for hours beforehand. Anyone who achieved that look would die. And obesity in West Africa is thought most attractive and yet it is neither fit nor healthy.

  8. Interesting to learn about the differences between UK & USA. I think I am more “UK Type”, at least from an aesthetic point of view, and maybe because I like to stay fit … & work out too (not obsessively, just a bit: not Gym: at home)… 😉

    I wouldn´t say that full figured and overweight women are the sexiest: that´s for sure… And yet: it was the ideal type of women during the Renaissance… Maybe it was related to Health and with the fact that a robust body might survive childbirth, if being succesfully fertile.

    I just found this video on Youtube & enjoyed it, BTW: The Perfect Woman Body Type Throughout History: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IpWdOZkdk0

    Happy weekend, Georgia ⭐

  9. Women’s preference of taller men is well known. Not sure if it is universal among cultures. Who knows if it has to deal with evolutionary psychology. Those hypotheses are nice tales to tell at a family dinner, but hard (impossible?) to verify scientifically using our current toolset. I personally dislike them because with a few speculative steps they provide a pseudo-scientific base for new social Darwinism (don’t blame Darwin).

    • I agree with all of your points. Except I don’t know if women prefer taller men in all cultures. I know that height doesn’t make much difference to me. I’ve had major crushes on shorter guys. And a lot of shorter guys seem to have no problem getting girls. Tom Cruise is on the shorter side at 5′ 7 but women seem to love him anyway.

      • “Tom Cruise is on the shorter side at 5′ 7 but women seem to love him anyway.”

        He is a high status man. Of course women like him. You must be kidding me!

      • Just saying that height isn’t everything.

        But I’ve been attracted to some shorter guys two didn’t have his looks or his status.

  10. Generally speaking people prefer symmetry. And yet Harrison Ford is pretty hot!

    Supermodel Rachel Hunter once said that it is our flaws that create our beauty and make us interesting. I agree with her.

    And what good does it do to insist that one particular look is better than others. Most women and men end up feeling bad about themselves, either because they don’t look perfect or because their partner doesn’t look perfect, or both. Not only do you get widespread low self-esteem. And then sex suffers because people are too distracted worrying about how they look. And all of this for no good reason.”

    Well neither men nor women have to be perfect. Saying there’s a preference to a look shouldn’t make either feel bad about themselves. That comes from the media and women putting that on themselves because they are competing with an ideal they can’t compete which doesn’t make sense. And the fact that many women find many body shapes and looks attractive. It’s like a man feeling bad because he doesn’t have the status, fame and money as George Clooney, yet he does have a nice job.

    He feels bad because he’s comparing to an ideal he can’t compete with. If he stopped that and focused on what he has that is attractive just like women with their looks and bodies, they would feel good about themselves. I’m just saying it to dispel the myth that looks are all or mostly subjective or that I hear. I just wanted to correct that, because it’s not exactly true. A lot is objective, mixed with subjective. There must be facial features people generally prefer and like, innate biology related, which is why you’d see more or much more favoring to ryan Goslings looks over louie anderson. But like I said just because there is that, it doesn’t mean people should feel bad, because many people may have a preference in the high end of looks, but many find different looks and bodies attractive. So if you’re a man plenty of women who will find you attractive and same for women with men finding them attractive despite not having model or movie star looks.

    • Saying there’s a preference to a look shouldn’t make either feel bad about themselves.

      It has made me and plenty of other women feel bad about themselves. And just because a particular person or culture has a preference doesn’t mean that it is grounded in anything substantial. Knowing that makes it less hurtful.

    • “It’s like a man feeling bad because he doesn’t have the status, fame and money as George Clooney”

      Well that’s a good point. You don’t find men sitting around whinging that society sets too high expectations of men because.. George Clooney. Men get on with it. Why can’t women?

      • It seems that men don’t just get on with it, based on the number of comments I get from men complaining about gender equality.

        And men and women are judged differently. We live in a culture that judges a woman’s worth by her physical beauty. Men are judged by other criteria, like power and economic status. It’s difficult on both sides:

        Men = Money Objects; Women = Sex Objects
        https://broadblogs.com/2016/05/09/men-money-objects-women-sex-objects/

      • That’s not cultural, that’s biological. The thing that females bring to a family that a man can’t have alone is reproduction ability, and the way to judge one female over another is visually. Men being bigger and stronger bring to the table power, resources, defence and the way to judge that is success. Those things might not be as relevant in modern society, but you don’t change a million years of biological instinct with a utopian theory.

        But again, if a man doesn’t have economic power, and women want economic power, men don’t sit around whinging about misandrous society, we get out there and get a job. Why do women sit around whinging instead of doing something for themselves?

      • Actually, a lot of guys complain about this to me.

      • So you claim that men complain to you that they don’t have economic power because of misandrous society? Hard to believe.

      • Something like that. Except that they express misogyny instead of misandry.

  11. Reblogged this on sketchuniverse and commented:
    HI SISTERS! WHILE WE ARE SKETCHING FROM NATURAL MODELS, WE COULD HAVE SOME THOUGHTS AND REFLECTIONS. THINK !

  12. First off, Ariana Grande? That truly blew my mind.
    Regarding the sexiest look-as a curvy Latina, I absolutely love the focus and appreciation of curves. Growing up, this was absolutely not the case in popular culture, which left me just hoping that one day I could look like my barbies. A too thin, stick like shape is what was considered sexy and attractive. A skinny figure, coupled with blond hair and blue eyes made for the ultimate sexy look. Today, not only have we progressed in our views of beauty, but as a society we have come to accept, embrace and even try to emulate more full figure (practical and realistic) bodies. Beyond the new curvy and full figure fetish, we can also see more diversity in our views of what is considered “sexy.” Yes, finally! For me, it is extremely important that my own daughters will have strong, beautiful women that they will be able to identify with. Sophia Vergara, Beyonce, Rhiana, Queen Latifah, and Alicia Keys are all noteworthy and truly beautiful women. This is not to say that Kate Middleton and Emma Watson don’t have sexy bodies. Of course they do. Rather, I simply appreciate that our society does not limit “sexy” to one specific type of person, group or body.

  13. The difference in preferred body types among different cultures is definitely interesting. I understand that popular culture and celebrities help instill these images, but I would be interested in learning more about exactly how they are determined. A similarity across all cultures is that women must go through great lengths to achieve these so-called “ideal bodies”. As introduced in the article, the Mauritanian society prefers women to be obese. Mint Ethmane was forced to eat colossal amounts of food and even eat her own vomit to conform to the ideal. In the United States, the curvy body is sought after the most. Women must have large breasts, flat stomachs, and a large butt as well to fit the standard. When these women fail to do so, they are subject to insults about their bodies through fat-shaming and skinny-shaming. While I agree that the “preferred body ideal” seems to include all bodies throughout the world, that is not the case within different cultures. However, I am definitely noticing how the media now portrays more diverse body types, and I hope this will lead people to be more open minded and accept different body types.

    • “The difference in preferred body types among different cultures is definitely interesting. I understand that popular culture and celebrities help instill these images, but I would be interested in learning more about exactly how they are determined.”

      That’s a great idea for a follow-up post.

      I have already written something that I have yet to post on how bodies that undergo pain and suffering are preferred in patriarchies. Maybe so that women learn to connect pain and sacrifice with love.

      Otherwise, in poor countries obesity is preferred (hard to do and it demonstrates wealth), In rich countries thin is preferred, in countries where gender equality is gaining ground differences in body mass between males and females are preferred with Women expected to be small– But with big breasts or big butts — so that men can still feel “different.”

  14. Trends change throughout time, some styles of clothing going out of style as well as body figures. Women’s breasts and hips/butt are sexualized because having large boobs or a large butt means that a women is producing lots of healthy female hormones, although they are not sexualized in all cultures. In cultures where women are often topless, a woman’s butt is highly sexualized and her breasts are for babies. In the old Western world, curvy women were sexualized because most people were dying of hunger, so being fat meant you had enough money and high status. In America, many body shapes are seen as attractive, but the “in” look is essentially a white woman with traditionally black features–Kylie Jenner, and Kim Kardashian for example. The Kardashians could be labeled the most famous family in America, and have a long history with cultural appropriation. Kylie has been caught literally stealing styles from black-owned companies, as well as wearing hair styles and outfits that were started by black women. The issue today’s beauty standards is how white people are applauded for a look, meanwhile people of color who created the look are discriminated against for it.

    • I think that’s a good comparison. Both trends generally and what’s preferred in terms of women’s body shape changes over time.

      People in the 50s thought they looked really good. But 60s people thought they were “Square.” And then in the 80s people from the 50s looked square and people from the 60s looked shaggy. Nowadays people from the 80s might look a little too done up. And on and on it goes.

  15. MatthewFoothill

    Your analysis on the different beauty standards around the world is pretty enlightening! I previous only thought that it only changed with time or vastly different cultures, and didn’t know that there were differences in even similar cultures such as the United States and United Kingdom. Now although, I have no actual backing behind this it seems as though people value things that little people have, similar to the economic principle of scarcity. In economics things that are high in demand are usually items that are scarce. That’s why a shoe like the Yeezy 350 Turtle Dove, costs on average around 2,000 dollars, because of how little of them were made, and how many people want them. Do you think this same principle is applied to beauty standards? For example, in your West Africa example, is obesity the beauty standard because over there obese people are few and far between, where as in America it makes about roughly one third of the population? In all though, good article!

    • “it seems as though people value things that few people have, similar to the economic principle of scarcity.”

      Yeah, that does play a role. Whatever’s difficult. Yet we don’t seem to place equal emphasis for men. In west Africa men aren’t valued for being obese and in the United States men aren’t valued for been very thin in a culture of abundance. So it seems that patriarchy steps in so that it’s women who bear the burdens here.

      • MatthewFoothill

        Good point! Although, I would say that men are valued for muscular bodies (at least in western society), but I would agree that mens beauty standards definitely aren’t viewed as “necessary” as women fitting to social standards of beauty.

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