Saturday, February 26, 2011

Determinants of female physical attractiveness

The determinants of female attractiveness include those features that display good health and fitness for reproduction and the sustenance of infants. These include the following correlates of fertility:

Waist-to-hip ratio
Breast size
Breast symmetry
Body mass proportion
Facial symmetry

Features such as a symmetrical face, large breasts, and low waist-to-hip ratio are commonly considered attractive in women because they are thought to indicate physical health and high fertility to a potential mate.

Although it has been claimed that facial attractiveness and symmetry signal good health, this has been questioned .

Facial alignment

In a study by University of Louisville psychologist Michael Cunningham, dimensions and proportions of what was regarded as attractive emerged with remarkable consistency. The ideal attractive female face featured "eye width that is three-tenths the width of the face at the eyes' level; chin length, one-fifth the height of the face; distance from the center of the eye to the bottom of the eyebrow, one-tenth the height of the face; the height of the visible eyeball, one-fourteenth the height of the face; the width of the pupil, one-fourteenth the distance between the cheekbones; and the total area for the nose, less than 5 percent of the area of the face." Very small differences mattered; for example, "the ideal mouth was half or 50 percent the width of the face at mouth level; if that percentage varied "by as little at 10 points," the face was rated as less attractive. The study found the "beauty of the female face ... is mathematically quantifiable."

Desired traits were large female eyes, small chin and nose, and these "infantlike features draw out in them the same caretaking response a baby would–they make a woman seem cute and adorable."Further, high wide cheekbones and narrow cheeks are "signs that a woman has reached puberty" and "high eyebrows, dilated pupils and wide smile" signal excitement and sociability.One psychologist speculated there were two opposing principles of female beauty: prettiness and rarity. So on average, symmetrical features are one ideal, while unusual, stand-out features are another.

A study performed by the University of Toronto found that the most attractive facial dimensions were those found in the average female face. However, that particular University of Toronto study looked only at white women.

Signals of youth

Because female fecundity typically declines after the late twenties, youth is an important aspect of physical attractiveness. One study across 37 cultures showed men desire, on average, a woman 2.5 years younger than themselves for a wife, with men in Nigeria and Zambia at the far extreme, desiring their wives to be 6.5 to 7.5 years younger. As men age, they also desire a larger age gap from their mates. The reasons for this preference are currently debated.

This preference for youth has also led to a preference of neotenic and youthful-appearing features. High, firm breasts, blonde or long and lustrous hair (or a combination of the three), full red lips, clear smooth skin, and clear eyes, are viewed as attractive in women.

Breast size

ull breasts may be attractive to some men in Western societies because women with higher breast to under-breast ratios typically have higher levels of the sex hormone, estradiol, which promotes fertility.[68] Larger breasts also display the aging process more noticeably, hence they are a relatively reliable indicator of long-term fertility.

Proportion of body mass to body structure

This 1895 advertisement promotes a weight gain product for people who had lost significant weight through disease or age. Maintaining a healthy weight is a determinant of physical attractiveness.

The Body Mass Index (BMI) is another important universal determinant to the perception of beauty. The BMI refers to the proportion of the body mass to the body structure. However, the optimal body proportion is regarded differently in various cultures. The Western ideal considers a slim and slender body mass as optimal while many historic cultures consider an embonpoint or plump body-mass as appealing. Men do not appear to have evolved to hold a particular build as more attractive, but rather to be drawn to whichever build associates with social status
In the United States, women overestimate men's preferences for thinness in a mate. In one study, American women were asked to choose what their ideal build was and what they thought the build most attractive to men was. Women chose slimmer than average figures for both choices. When American men were independently asked to choose the female build most attractive to them, the men chose figures of average build. This suggests that women tend to have misconceptions about how thin men prefer women to be. Some speculate that thinness as a beauty standard is one way in which women judge each other.A reporter surmised that thinness is prized among women as a "sign of independence, strength and achievement." Some implicated the fashion industry for the promulgation of the notion of thinness as attractive.

Waist-hip ratio

Notwithstanding wide cultural differences in preferences for female build, scientists have discovered that the waist-hip ratio (WHR) of any build is very strongly correlated to attractiveness across cultures. Women with a 0.7 WHR (waist circumference that is 70% of the hip circumference) are usually rated as more attractive by men from European cultures. Such diverse beauty icons as Jessica Alba, Marilyn Monroe, Salma Hayek, Sophia Loren, and the Venus de Milo all have ratios around 0.7

In other cultures, preferences vary, ranging from 0.6 in China, to 0.8 or 0.9 in parts of South America and Africa, and divergent preferences based on ethnicity, rather than nationality, have also been noted. The hourglass shape characterized by a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 has been described as attractive.


Most men exhibit a preference for females of shorter physical stature than themselves. Women 0.7 to 1.7 standard deviations below the mean in height have been reported to be the most reproductively successful. One explanation for this observation is that since most men demonstrate a preference for women shorter than themselves, being shorter allows a woman access to a larger potential dating pool.However, in some non-Western cultures, height is irrelevant in choosing a mate, which suggests that the preference among Western men for women shorter than themselves may be sociocultural in nature.

Long legs

One study suggested men prefer women with longer legs. Research compared the attractiveness of women of similar height but with different lengths of their legs and concluded that men found longer legs to be more attractive. Researchers hypothesized that longer legs were not only an aesthetic feature but indicated good health. Studies have also shown that women find men with long legs more attractive than men whose legs are of average length.

Prototypicality as beauty

Besides biology and culture, there are other factors determining physical attractiveness. The more common features a face bears, the more highly it is usually judged to be attractive. This may be a result of the familiarity of common facial features, an example of the mere exposure effect. When many faces are combined into a composite image (through computer morphing), people usually view the resulting image as more familiar, attractive, and beautiful than the faces that were combined to make the composite.

One interpretation is that this shows an inherent human preference for prototypicality. That is, the resultant face emerges with the salient features shared by most faces, and hence becomes the prototype. The prototypical face and features is therefore perceived as symmetrical and familiar. This may reveal an "underlying preference for the familiar and safe over the unfamiliar and potentially dangerous." However, critics of this interpretation point out that compositing computer images also has the effect of removing skin blemishes such as scars, and generally softens sharp facial features.

Classical conceptions of beauty are essentially a celebration of this "prototypicality." This may show the importance of prototypicality in the judgment of beauty, and also explain the emergence of similarity of the perception of attractiveness within a community or society, which shares a gene pool.

Skin tone

Skin tone preference varies by culture. Many historically favored and continue to favor lighter skin in women. In his foreword to Peter Frost's 2005 Fair Women, Dark Men, University of Washington sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe writes: "Although virtually all cultures express a marked preference for fair female skin, even those with little or no exposure to European imperialism, and even those whose members are heavily pigmented, many are indifferent to male pigmentation or even prefer men to be darker." A consequence of this is that, since higher-ranking men get to marry the perceived more attractive women, the upper classes of a society generally tend to develop a lighter complexion than the lower classes by sexual selection (see also Fisherian runaway).

Studies have shown that lighter skin has generally been preferred in most cultures and races. Exceptions to this have appeared in modern times in Western culture, where tanned skin is often considered more attractive. Tanned skin has been shown in the United States to be viewed both as more attractive and more healthy than pale skin. Though sun-tanned skin used to be associated with the sun-exposed manual labor of the lower-class, the associations became dramatically reversed in the mid-20th century, a change usually credited to the trendsetting French woman Coco Chanel making tanned skin seem fashionable, healthy, and luxurious.

Today, and in much of the West, though tanned skin remains desirable, lighter skin is often seen as more attractive, especially in African, Asian, and Latin cultures. Skin whitening products sales grew from $40 to $43 billion in 2008. In Africa, skin whitening is not uncommon, but in the African American community, lighter skin is generally considered more attractive than darker skin. During slavery, light-skinned African Americans were perceived as intelligent, cooperative, and beautiful. Regarding this perception of beauty influenced by racial stereotypes about skin color; the African American journalist Jill Nelson wrote that "to be both prettiest and black was impossible."

In Mexico and in Brazil, light skin represents power, as well as attractiveness. A dark-skinned person is more likely to be discriminated against in Brazil. Most South American actors and actresses have European features—blue eyes and pale skin. A light-skinned person is considered to be more privileged and have a higher social status; a person with light skin is considered more beautiful and it means that the person has more wealth. Skin color is such an obsession in these countries that specific words describe distinct skin tones from "hincha," Puerto Rican slang for "glass of milk" to "morena," literally "brown."

In ancient China and Japan, pale skin can be traced back to ancient drawings depicting women and goddesses with fair skin tones. In ancient China, Japan, and Southeast Asia, pale skin was seen as a sign of wealth. Thus, skin whitening cosmetic products are popular in East Asia. 4 out of 10 women surveyed in Hong Kong, Malaysia, the Philippines and South Korea used a skin-whitening cream, and more than 60 companies globally compete for Asia's estimated $18 billion market. This also occurs in South Asian countries, and in India, pale skin is considered more attractive and skin whitening is prevalent. Most actors and actresses have light skin.

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