'Healthy bodies' best for men, but for women, thin is beautiful

June 6, 2016
Composite bodies showing the average fat and muscle mass chosen as the most attractive for women (left) and men (right).  Credit: Dr Ian Stephen.

A new study from Macquarie University being published in PLOS ONE has found that both genders consider an unhealthily low body fat content for women as attractive, however for men, a healthy body type with a normal body fat content, is considered more attractive.

The study used new techniques to measure different body shapes associated with different levels of fat and muscle, and then used computer graphics to apply these differences to photographs of real bodies. Participants then manipulated the apparent fat and muscle mass of these body photographs to indicate the shape that they thought looked the healthiest or the most attractive.

"In this study we found that both male and female chose significantly less fat mass to optimise the attractiveness of women's bodies than to optimise the healthy appearance of women's bodies," explained lead author, Mary-Ellen Brierley from the Department of Psychology. "Whereas for men's bodies, participants opted for a similar amount of muscle and fat mass to optimise attractiveness and healthy appearance," she added.

The healthy body fat range for young Caucasian women is 21-33 per cent according to previous health studies, however, research-group leader Dr Ian Stephen, also from the Department of Psychology, said that most participants selected a lower range for both attractive and healthy female bodies.

"Our participants optimised a healthy-looking body composition for women at around 19 per cent fat, and a most attractive-looking body type of just 16 per cent fat. This suggests that while previous studies have found that smaller female body size generally corresponds to a greater perceived attractiveness, this observation is actually due to people's preference for lower , rather than lower or smaller body size in general."

The manipulated female and male bodies in the study were of all of Caucasian appearance between the ages of 18 to 30, to minimise effects of age and ethnicity on participants' judgements. Notably, the participants could have chosen even thinner bodies if they had wanted, but instead chose bodies just below the healthy range.

"Perceptions of face and body attractiveness are thought to reflect the health and fertility of the person, allowing us to identify healthy and fertile mates," said Dr Stephen. "While this seems to be the case for men's bodies, our study suggests that something else is also influencing the perceived attractiveness of women's bodies. It could be that cultural ideas of the 'thin ideal' are driving down people's perceptions of attractive in women."

Explore further: Higher muscle mass associated with lower mortality risk in people with heart disease

More information: Mary-Ellen Brierley et al. The Body and the Beautiful: Health, Attractiveness and Body Composition in Men's and Women's Bodies, PLOS ONE (2016). DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0156722

Related Stories

Higher muscle mass associated with lower mortality risk in people with heart disease

April 19, 2016
Researchers from the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA found that cardiovascular disease patients who have high muscle mass and low fat mass have a lower mortality risk than those with other body compositions. The findings ...

Ultrasound-estimated fat content in muscles may be an indicator of physical health

March 23, 2016
Ultrasound-estimated percent intramuscular fat of muscles in the lower extremity was inversely associated with physical activity level and positively associated with body mass index in a recent study.

Tracking fat talk through your smartphone

January 19, 2016
Seemingly harmless comments like 'My thighs are huge' or 'I hate my calves' are feeding the body image problems of many women.

Research into the correlation between beauty and body size shows that women are the harshest judges

April 7, 2016
New research published today in the journal Economics and Human Biology has described the relationship between attractiveness, BMI and gender, showing that while women are both the harshest judges of weight in relation to ...

Excess abdominal fat is associated with heart attack

April 15, 2016
A large waist-hip ratio is a more important risk factor for heart attacks than weight, especially for younger to middle-aged women. This is shown in a new study from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health and the University ...

Recommended for you

Exercise can make cells healthier, promoting longer life, study finds

September 22, 2017
Whether it's running, walking, cycling, swimming or rowing, it's been well-known since ancient times that doing some form of aerobic exercise is essential to good health and well-being. You can lose weight, sleep better, ...

Breathing dirty air may harm kidneys, study finds

September 21, 2017
Outdoor air pollution has long been linked to major health conditions such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. A new study now adds kidney disease to the list, according to ...

Being active saves lives whether a gym workout, walking to work or washing the floor

September 21, 2017
Physical activity of any kind can prevent heart disease and death, says a large international study involving more than 130,000 people from 17 countries published this week in The Lancet.

Excess dietary manganese promotes staph heart infection

September 21, 2017
Too much dietary manganese—an essential trace mineral found in leafy green vegetables, fruits and nuts—promotes infection of the heart by the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus ("staph").

Frequent blood donations safe for some, but not all

September 21, 2017
(HealthDay)—Some people may safely donate blood as often as every eight weeks—but that may not be a healthy choice for all, a new study suggests.

Higher manganese levels in children correlate with lower IQ scores, study finds

September 21, 2017
A study led by environmental health researchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine finds that children in East Liverpool, Ohio with higher levels of Manganese (Mn) had lower IQ scores. The research appears ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

couchgolfer
not rated yet Jun 06, 2016
And in another news article posted RIGHT BELOW this one:

Women 'nearly twice as likely to have anxiety' as men.............
LionHeartMichel
not rated yet Jun 06, 2016
RE: "however for men, a healthy body type with a normal body fat content, is considered more attractive."

- Hmmm... personally, I don't find "fat/chubby" men "attractive in the least."

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.