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Attractiveness ratings of three-dimensional female physiques in color
In a new study where 3-D physiques of European women in color were rated for attractiveness by Europeans, the attractiveness ratings were related to percentage body fat, breast size relative to waist size, and skin tone, but not cardiovascular fitness, and male and female raters judged attractiveness similarly(1; pdf).
The authors videotaped 43 female college student volunteers in a standardized posture and [minimal] dress while they stood on a slowly rotating platform, and also measured the following:
- %BF – Percentage body fat.
- WHR – circumferential waist-to-hip ratio.
- WCR – circumferential waist-to-chest ratio.
- TLR – Torso-length to leg-length ratio.
- R-predicted VO2max – An assessment of cardiovascular fitness; the maximal amount of oxygen that the cardiovascular system can supply to tissues; expressed in terms of amount of oxygen per unit time per unit body weight.
- HR recovery time – Change in heart rate from the peak during exercise to two minutes after stopping exercise.
Videos of the volunteers [with face blurred] were then rated for attractiveness by the judges. The following table presents the correlations between the variables assessed; read the notes for an explanation.
|Table 1. Pearson correlations between attractiveness ratings and all explanatory variables|
What follows is a discussion of some problems with the paper.
The authors assessed cardiovascular endurance as a proxy for health to investigate whether attractiveness ratings are associated with health. However, health and physical fitness are not the same concepts. Health is a quality measure and physical fitness is a performance measure. For instance, the typical regularly exercising 40-year-old will easily be physically fitter than the typical sedentary 20-year-old, but the reverse will be true for health. Assessing quality is not an easy task, and one will usually employ a battery of performance measures to make inferences about health, but still, physical fitness and health should not be confused with each other. Whereas cardiovascular endurance diminishes with both cardiovascular and respiratory system diseases, in young individuals, lower values of cardiovascular endurance are not necessarily indicative of poor health. After all, normal oxygen utilization is a lot lower than VO2max, and disease-free individuals with a below average VO2max will typically do a fine job at living. VO2max can be made to increase by regularly participating in endurance exercises. Higher VO2max values will be found in women that are more athletic, and more athletic-looking women also tend to be less feminine-looking, i.e., of diminished physical attractiveness as far as most people are concerned. Therefore, the authors’ use of cardiovascular endurance as a proxy for health and subsequent use of this proxy to examine a possible association between attractiveness ratings and health does not appear to be appropriate.
Regarding the skin color find, here is what the authors wrote:
The present results also show a positive link between attractiveness and skin tone, with those possessing darker-toned skin receiving higher ratings of attractiveness. Although many cross-cultural studies have suggested that paler skin is generally regarded as more attractive by human populations (Aoki, 2002, Barber, 1995, Bond & Cash, 1992, Hill, 2002 and Sahay & Piran, 1997), several studies have suggested that, for Caucasian faces in the Europe and America, moderate levels of tanning are regarded as more attractive than no tanning (e.g., Fink et al., 2001 and Sahay & Piran, 1997). A paler coloring has been linked to both youth and fertility levels during the menstrual cycle (e.g., Frost, 1988 and Van den Berghe & Frost, 1986); therefore, one might have argued that paler skin on the female body should be regarded as more attractive and healthy. However, skin color may be a culturally based status symbol indicating that someone with a tan can afford the free time necessary to acquire one, just as, in the 18th century, a paler complexion indicated higher status as it showed that an individual did not have to undertake manual outdoor labor (Etcoff, 1999). If this were the case, then one might expect preference for a darker skin tone to extend to all ethnic groups within a society. However, the preference for a more tanned appearance seems to be largely specific to Caucasians in Western cultures (Bond & Cash, 1992, Hill, 2002 and Sahay & Piran, 1997).
The problem is with the statement, “If this were the case...” In developing nations, lower class people still have to disproportionately labor in the sun, and in a number of geographic regions, the upper classes are naturally lighter, i.e., lighter even if one controls for the extent of sun exposure. Therefore, there is no reason why one would expect a preference for sun-induced skin darkening in dark populations where the lower class is overrepresented among outdoor workers and/or where the upper class people are naturally lighter.
On the other hand, using 3D imagery is a step in the right direction and will help clarify a number of aesthetics issues in the future.
- Smith, K. L., Cornelissen, P. L., and Tovée, M. J., Color 3D bodies and judgements of human female attractiveness, Evol Hum Behav, 28, 48 (2007).