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The facial and body attractiveness of women as shape
In a previous article that addressed a literature review of correlates of facial beauty such as averageness, femininity and fluctuating asymmetry (random component of bilateral asymmetry), I posted toward the end a series of pictures of nude women, and asked which of them would be rated as having the most attractive physique by most people. The pictures were taken from the photography of Akira Gomi.
Thornhill and Grammer(1, pdf) had these pictures rated by men as follows. Some men were shown the face only. Others were shown only the front view of the body with face hidden, and a third group was shown only the back view of the body. The authors then analyzed the results and found that the attractiveness ratings of these three groups of men were in agreement with each other. In other words, some factors related to beauty in women have a global effect. These factors are most plausibly sex hormones, and in the study it was noted that women rated more attractive were more feminine.
A second study, by Schaefer et al.,(2, pdf) on the same dataset, used geometric morphometrics (the proper way to assess shape) to address how face and body shape varied with attractiveness. This study was published after I posted my article, and it helps answer which of the women I featured would be rated as having the most attractive physique by most people.
Fig. 1 shows change in face shape as a function of attractiveness. The dots are the landmarks assessed. The deformation of the 2D grid in the background depicts how shape changes. Increasing attractiveness corresponded to wider faces, bigger lips, narrower noses and shorter chins. These changes correspond to greater femininity.
Fig. 1. The figure in the middle shows the average face shape, the one on the left shows how decreasing attractiveness transforms it, and the one on the right shows shape transformation resulting from increasing attractiveness. The shape changes are depicted with ten-fold exaggeration.
Fig. 2 shows change in body shape as a function of attractiveness. Increasing attractiveness corresponded to a higher placement of the breasts, a narrower waist, a narrower rib cage, a vertically elongated abdominal region, a wider pelvis (birth canal region; see bottom green arrow) and shorter arms. These changes correspond to greater femininity.
Fig. 2. The figure in the middle shows the average body shape, the one on the left shows how decreasing attractiveness transforms it, and the one on the right shows shape transformation resulting from increasing attractiveness.
The women not only had different body shapes but also different body sizes. The authors decided to assess how shape varied as a function of attractiveness rating by adjusting for the body mass index (BMI; weight divided by the square of the height).
Fig. 3 shows change in body shape as a function of attractiveness when BMI is held constant. Increasing attractiveness corresponded to larger breasts, a narrower waist, a vertically elongated abdominal region, a wider pelvis (birth canal region; see bottom green arrow) and shorter arms. Fig. 3 depicts how the distribution of fat changes with increasing attractiveness: less deposition in the mid-section (abdominal region) and more at the bust and hips; these changes correspond to greater femininity.
Fig. 3. The figure on the left shows how decreasing attractiveness transforms the body, and the one on the right shows shape transformation resulting from increasing attractiveness. BMI is held constant.
The results suggest that some of the factors responsible for a correspondence between facial attractiveness and body attractiveness of women are sex hormones since they have a global effect; a more feminizing influence on the face will correspond to a more feminizing influence on the body.
Fig 4. shows three of twelve women taken from the article referenced at the beginning. I argued that the woman in the middle would be rated as having the most attractive physique by most people (not all), and did so before coming across this study. Those who disputed this contention mostly preferred the other two women shown, but looking at Figures 2 and 3, I believe I was right.
Schaefer et al. have published an excellent paper, but they should have left out the evolutionary psychology material mentioned in the beginning. There is no need to be going into the details of why the preferences documented in the study exist by referencing the literature produced by psychologists who mostly have a weak background in physiology as it undermines the quality of the paper. For instance, the authors mentioned a correlation between bilateral symmetry and heterozygoisty (how genetically diverse one is), but this correlation is very weak.(3) They also mentioned fluctuating asymmetry as an indicator of developmental stability, but again fluctuating asymmetry is a weak predictor of developmental stability.(4, 5) They cited some of the literature on the handicap principle, which postulates a preference for features that have some handicap associated with them (e.g., higher testosterone or higher estradiol levels), but in a few individuals with sufficient genetic quality, the handicaps are minimized, telling others that these individuals have the genetic quality to handle what most people can’t. There is a philosophical problem with the handicap principle; the same data can be interpreted in an alternative way, namely the preference being for the exaggerated characteristic per se, which was selected as a result of sensory biases (e.g., toward brighter colors, lager size, etc.), and those unable to develop the exaggerated characteristics were reduced in number by being selected as a mate less often.
- Thornhill, R., and Grammer, K., The body and face of woman: one ornament that signals quality?, Evol Hum Behav, 20, 105 (1999).
- Schaefer, K., Fink, B., Grammer, K., Mitteroecker, P., Gunz, P., and Bookstein, F. L., Female appearance: facial and bodily attractiveness as shape, Psychology Science, 48, 187 (2006).
- Vollestad, L. A., Hindar, K., and Moller, A. P., A meta-analysis of fluctuating asymmetry in relation to heterozygosity, Heredity, 83 ( Pt 2), 206 (1999).
- Rasmuson, M., Fluctuating asymmetry--indicator of what?, Hereditas, 136, 177 (2002).
- Lens, L., Van Dongen, S., Kark, S., and Matthysen, E., Fluctuating asymmetry as an indicator of fitness: can we bridge the gap between studies?, Biol Rev Camb Philos Soc, 77, 27 (2002).