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5. The physique

A literature review of the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) shows that European women, on average, have more feminine-looking WHRs (lower) than non-European women, and among Europeans, Northern European women have more feminine-looking WHRs than other populations (Table 1).  The WHR difference between European women and women from northeast Asia is generally small, but the studies cited below have a body fat confound whereby somewhat overweight European women have a more feminine WHR than northeast Asian women with normal weight.  Thus, if European and Northeast Asian women are matched for percentage body fat, then the WHR difference between these groups will be greater.  On the other hand, some populations -- such as South Asians, Native Americans and a number of sub-Saharan African populations -- have much higher WHRs (more masculine) than European women regardless of the body mass index (BMI) range or body fat range assessed.  The case of sub-Saharan African women is of some interest in that these women have narrower pelves, thicker waists and more protruding buttocks compared to European women.  Thus, compared to European women, the WHR in front view is higher and more masculine looking but lower and more feminine looking in side view in sub-Saharan African women.  Therefore, the WHR of sub-Saharan women appears to not be readily classifiable as either more feminine or less feminine than that of European women, but given that the more protruding backside of sub-Saharan African women is an ethnic trait rather than something resulting from greater feminization [by sex hormones], the appropriate conclusion is that waist-hip proportions are less feminine among sub-Saharan African women.  Notwithstanding their more protruding buttocks, a number of sub-Saharan African populations have higher WHRs than European women, but the opposite is true for some African populations -- such as the Khoi-San -- with extremely protruding buttocks (e.g. Fig 1c on the introduction page).

Table 1. A summary of some studies that have addressed waist-to-hip ratios (WHR) in women.

Fig 1a shows the distribution of WHR and waist circumference in a diverse Canadian sample of women aged 35-75 (see Table 1a for details).(1)  Note the greater proportion of European women in the lower part of the WHR range (WHR < 0.75) and the higher portion of the WHR range (WHR > 0.85) compared to Chinese women, in spite of the European women being overweight, on average, and the Chinese normal, on average.

WHR and ethnicity

Fig 1a. Distribution of WHR and waist circumference in a Canadian sample of women.  CH = Chinese, SA = South Asian, EU = European, AP = aboriginal.(1)

Table 1a. Sample of women in Canada, aged 35-75 (sampled during 1996-2000).(1)
  European South Asian Chinese Aboriginal
N 321 328 306 296
Age 51.3 (11.1) 49.3 (9.2) 47.7 (8.9) 52.1 (11.1)
BMI 26.6 (4.9) 26.6 (3.8) 22.9 (3.4) 31.1 (6.7)
Waist (cm) 84.6 (12.1) 86.7 (10.4) 76.3 (8) 99.0 (15.5)
WHR 0.80 (0.06) 0.84 (0.07) 0.81 (0.06) 0.88 (0.07)
Notes: Values in brackets are standard deviations.

Somewhat related to Table 1a, in a sample of 192 Japanese women aged 45-54, the WHR was 0.83±0.08 and BMI was 23.5±3.1.(2)

In a Swedish sample from Gothenburg, the WHR distributions of people aged 25-65 are shown below.(3)  It appears that a greater proportion of Swedish women than Canadian European women had a WHR less than 0.8 if the data from Figure 1a and Table 1a are compared to the 2002 data in Figure 1b and Table 1b.

WHR in Sweden

Fig 1b. Distribution of WHR in Gothenburg, Sweden.(3)

Table 1b. Women's waist measurements in Gothenburg, Sweden.(3)
Women's waist measurements in Sweden.
aMean age differs significantly between the examination occasions for men (Kruskal−Wallis test), but age-adjusted means are similar to arithmetic means.

In a 2002 sample of ethnic minority women in Oslo, Norway, the ethnic differences in WHR, waist circumference and BMI are shown below, and these differences generally did not change after adjusting for education, physical activity and smoking.(4)  Note the high WHRs of South Asians.

WHR and ethnicity

Fig 1c. WHR as a function of BMI in ethnic groups residing in Oslo, Norway.(4)

Waist circumference and ethnicity

Fig 1d. Waist circumference as a function of BMI in ethnic groups residing in Oslo, Norway.(4)

BMI and ethnicity

Fig 1e. BMI as a function of age in ethnic groups residing in Oslo, Norway.(4)

Table 1c. Data from ethnic minority women residing in Oslo, Norway (2002).(4)
  Turkey Iran Pakistan Sri Lanka Vietnam
N 196 239 196 398 291
Age 41.1 (40.1-42.1) 41.7 (40.8-42.7) 43.9 (42.8-45.1) 39.5 (38.9-40.2) 43.5 (42.7-44.4)
BMI 30.7 (30.1-31.3) 26.5 (25.9-27.0) 29.3 (28.7-29.9) 27.0 (26.6-27.4) 23.2 (22.7-23.7)
Waist (cm) 88.1 (86.7-89.5) 80.2 (78.9-81.4) 89.4 (88.0-90.8) 84.2 (83.2-85.1) 72.7 (71.6-73.9)
WHR 0.82 (0.81-0.83) 0.80 (0.79-0.81) 0.85 (0.84-0.86) 0.85 (0.84-0.86) 0.80 (0.79-0.81)



The following chart summarizes a number of studies that have compared the WHR of whites and people from India.(5)

WHR and ethnicity

The following data are from the women sampled in the second Monica Survey (1987-1992).(6)
  Country Age WHR Year* Number
  Australia - Perth 25-34 0.74   822
  Sweden -Gothenburg 25-34 0.76   722
  Finland - Kuopio Province 25-34 0.76   803
  Finland - North Karelia 25-34 0.76   1563
  Finland - Turku/Loimaa 25-34 0.76   778
  Germany - Augsburg urban 25-34 0.76   861
  Italy -Friuli 25-34 0.77   894
  China - Beijing 25-34 0.77   859
  Germany - Augsburg rural 25-34 0.77   1082
  U.K. - Glasgow 25-34 0.77   781
  Italy - Area Brianza 25-34 0.78   753
  Spain - Catalonia 25-34 0.78   1191
  Australia - Newcastle 25-34 0.79   757
  Yugoslavia - Novi Sad 25-34 0.79   791
  Germany - Halle County 25-34 0.80   480
  Sweden - Northern Sweden 25-34 0.80   791
  Czech Republic - Czech Republic 25-34 0.81   1410
  Denmark - Glostrup 25-34 0.82   735
      10th percentile WHR    
  Australia - Perth 35-64 0.69   640
  Sweden -Gothenburg 35-64 0.71   622
  Finland - Kuopio Province 35-64 0.71   626
  Finland - Turku/Loimaa 35-64 0.71   589
  Finland - North Karelia 35-64 0.72   1199
  Australia - Newcastle 35-64 0.72   673
  U.K. - Glasgow 35-64 0.73   634
  Germany - Augsburg urban 35-64 0.73   685
  Italy -Friuli 35-64 0.73   698
  Italy - Area Brianza 35-64 0.73   606
  Germany - Augsburg rural 35-64 0.74   831
  China - Beijing 35-64 0.74   680
  Yugoslavia - Novi Sad 35-64 0.75   598
  Germany - Halle County 35-64 0.75   365
  Sweden - Northern Sweden 35-64 0.75   610
  Czech Republic - Czech Republic 35-64 0.75   1068
  Spain - Catalonia 35-64 0.76   779
  Denmark - Glostrup 35-64 0.76   565
  *Second MONICA Survey (1987-1992); MONICA = Monitoring trends and determinants in cardiovascular disease.(6)
The following data are from miscellaneous studies.
  Women Age WHR Year* Number
  American white(7) 23 (18-30) 0.72±0.04 1999 (p) 92
  American white(8) 19.6±1.1 (18-23) 0.73±0.04 2004 (p) 68
  Poland(9) 29.9±3.54 (24-37) 0.73±0.049 2004 (p) 119
  China - Changsha(10) 20-24 0.74±0.04 2006 (p) 368
  Scotland (representative)(11) 16-24 0.76 1998 389
  Greece(12) 20-44 0.77±0.07 2005 (p) 3405
  England - Oxford(13) median 52 (35-76) 0.78±0.07 1993-1999 2904
  Hadza (northern Tanzania)(14) 22±2.23 (17-24) 0.79±0.04 (0.72-0.87) 2005 (p) 10
  Hadza (northern Tanzania)(14) 37.5±16.1 (17-82) 0.83±0.06 (0.69-0.94) 2005 (p) 53
  Jarawa (Andaman Islands)(15) 28.2±9.24 (18-50) 0.82 (0.73-0.95) 2003 (p) 15
  Shiwiar (Ecuador)(16) 12-70 0.87 (0.81-1.02) 2004 (p) 28
  *(p) indicates year of publication, and its absence implies actual period during which the data were gathered.

Some studies of indigenous populations (Native American, African) where the women have higher WHRs than European women show that the men in these populations prefer higher WHR values than European men when shown front views of women with varying WHRs,(16-19) though in some cases the preferences for higher WHRs compared to European men correspond to a preference for greater body fat in women,(16, 18) which is again consistent with the naturally higher prevalence of obesity in these indigenous populations, and men, European or non-European, tend to prefer WHRs that are somewhat lower than the population average, thereby indicating a preference for women with above average femininity.(14)  Compared to European men, the Hadza prefer higher WHRs in front view, but lower WHRs in side view, which is consistent with the anatomical differences between European and African women (Fig 2).

WHR preference among European and Hadza men.

Fig 2. Drawings used to compare profile WHR preferences between European and Hadza men.(14)  A, stimuli presented to Hadza men; B, stimuli presented to European men.  When asked to rate preferred figure with respect to attractiveness, healthiness and wife-material, on all three counts, the most common first-choice preferred WHR was 0.6 for Hadza men and 0.65 for European men.  “Between 17% and 32% of the Hadza selected 0.55 first on one of the three criteria, whereas not a single [white] man in the United States selected 0.55 on any question.”(14)

Therefore, some population differences in aesthetic preferences lie along the lines of anatomical differences between populations, as also shown previously for the shape of the nasal bones in Europeans, which make it difficult to specify exacting aesthetic criteria to compare attractiveness across populations.

Needless to add, but not all of the population differences with respect to WHR can be explained in terms of the extent of feminization.  For instance, if one considers Northern European populations, where waist-hip proportions tend to be the most feminine looking, it is not difficult to find masculinized women with waist-hip proportions that look feminine, but it would be incorrect to ascribe the feminine waist-hip-buttocks looks to feminization in these masculinized women (Fig 3a-b), which is somewhat along the lines of finer facial features in Northern Europeans imparting pseudo-femininity to the face.


Fig 3a. Masculinized Northern European; note face shape, broad shoulders and small breasts, but feminine-looking waist-hip proportions.


Fig 3a. Masculinized Northern European with feminine-looking waist-hip-buttocks proportions; click image for larger view.

Lower half proportions

For a given height, East Asian populations tend to have shorter legs, African populations longer legs and European populations are intermediate. Even if one were to compare the longer-legged Northern Europeans with sub-Saharan Africans, the muscle structure is notably different. The greater proportion of shorter, fast-twitch muscle fibers in sub-Saharan West Africans(20, 21) translates to shorter calf muscles and narrower soleus muscles, which combined with the more protruding buttocks of sub-Saharan African women, results in a typically sharp contrast with European women (Fig 4a-b).

Lower leg muscle proportions in a European.

Fig 4a. Calf muscle (gastrocnemius) length and soleus thickness in a typical European.

Boo from Cinnamonbunz and cute Kylie.

Fig 4b. The "buttocks-upper leg-lower leg" proportions seen in the African woman are uncommon in European women.  Models shown: Boo from cinnamonbunz (left) and cute Kylie.

It would not be possible to come up with "buttocks-upper leg-lower leg" proportions intermediate to sub-Saharan Africans and Europeans as a reference standard for aesthetic comparisons since it is clear that the "buttocks-upper leg-lower leg" proportions considered most pleasing in European women are also very European (Fig 4c), and a shift toward sub-Saharan African norms corresponds to a sharp drop in aesthetic appeal in a European context (Fig 4d-e).

Holly and Paula from Karupspc.

Fig 4c. Very European buttocks and leg muscle structure.  Models shown: Holly (left) and Paula from karupspc.

Brenda from 21sextury, Dani from Domai and Helena from only tease.

Fig 4d. The attractiveness of the proportions of the buttocks and leg muscles in European women drops rapidly as these proportions approach the norms in sub-Saharan African women. Models shown: Brenda from 21sextury (left), Dani from Domai (middle) and Helena from only tease (links lead to adult sites).

Jelena Jensen

Fig 4e. Leg muscle structure approaching that of sub-Saharan Africans can sharply diminish the appeal of an otherwise attractive white woman; model shown: Jelena Jensen from Pinup files (adult site).


Let us say that beauty pageant contestants must be 18- to 26-year-olds between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-10, and are drawn from two populations with average adult female heights of 5-foot-1 and 5-foot-5.  Assume that the standard deviation of height in both populations is 2.5 inches and that height is normally distributed in both populations.  Thus, the candidates for the pageant will be drawn from 2.26% of 18- to 26-year-olds from the shorter population and 32.18% of the taller population in the same age range.  If the number of women in the 18- to 26-year-old range is the same in both populations, the taller population offers a lot more women to choose from, and can therefore be more selective in choosing its candidates.  Alternatively, the 5-foot-6 to 5-foot-10 range being closer to the mean of the taller population, a greater proportion of women in this height range will be within normal variation on multiple counts in the taller population, and the taller population will offer a much greater proportion of women among the height eligibles as potential contestants for the pageant.  Therefore, if the sizes of these populations are in the millions, then few to none of the contestants from the shorter population will be able to match the attractiveness of the candidates from the taller population, making it difficult to achieve meaningful high profile cross-population aesthetic comparisons in international beauty pageants.

Alternatively, let us address something that is more relevant to a beauty pageant, namely the feminine appearance of the physique of women.  Typically, East Asian women (e.g., Fig 5a) are easily outcompeted by European women when it comes to presenting a feminine physique, even if the European women are not particularly feminine (e.g., Fig 5b).  However, it is not difficult to find voluptuous East Asian women (Fig 5c), though the woman shown in Fig 5c would need a lot more than mere voluptuousness in order to participate in a high profile beauty pageant; longer legs for instance.  On the other hand, if one were to avoid the normally short-legged East Asian women (Fig 5c, leftmost woman in Fig 5d) and seek longer-legged East Asian women, one will be easily successful, but may end up with a woman having a flattened backside (the middle woman in Fig 5d), and even if one manages to find a "long legs-more prominent backside" combination, the woman may be naturally flat-chested (rightmost woman in Fig 5d; flat chest not shown).  It would surely not be an easy task to find very many East Asian women with the long-legged and feminine appearance of the European woman shown in Fig 5e.

Carol from Domai

Fig 5a. Carol from Domai; adult site.

Inna from Domai

Fig 5b. Inna from Domai; adult site.

Manami Koi; nude Japanese

Fig 5c. Voluptuous Japanese; click image for larger version.

East Asians

Fig 5d. Hiromi Anzai (left), Ai Komori (middle) and Japanese from Met Art (adult site); click for larger image.

Anna from Domai.

Fig 5e. Anna from Domai; adult site.

In summary, it can be appreciated how difficult it is to achieve a meaningful international beauty pageant.


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