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Waist depth (side view) as an important criterion of women’s attractiveness

Rilling et al.(1, pdf) had male and female judges rate the attractiveness of women’s bodies in front, side and back views as well as a short video clip of women’s bodies rotated in space.

The stimulus set comprised of young adult women with a body mass index (BMI; a measure of how much weight a given height carries or weight divided by the square of height) between 18 and 24.

The authors found that waist depth, shown below, was an important predictor of women’s attractiveness.

Waist depth
Waist depth.

In their sample, when individual effects, on attractiveness, of various body measurements were evaluated, waist depth and waist circumference predicted attractiveness better than BMI.

When they analyzed the effect on attractiveness ratings of all their measurements combined, then BMI did not significantly explain attractiveness, which suggests that BMI by itself explains overall attractiveness by capturing elements of various other body measurements, as one would expect.

The authors considered the possibility that many of the body measurements that were found to be related to attractiveness were tapping into a single underlying variable such as estrogen levels or the extent of feminization, but they found no correlations between estrogen levels and either attractiveness ratings or various body measurements.  But the authors only had a sample of 43 women and among 20 of them who were not on contraceptives, higher estrogen levels were associated with greater hip circumference.  Estrogen levels have been correlated with various body measurements such as breast size and waist circumference in previous studies that had a greater number of women not on contraceptives and where, unlike this study, the researchers made an effort to compare estrogen levels at the same stages of the menstrual cycle; example.

In addition, the anthropometric measurements employed in this study are not the best way to capture body shape data.  Geometric morphometrics is a better tool and its use has clearly shown that there indeed is an underlying variable affecting the attractiveness of individual body parts and thereby overall attractiveness in women, and this underlying variable is the extent of feminization.

Two results in this study have either not been reported elsewhere or not expected beforehand.  A higher attractiveness rating was associated with greater height as well as a tendency to have broader shoulders compared to pelvic width.  These finds should not be dwelt upon for the time being because sampling issues can explain them.

Other finds in the study were consistent with previous research.  Women with longer legs relative to height were rated more attractive.  In front view, BMI explained more of the variance in attractiveness than WHR; 19% vs. 9%, respectively; contrast with 27% vs. 5%, respectively, in a previous similar study.  And men and women raters rated women’s attractiveness very similarly.

The authors also made a passing reference to a sample of Playboy centerfolds (WHR = 0.67) and Miss Americas (WHR = 0.68) in comparison to their female sample (WHR = 0.74).  It is time for researchers to learn a few things about Playboy Playmates and beauty pageant contestants.


  1. Rilling JK, Kaufman TL, Smith EO, Patel R, Worthman CM. Abdominal depth and waist circumference as influential determinants of human female attractiveness.  Evolution and Human Behavior 2009;30:21-31.


The premise of the paper you cite has been criticized. Weeden and Sabini 2005. Physical Attractiveness and Health in Western Societies.

Moreover, a study disputed the one ornament interpretation: Peters, Rhodes, and Simmons. 2007. Contributions of the Face and Body to Overall Attractiveness. Animal Behaviour.

The results of the study stand apart from the assumptions related to physical attractiveness and its relation to health. There is some relationship between the two just as there are components of attractiveness unrelated to health.

You can find the pdf of the article by Weeden and Sabini here

Weeden J, Sabini J. Physical attractiveness and health in Western societies. Psychological Bulletin 2005;131(5):635-653.

You can find a response to Weeden and Sabini here

Grammer K, Fink B, Moller AP, Manning JT. Physical attractiveness and health: A response to Weeden and Sabini (2005). Psychological Bulletin 2005;131(5):658-661.

The other study you cited was

Peters M, Rhodes G, Simmons LW. Contributions of the face and body to overall attractiveness. Animal Behavior. 2007’73:937-942.

This was a very poor study.

Firstly, a previous study had found support for the one ornament hypothesis (Thornhill and Grammer, 1999; and a shape analysis of the dataset published later; both studies are discussed here). Whereas the Thornhill and Grammer (1999) article doesn’t mention it, the interaction term between face and body attractiveness in their multiple regression analysis was statistically significant (personal communication), unlike in Peters et al. (2007).

Whereas attractiveness ratings have to be coded in terms of a Likert scale (e.g., rate using a scale of 1-10), there is no excuse for Peters et al. assessing masculinity-femininity and averageness using Likert scales {note that the shape analysis of the data of Thornhill and Grammer (1999) uses geometric morphometrics to separate averageness, fluctuating asymmetry and masculinity-femininity}. Not surprisingly, Peters et al. (2007) find that many of their variables are not normally distributed, which leads to problems with multiple regression analysis since it assumes normally distributed variables. When Peters et al. assess averageness by having participants rate how distinctive people appear, one must not forget that one will appear more distinctive with increasing fluctuating asymmetry, increasing masculinization, increasing feminization and factors other than symmetry and sexual dimorphism, and that the confounds here cannot be controlled for by the principal components analysis performed by Peters et al. In ordinary principal components analysis, the principal components are orthogonal, i.e., they do not affect each other, yet Peters et al. tested for an interaction term between the first two principal components! Naturally, they found none.

The entire study of Peters et al. is ridiculous, not to mention their assumption that if there is an interaction between face and body attractiveness then faces and bodies cannot meaningfully be studied separately and mate choice studies based solely on face or body attractiveness are fundamentally flawed. Studying just face or body attractiveness will reveal useful though not comprehensive insights into mate choice regardless of whether there is an interaction between face and body attractiveness.

Fat distribution of female body is keeping the shape of female body and female sexual characteristics mainly.

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