Human female attractiveness: waveform analysis of body shape

Martin J. Tovée, Peter J. B. Hancock, Sasan Mahmoodi, Ben R. R. Singleton, Piers L. Cornelissen

Abstract

Two putative cues to female physical attractiveness are body mass index (BMI) and shape (particularly the waist–hip ratio or WHR). To determine the relative importance of these cues we asked 23 male and 23 female undergraduates to rate a set of 60 pictures of real women's bodies in front–view for attractiveness. In our set of images, the relative ranges of BMI and WHR favoured WHR. We based these ranges on a sample of 457 women. We did not limit the WHR range, although we kept the BMI range to 0.5 s.d. either side of the sample means. As a result, WHR averaged 1.65 s.d. either side of its sample mean. However, even with these advantages, WHR was less important than BMI as a predictor of attractiveness ratings for bodies. BMI is far more strongly correlated with ratings of attractiveness than WHR (BMI ∼ 0.5, WHR ∼ 0.2). To further explore the relative importance of BMI and WHR, we deliberately chose a subset of these images that demonstrated an inverse correlation of BMI and WHR (i.e. a group in which as images get heavier they also become more curvaceous). If WHR is the most important determinant of attractiveness, then the more curvaceous (but higher BMI) images should be judged most attractive. However, if BMI is a better predictor, then the opposite should be true. We found that the more curvaceous (but higher BMI) images were judged least attractive, thereby inverting the expected rating pattern. This strongly suggests that viewers' judgements were influenced more by BMI than WHR. Finally, it is possible that body shape is an important cue to attractiveness, but that simple ratios (such as WHR) are not adequately capturing it. Therefore, we treated the outline of the torso as a waveform and carried out a set of waveform analyses on it to allow us to quantify body shape and correlate it with attractiveness. The waveform analyses address the complexity of the whole torso shape, and reveal innate properties of the torso shape and not shape elements based on prior decisions about arbitrary physical features. Our analyses decompose the waveform into objective quantified elements whose importance in predicting attractiveness can then be tested. All of the components that were good descriptors of body shape were weakly correlated with attractiveness. Our results suggest that BMI is a stronger predictor of attractiveness than WHR.