What Scientific Studies Reveal About The Bodies Men Prefer
“I’ll be having a great time watching TV with my boyfriend, when a beautiful model in a commercial comes on and I just lose it. I go from thinking, “He’s in love with me,” to “He’s settling for me.” Same thing when he gets those “Babe of the day” pics on his gaming sites. I know he’s comparing me to them and thinking, “I wish she’d look like that.” It’s not like he says it or acts that way but he doesn’t have to. Guys say they don’t necessarily want a skinny girl with big boobs but they always snap to attention when one of them walks by.”
Alicia, 24, Atlanta, GA
What do men want in a woman? What do they want women to look like? It’s important to know because you’ll have a much better chance of attracting male attention if you know what makes men say “hubba hubba.” This is simple evolutionary mate selection at work and it applies to males as well. They have little chance of attracting females if they don’t know what females are attracted to.
You’d think that women would be experts at knowing how men want them to look, but the research proves otherwise. Women so consistently overestimate male preferences for slenderness that it leaves some researchers wondering what world women are living in. Let’s take a quick look at how academics discovered the discrepancy between what men like and what women think men like.
In the typical study, men and women are presented with representations of the female form–from very thin to very fat (these figures are mostly line drawings but some studies use silhouettes, illustrations or photographs). They are then asked to circle shapes that represent:
- Their ideal body shape
- What they believe members of the opposite sex prefer
The results? Women overestimate male preferences for slenderness. Constantly. Consistently. In nearly every study. This phenomenon baffles researchers because it’s completely at odds with the prevailing theory of how men and women pair up.
Mate selection theory holds that women intuitively know what men prefer, otherwise they wouldn’t know how to attract them. This ability also allows them to assess their “relative value” against women they’re competing against. This is an evolutionary characteristic that facilitates procreation in all species. Knowing male preferences allows females to feature the characteristics that will attract them.
Why are women losing their ability to gauge male preferences? Researchers theorize it’s a direct result of the media’s relentless presentation of women who can fit between a door and its frame. As the authors of a 1995 study in Sex Roles noted:
“The media images emphasizing thinness cause a woman to downscale her own ideal size from her real size rating but may be powerful enough to cause her to distort her perception of her partner’s ideal female.”
The authors of a Journal of American Psychology study on sex differences in perceptions of desirable body shape were particularly blunt in their assessment: “Our data suggest that women are misinformed and exaggerate the magnitude of thinness that men desire,” write the authors, “probably as a result of promotion of thinness in women through advertising by the diet industry.”
Women are just as bad at estimating what kind of bust lines men prefer. Breast size preference studies (yes, they exist—don’t ask me how they got their funding) show that females believe men like larger breasts than men actually report.
What men actually prefer
Okay, so now we know what women think men like, and it’s wrong. What’s right? What body types do men prefer? The only way to find out is to ask them and that’s what a great many researchers have done. Before I share the results, let’s talk about how these studies were conducted.
When studying male preferences researchers use two essential measurements of female attractiveness. The first is Waist To Hip Ratio (WHR), which you get by dividing the circumference of your waist by the circumference of your hips.
A narrow waist set against full hips has been a consistent feature of female attractiveness throughout most of history. Because it’s such an erotic marker, women have put themselves through a lot of pain to achieve the look. The earliest cosmetic surgery in England consisted of removing two lower ribs to enhance the narrowness of the waist. It also explains the popularity of corsets, despite the internal injuries it caused so many women. The corset was replaced by girdles and then by wide belts, and today, Spanx.
The second measure of attractiveness researchers use is the Body Mass Index (BMI), which again, you calculate by dividing your weight (in kilograms) by the square of your height. Interestingly, BMI is a far greater predictor of attractiveness than WHR. But whether it’s measured by WHR or BMI, studies consistently find that men are attracted to women who fall between the low to middle range of the normal scale. Let me repeat those last four words: of the normal scale. Not the media’s version of normal, but life’s version of normal. Because this is going to come as a shock to many women, I want to repeat the conclusive findings:
Men are most attracted to normal weight women.
Yes, they prefer ‘slender’ body types, but within healthy, normal weight. They don’t like throwing bread to a woman and having it come back sliced. They are not attracted to the ideal of beauty presented by most media. They are attracted to healthy looking women.
I want you to understand why men will never be attracted to the level of thinness you’re so invested in. From an evolutionary standpoint, men are drawn to women who show strong signs of fertility. Because there are no physical signs of a woman’s capacity to bear and nurse children, men use an indirect marker–beauty. But for beauty to be a reliable marker of fertility it must have characteristics linked to health.
This is why WHR and BMI are such accurate predictors of men’s preferences–because they correlate strongly with health and fecundity. For example, it’s been proven that a lower WHR (within the normal range) is an accurate indicator of reproductive potential and long-term health risk.
Men look for clues to fertility by the way you look. And what are those clues? A WHR and a BMI in the low-to-midpoint of normal. Again, not the media’s definition of normal. Life’s definition of normal.
Now, get what I’m saying here. Nature did not give men a choice. They always have and always will be attracted to women who show strong signs of fertility. Yes, men are attracted to a wide variety of “types” (height, hair color, bust lines, etc.) but their attraction will always be guided by a woman’s potential for reproductive success. And health is the only outward sign of it.
Given these facts, it stands to reason that men are not attracted to women so thin you can blindfold them with dental floss. In one particularly interesting study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology), researchers tested male preferences between the media’s ideal of tubular shapes against hourglass figures that are so representative of fertility. It wasn’t even close. Men strongly preferred women with hourglass shapes over tubular shapes.
But Those Men Online Say They Want Thin Women
So guys on dating sites say in their profiles that they want to date thin women. Isn’t that proof that men like thin women? Yes, but the male version of thin and your version of it are two different things. You can get an interesting peek into the male calculation of thinness by looking at a particularly clever study from the University Of New Mexico. It sought out men who explicitly stated they wanted “thin” women in personal ads. When these men were presented with line-drawn figures they circled several figures they found attractive, not just the thin figures.
In other words, even when the men stated a “thin” preference, they were actually attracted to a wide range of body sizes. The most interesting finding: 73% of males indicated they would NOT want to date a woman comparable to the thinnest figure in the line drawings (the ones that most approximate the media ideal).
So why did the men who explicitly stated they were looking for “thin” women in their profiles rate female figures “attractive” up to the midpoint of the weight range scale? Researchers believe they weren’t discriminating against women in the normal weight range as much as they were trying to discourage overweight women from contacting them.
Men vs. Media
At the end of the day, you have to decide what you value most: Men’s preferences or the media’s presentations. They are two very different things. And yet it seems that women have cast their lot with the media. They keep betting on the wrong horse and wonder why they’re broke.
Unlike the media ideal, men are not attracted to women who are thin in an unhealthy way Unlike the media ideal, men are attracted to women who fall between the low-to-midpoint range of normal BMI and WHR. Unlike the media, men have a far wider range of body shapes they find attractive.
The choice is yours. Do you want to appeal to men or the media? Might I suggest that if you’re going to let other people define beauty for you, at least let it be the men you’re attracted to, not magazine editors you’ve never met.
But What About My Guy?
Now that we know what men as a species are attracted to, let’s talk about a very specific male–the one you’re dating, hooking up with, or sharing a life with.
Is he lying when he says your body turns him on?
If you’re like most body conscious women, you probably don’t believe your partner when he says you have a beautiful body. You convict him of sexual perjury—lying to get laid.
You won’t get an argument from me–men lie for sex. We practically carry business cards that say, “Professional Liar.” But once again, there’s a flaw in your logic. Yes, men will say anything to get laid. To a woman he finds attractive. Men don’t lie to women they find unattractive.
See, you have to understand something about men. We give our penises nicknames so we can be on a first-name basis with the person making all our decisions. And while we lie to do Mr. Happy’s bidding, Mr. Happy himself is incapable of lying.
You Can’t Argue With A Hard Penis
It’s really difficult for a man to get an erection for a woman he’s not attracted to. If he’s trying to get you in bed, it’s because your body turns him on. Viagra, Levitra and Cialis prove my point. They don’t work unless a man is turned on. Viagra and its cousins affect the plumbing, not the desire. They can open up the valves to let more blood in to the penis, but they cannot make a man want you. You may at times be resentful of the penis’ persistence or its alarming lack of conscience, but never, ever doubt its sincerity.
The belief that your guy wants “it” and not you understandably makes you upset. But that’s only because you think men subscribe to a three-word sexual philosophy: Anything That Moves. It hurts him to be accused of wanting to get off without wanting you. It’s true that he wants “it.” It’s also true that he wants “it” to be you.
He Thinks You’re Beautiful
The media doesn’t portray normal weight or overweight women very often. No matter where you look, there you aren’t. So when your guy tells you how beautiful you look, how much you turn him on, you think he’s lying to spare your feelings. After all, how can he look up from a magazine with a picture of the latest supermodel and honestly say he finds you beautiful?
The same way you can look up from the cover of a romance novel and say it to him.
See, there’s a design flaw in your conviction. That model on the cover of a magazine may inspire lust but it’s a one-dimensional lust. It’s a fake image, not a real woman. And because it’s an image, it only operates on the visual level. Now, I don’t want to diminish how important the visual is to guys (where would the porn industry be without it?), but the formula to desire is a far more complex equation. The way you smell, the way you feel, how you taste, the timbre of your voice—all of your physical senses fuel lust and desire in men, not just how you look.
And it doesn’t stop there. For desire to fully flower it requires chemistry, trust, personality, compatibility, passion, mutual exploration, shared experiences, and a million other subtle factors.
So, yes, he digs that beautiful model with the teeny weenie bikini on the cover of Sports Illustrated. And yes, he probably fantasizes about her. But in the end, she’s an image firing on one of his senses. You fire on all five. That image has no emotional, psychological or physical connection to him. You do. That image has not shared any meaningful experiences with him. You have.
And that’s why he can look up from the magazine and say, “I think you’re beautiful,” and mean it. Do not confuse the height of the flame with the depth of the heat.
What Do Men Think About When They See You Naked?
It isn’t unusual for women with low body esteem to think their man is fantasizing about a thinner woman even as he’s making mad passionate love to them.
You’re giving men way too much credit and not enough cash. Here’s what’s really going on when your clothes come off:
|What You’re Thinking||What He’s Thinking|
|“I better turn off the lights so he doesn’t see my jiggly thighs.”||“Where’s that light switch? I want to see her beautiful legs.”|
|“I feel fat. He probably thinks I’m a tub.”||“There’s a naked woman in my bed!”|
|“The only way this is going to happen is if I wear a camisole to hide my stomach.”||“Wow, when’s that coming off?”|
|“Oh, my God! He’s touching the pooch in my belly.”||“I can’t believe how hard I get when we get in this position.”|
|“That’s it! Tomorrow I start my diet.”||“That’s it! Just like that. Oooh, baby.”|
|“I know he’s fantasizing about a thinner woman.”||“I don’t want to come too soon. I better think about Mother Theresa.”|
Who are you going to believe?
My point, and I do have one, is that you should approach the bedroom the way you approach a movie–with a willingness to suspend disbelief. You have to be willing to suspend your doubts about his attraction to your body. Don’t be upset because the reflection in his eyes doesn’t match the reflection you see in the mirror. Stop blaming him for the fact that you turn him on.