Sunday, 23 January 2011

Poorer men prefer larger women

Following the recent tragic death of the anorexic model Isabelle Caro, fingers have been pointed at the fashion industry and the media who brandish images of these emaciated forms.

But did you know women’s preferred body sizes are determined by men’s economic circumstances?

Ideals of female body shape vary across cultures: Men in cultures with scarce resources tend to prefer heavier women, whereas men in cultures
with abundant resources prefer thinner women. In all cultures, men who are hungry will select a larger female shape as their ‘preferred’ size. That, apparently, is all down to perceptions of resource scarcity.

Also just making men feel they’re poor makes them prefer a larger woman.

US researchers* made men think about how much money they had on them. Those who realised they were-cash-strapped preferred heavier women.

They also asked men about their wealth. Some answered on a scale from 0 to $500, others on a scale from 0 to $400,000 (a scale that makes people feel relatively poor). Sure enough, men who responded using that scale subsequently selected larger females as their preferred shape.

What’s more interesting is that it doesn’t work the other way round. Women’s preferred male shape is unaffected by how hungry or poor they feel.

Ben and I have been discussing this at length. He’s not keen on all those evolutionary explanations, which I have to admit are a bit too convenient and can’t be refuted empirically. He reckons it’s because men are more visually triggered – this renders them more susceptible to priming effects. I would add that maybe women just aren’t that shallow.

Maybe one good thing that will come out of the age of austerity is that the more men tighten their belts the more women can loosen theirs.

*Psychological Science 2005 16:167. Leif D. Nelson and Evan L. Morrison
The Symptoms of Resource Scarcity : Judgments of Food and Finances Influence Preferences for Potential Partners.

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