While most men tend to prefer slimmer and younger-looking women as mates, chiefly, as the argument goes, because these women appear healthier and more fertile, and thus better bets to bear offspring, a new study shows that when under stress, men prefer a wider range of female body sizes.
According to this new study, which appears in PLoS ONE, stress and panic makes men reassess their priorities and appreciate more homely qualities such as a larger body size that signify access to basic resources like food. The researchers point out that body fat is also linked with age, meaning a larger waistline may signify that a woman is more mature and therefore better equipped to cope with threatening situations, making her a more appealing partner during uncertain times. Previous research studies have shown how being hungry can cause men to prefer larger women, and how during economic downturns, older-looking actresses become more popular and Playboy centerfolds feature ‘curvier’ women.
The study was undertaken by researchers from University of Westminster and Newcastle University, in the UK, to look at the impact of psychological stress on men’s judgements of female attractiveness in relation to body size. It found that men given tasks designed to put them under pressure rated a slightly larger female body size as their physical ideal, compared with the size chosen by men in a control group.
The study was conducted on 81 heterosexual male youths with an average age of 22, who were randomly assigned to either the ‘stress’ group or the control group. Both groups were shown pictures of a range of different female body shapes ranging from emaciated to obese, and asked to rate them in terms of how attractive they were. The pictures were numbered according to their body-
mass index on a scale of one to ten, with one representing emaciated and ten obese. The largest figure deemed attractive by stressed men was 7.17, classified as ‘overweight’, while the upper limit of attractiveness for men from the non-stressed group was 6.25, which is classified by the scale as a ‘normal’. Stressed men rated a figure of 4.44 as the ideal figure, while the non-stressed men found women most attractive at a lighter level, at 3.90.