Recently, I viewed photos of Jennifer Lopez performing at the iHeartRadio Fiesta Latina in Miami, Florida, and as usual, the public’s comments didn’t disappoint. Someone wrote that “she should retire her fat ass and legs from the stage already.” The quality of her voice and ability to command the stage, with her notorious dance moves, were not a factor worth mentioning in any of the comments I read, either. Yep, everything revolved around her surprising weight gain.
Immediately, I set out to research why this would be the case and I came across an interesting study, which suggested that certain aspects of the female body may be attractive because they signal “evolutionary fitness.” Confusing? I will eventually explain. While delving into the scientists’ findings and mulling over this topic hours later, I recalled the days that “Barbie Ass” was the nickname that one of my friends had attached to my derriere. Honestly, I hadn’t thought about it for years, decades really. In those days, the size of my ass was a non-issue; it was so small and firm that it fit beautifully into every single pair of pants, skirt, or dress that I wanted to wear. Seldom did I even bother to turn around for that extra, studious glance in the mirror, the one that would help determine whether the pants stayed on or whether I would need to look for something a bit more flattering—something to make my ass look small, perky, and round. At least that was my idea of a perfect behind, but the nickname attached to my ass also helped strengthen the notion that I knew what I was talking about, and the need to memorialize that “perfect” ass with a photo did not occur to me either.
The skinny me years
During my student years in Buffalo, NY, I used to model underwear for a local department store and my photos would appear in the local newspaper on a weekly basis, clad with nothing but a bra and panties (my mother has those photos somewhere in her attic). I remember the carefree, confident feeling I had when the makeup people would powder my body, including my nether regions and there was no concern or shame because I felt that every single part of me was the right size and in the right place. But that was in my 20s, and these days, even though I do not consider myself obsessed with my looks, I must admit that almost 30 years later and 10 pounds heavier, my youthful confidence is a thing of the past and I too find myself taking a good look at what I look like from behind before deciding whether or not to wear certain clothes. This of course begs the question of why we perceive certain aspects of our body as attractive, and why we care so much about how big our ass is or how much we weigh? Is this something that is hard-wired into women’s brains or is this the influence of the skinny-obsessed media and its idea of beauty? Or is this a preference that men communicate to us because it’s actually hard-wired into their brains, poor souls, even if they don’t mean to be less attracted to heavier women or certain body types, it’s all nature’s fault in the end, I suppose.
During my 30s I would not have survived famine
In some of my older posts, I had quoted Desmond Morris and his findings on the influence of evolution and the shape of the human body, which have everything to do with attracting the opposite sex and the survival of one’s genes. This time I relied on a study conducted by the University of Aberdeen in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing, which determined that “evolutionary fitness” is the key to explaining what types of women men find appealing. Researchers wanted to figure out what role does body weight have in physical attractiveness, and in order to find out they used culture-specific data and tested it across the range of different cultures, using a common protocol. However, this particular topic of weight and attractiveness is not so simple to understand and there were quite a few parameters that were excluded from the research that would have probably affected the results to some degree (see https://peerj.com/articles/1155/). Most surprising is that their new data comes in complete contrast to earlier studies, which suggested that men were naturally attracted to heavier women since, in evolutionary terms, extra fat meant better chances of survival during famine.
In their new study, fitness was divided into two elements: survival and fertility. The mathematical model that the scientists created for this study predicted that people would view as most attractive women with BMI (body mass index) of between 24 and 24.8. Then they tested their predictions on 1300 test subjects from different countries around the world (Europe, Africa, Asia). They were all shown images of women with varying BMI and WHR (waist to hip ratio), facial features were not included. The results showed that beauty preferences were pretty universal, and that people actually preferred thinner women with a BMI of 19 as opposed to their earlier predictions. Waist hip ratio was not included as an indicator of attractiveness because in the past it’s been associated with cognitive abilities and not health. The new data concluded that the ideal female body preferred by most males and females was tall and skinny, with a small waist; long, slender limbs; small bottom, and smaller breasts believe it or not.
When the test subjects were asked to guess the ages of the women in question, the heavier women were perceived to be much older than the skinnier ones. So now age had become a strong indicator in evolutionary fitness. The researchers then included the age into their calculations and, voila, the BMI corresponded exactly to the images that people had already found most attractive.
In short, most of the people in this study preferred Taylor Swift type bodies to the more hourglass shape of the Kim Kardashian types. The results proved that nowadays attractiveness of women is equated to their youth. Subconsciously, this means maximal fertility and minimal risk of disease. Again, these findings were in complete contrast to our evolutionary history and genetic disposition for gaining weight since we were exposed to famine quite often, which made body fat an attractive trait when fat equated survival.
Elongated Peruvian skulls, just another beauty practice
D’ya get it now? The public has a preference for the skinniest of the lot and it’s become somewhat of a universal trend albeit some cultures have a preference for extra weight on the bones for a few different reasons actually. But since western beauty ideals have permeated the globe, the idea of attractiveness has become a bit more uniform. I see this as another cornerstone in our evolutionary path really; tastes have continuously evolved and changed over the centuries. Ancient civilizations would engage in the most extreme beauty practices, e.g., 8000 years ago Peruvian parents would alter the shape of their newborn’s skull by binding it for 6 months; once upon a time the greatest European artists would paint subjects with belly fat and wide hips and a large bum. That represented beauty in their eyes since evolutionary fitness back then determined that fat represented survival and fertility. In the West, famine no longer plays a pivotal part in our lives, things have changed so drastically, and with the advent of plastic surgery and a new beauty ideal that is led by the entertainment and modeling worlds, as well as the cosmetics-crazy multi-industry conglomerates that promote the idea of youth and erasing the years from ones face and body, we are left to ponder whether we have been affected by them, or whether they are merely reflecting our changing tastes in beauty.
No ass photo per se, just don’t have any, but still weighing more
I thought that I had created a fictional character with Poker Face Polly when I wrote The Diary of a Wrinkle, until I came across a little blurb about a real person who has not smiled in 40 years in order to avoid lines on her face. I promise you that I have not made this up. Read More