She's Got Legs…but they're too damn long


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An alien visiting earth for the first time might turn on a television (with its mind, of course), watch a few shows and commercials, and determine that physical attraction for the human male is all about exaggeration. BIG breasts. LONG legs. FULL lips. HUGE eyes. BLINDING teeth.

But as a growing mound of research is showing, this is largely an illusion. Portrayals of beauty are one thing, but what the everyday guy says he finds attractive is another.  When asked to evaluate attractiveness, everyday guy fesses up– it’s not about exaggeration, it’s about proportion.

Enter the legs study. Researchers at the University of California asked 1000 American and English men and women to judge the attractiveness of a series of images of female bodies. For each image, the leg-body-ratio (LBR) was slightly altered, but the height of the women remained the same.

The results: the closer the ratio was to 1:1, the more attractive the participants rated the women.  If the ratio went much below or much higher than 1:1, attractiveness fell. 

What I like about this study is that not only does it question the “men want really long legs” myth, but it also shows that women generally aren’t falling for the Naomi Campbell stereotype. The less women who think they need to look like an emaciated manga cartoon on stilts the better in my book.

This study contradicts another from a year ago that suggested men like shorter women with longer legs. Researchers in that case concluded that bodily asymmetries are too subtle to be seen with the naked eye, so human evolution compensated by accentuating other features, like long legs, curvy hips, broad shoulders (in men), and large breasts, among others.

Whether that’s true or not, it may help explain why exaggerated features are such a source of titillation on the electronic screen and magazine page, and evidently less so in real life. Perhaps proportion is less a consideration when we’re immersed in unreality. Exaggeration is, after all, unreality’s stock and trade.

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6 thoughts on “She's Got Legs…but they're too damn long

  1. Great post, David! But of course the two studies contradict each other. The real question is: Who funds this important scientific research?!

    • Susan, my thoughts exactly. If this retarded study diverted any funds for cancer research, I’m going to beat someone.

  2. Mr. Disalvo,

    You thought experiment might be valid if the space alien were to watch American TV in the late 20th or early 21st centuries. In the early part of the 20th century, long legs, large breasts, and huge lips were not considered conventionally attractive in portrayals of beauty. In the 1920-30’s women as shown in fashion magazines and movies had narrow lips and hips and not much in the way of breasts. Conventions of socially defined beauty are just those, conventions. They are entirely arbitrary and change over time and differ between cultures. Given the arbitrary and artificial nature of these conventions, it would not at all be surprising that ordinary people might not adopt those conventions for the day to day lives.

  3. Exaggeration is an artistic device for creating more interesting images,be it in a painting, an advertisement,a sketch,a film,a cartoon etc. It is no real surprise to find that humans like ‘average’ humans in real life, but on paper or canvas or celluloid we like more drama. There are evidences of life imitating art with some individuals trying to look like the renderings of creative production. it’s just silly looking in real life. Artists make legs long (or other exaggerations in anatomy)to fill negative space in a page, or even as an attention getting device. Due to the proportion being ‘wrong’ you apt to look at it longer. Generally it makes for better more arresting images, not meant as a physical population’s anatomical altering suggestion by the artist. Fun thoughts.

    • Hello nancywhite,

      Exaggeration is not only effective in attracting the attention of human beings, it works for animals as well. For example, a baby bird will be attracted to the beck of its parent. The Western Gull has a red dot on its beck exactly for this purpose. However, if offered a choice between a fake beak with three red dots, never found in nature, and a real beak with one red dot, the babies will always choose the fake.

  4. Pingback: Neuro News Nanos - Ryan Sager - Neuroworld - True/Slant

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