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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