Since at least the advent of sociobiology (now generally referred to as evolutionary psychology), researchers have been turning their critical eye to the question: what are the characteristics of (primarily feminine) beauty? Two interesting studies on this subject were published in June. The first, published by researchers at the University of New South Wales in Australia, seems to indicate that so-called average women are considered the most attractive by men. The second, published by researchers at Wake Forest University in North Carolina, seems to indicate that men find women who are slender and confident.
How can we reconcile these findings with each other and with that of a study published earlier this year that sought to quantify the ideal female body? One good way to distinguish between them is to look at the study design. The NSW study utilized 200 line-drawn models that were shown to 100 men. The study looked for statistical correlation between the waist-to-hip ratio and perceived attractiveness, but found none, and, instead found a "strong preference for average values" of waist, hip, and shoulder width. Two immediate factors against this study: the use of line drawn torsos that apparently did not incorporate breast size as a variable, and the use of only 100 men to obtain their results.
The Wake Forest study polled 4000 men and women aged 18 to older than 70 about the attractiveness of photographs of people of the opposite sex. The people in the photographs were aged 18 to 25. Then the researchers compiled the results and found that men were more likely to agree about which women were attractive than women agreed about men. Men preferred women who were "thin" and "seductive" according to the press release. The study also said that preferences tended to change as people aged, with older people more likely to find people attractive if they were smiling. This study is better in that utilizes a larger sample size and actual pictures of subjects, which, although it introduces additional variables, also allows men and women to make actual attractiveness judgments.
Neither of these studies seems as significant as the study published in March, which utilized 243 precisely computer-generated figure variations of a woman in a bikini that were rated by 34,000 discrete visitors. Preferences were then statistically analyzed. This study identified three significant ratios for female body attractiveness, namely bust to underbust, bust to waist, and waist to hip. These three ratios are also shown to be significant because they help account for three of the most popular plastic surgery procedures for women: breast augmentation, liposuction, and tummy tucks.
In the end, though, women should note that the significant disagreement among scientists (and among men) says that there is no single "most attractive" body. Women should decide for themselves how they want to look based on their own personal cosmetic goals. Plastic surgery is best used to help you feel good about yourself, rather than in an attempt to reach an artificial ideal.