Men in rich, Western countries tend to prefer thinner women, whereas men in poorer South Pacific countries tend to prefer bigger women. It’s been argued that this is due to cultural and ethnic differences, but increasingly psychologists now believe it has more to do with socioeconomics, so that men prefer bigger women when resources are scarce because a woman being bigger is an implicit sign that she’s got access to resources.
To test this idea further, Viren Swami and Martin Tovee asked 61 male undergraduates at a British University to rate the attractiveness of 50 differently-sized women as depicted in black and white photos. The women were either emaciated, underweight, normal, overweight or obese, according to their body mass index (the ratio of height to weight). They were dressed in identical grey leotards and their faces were obscured. The male participants were recruited as they were entering or exiting the university dining hall, and they rated whether they were hungry or full on a 7-point scale.
The researchers found that the hungrier participants rated heavier women as more attractive than the full participants did. The hungrier men’s ratings were also less affected by the women’s shape, as measured by their hip to waist ratio.
“Temporary affective states can produce individual variation in mate preferences that mirrors patterns of cultural differences”, the researchers concluded. They also speculated about the generalisability of the findings. “If hungry men judge heavier women as more attractive than satiated men, might they also judge other heavy objects as generally more aesthetically pleasing?”, they asked.
Swami, V. & Tovee, M.J. (2005). Does hunger influence judgments of female physical attractiveness. British Journal of Psychology. In Press, DOI: 10.1348/000712605X80713