Well Being

Women Pick Thin Men Over ‘Masculine’ But Overweight Mates

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Memo to men: Women don't care if you've got the strong jaw structure of Channing Tatum if you've got the body of Jonah Hill.

Or something like that. I'm having a bit of a hard time figuring out precisely what this study on masculinity and attractiveness is saying — there's a lot about evolutionary psychology and our unconscious judgements of men's immune systems. But it seems to indicate that, in the end, conventional markers of ‘masculinity‘ aren't as important to women in picking a mate than whether he's fit or fat.

The study comes from the University of Pretoria in South Africa, where researcher Vinet Coetzeeand his team took photos of 69 male volunteers in their underwear, along with measures of the men's body fat and testosterone levels. The group included 65% normal weight men, 4% underweight men and 30.4% overweight or obese men. All of the men also took immune system response tests, to see how weak or strong their immune systems were.

Enter a group of 30 heterosexual, ovulating Latvian women, who were asked to judge the attractiveness of the semi-naked men in the photos. An additional group of 14 Latvian women rated the men on their level of facial fatness, and a separate group of 20 heterosexual Finnish men and women rated the men on masculinity.

Ultimately, the men with fatter faces were less appealing to the ovulating women and were shown to have weaker immune systems. The masculinity rating didn't make a difference, on how attracted a man was rated or his immune system functioning. Men with 12% body fat were rated most attractive.

“We found that a man's weight serves as a better indicator of the relationship between immune response and attractiveness than masculinity does,” Coetzee told LiveScience.

“It is therefore more likely that Latvian women use weight, rather than masculinity, in their subconscious judgments of a man's immunity.”

Well, there we go. I don't know about all that subconscious immunity judgment, but it seems fairly obvious that weight is more closely correlated with our notions of attractiveness than things like a prominent jaw or squinty eyes (both allegedly ‘masculine traits'). I guess I'm just not at all convinced that it has anything to do with evolutionary psychology.

Ev-psych is supposed to explain why women were attracted to masculine facial features — it signaled a man with a good immune system and therefore one who would pass good genes on to our babies. The researchers now say, oh, well, fatness or trimness is a better visual measure of immune system functioning, so women are picking up on this and, hence, attracted to thinner men. But … isn't it just possible that we have preferences not tied up in our baby-making systems? That, like, despite ‘King of Queens' and all those sitcom couples, we actually do care that our dudes not be fat slobs? And it's not because bigger dudes are less likely to give us pretty babies but that they're less likely to have perfect crevices just beneath their hipbones to run our tongues over. Maybe?