‘Egyptian Popeye’ Moustafa Ismail may have the largest biceps in the world, but will he also attract more ladies than less muscular men? Probably not. New research reveals what women really want: no popeye, but a man with a slim body.
According to the “good genes” hypothesis, heterosexual women choose men based on traits that indicate a man’s genetic quality in terms of disease resistance. Masculine features, like a strong jawline or a muscular body, have long thought to be the most important indicators of a strong immune system and therefore a powerful driver of attraction, but the current study proves otherwise. Women do prefer men with good physical health, but the cue isn’t masculinity, it’s fatness.
“Fatness is an obvious choice for a marker of immunity because of its strong association with health and immunity,” study researcher Vinet Coetzee, a postdoctoral scientist at the University of Pretoria in South Africa, told LiveScience.
The researchers photographed 69 Caucasian man in underwear, and measured their body fat, testosterone levels and immune system response. Then 29 heterosexual Latvian fertile women judged the attractiveness of the men’s faces and bodies. A seperate group of 20 heterosexual Finnish men and women rated the men for masculinity, and 14 other Latvian women rated the men’s fatness.
The findings showed that fatness was linked to both immune system response and attractiveness, with chubbier men both having weaker immune systems and being seen as less appealing by the fertile women. Masculinity, however, was not linked to either immune system response or attractiveness. Testosterone levels were more closely related to fatness than masculine features.
“We found that a man’s weight serves as a better indicator of the relationship between immune response and attractiveness than masculinity does,” Coetzee said. “It is therefore more likely that Latvian women use weight, rather than masculinity, in their subconscious judgments of a man’s immunity.”
Rantala, M., Coetzee, V., Moore, F., Skrinda, I., Kecko, S., Krama, T., Kivleniece, I., & Krams, I. (2012). Adiposity, compared with masculinity, serves as a more valid cue to immunocompetence in human mate choice Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 280 (1751), 20122495-20122495 DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2012.2495