Encyclopedia of Evolutionary Psychological Science

Living Edition
| Editors: Todd K. Shackelford, Viviana A. Weekes-Shackelford

In-Pair Female Attractiveness

  • T. Joel WadeEmail author
  • James Moran
  • Kelsey Salerno
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16999-6_1772-1

Bodily and Physical Cues

Women’s attractiveness indexes health, fecundity and successful mothering potential (the ability to most successfully raise offspring independent of the ability to become pregnant), femininity, and pathogen resistance (Buss and Schmitt 1993; Cunningham 1986; Cunningham et al. 1990, 1995; Henss 1992, 1995; Kenrick et al. 1994; Singh 1993, 1994, 1995; Singh and Luis 1995; Singh and Young 1995; Symons 1995; Wade 2000, 2003). Thus, men seek female partners based on facial and bodily cues and physical qualities that signal these characteristics. Singh and Luis (1995), Symons (1995), and Singh and Randall (2007) report that the most important and most visible physical cue for judging women’s attractiveness is the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). The WHR is related to crucial endocrine states associated with fecundity and successful mothering, and femininity is inferred from it (Singh 1993, 1994, 1995). Singh (1993, 1995) and Björntorp (1987a, b) report that gynoid fat is distributed on the thighs, legs, buttocks, waist, and hips of women. The lumbar curve is also important. Men execute an adaptation that allows them to tell which women have the optimal level of vertebral wedging that allows for a shift of the center of their mass back over their hips during pregnancy. This shifting of the center of mass allows for less: hip torque, lower back pain, spinal injury, and compromised fitness (Whitcome et al. 2007; White and Punjabi 1990). Thus, Lewis et al. (2015) report that men find women whose lumbar curve is closer to the optimal angle of 45.5° most attractive. Additionally, women’s waist size is an indicator of their risk for disease, is used to assess their hormonal status, and is correlated with cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, and gallbladder problems (Björntorp 1993; Singh and Young 1995). Therefore, women who appear to have small hips, small waists, medium to small buttocks, and medium legs (Wiggins et al. 1968) are considered more attractive, healthier, more feminine, most fertile, and better potential mothers (Singh 1993, 1994, 1995; Singh and Young 1995; Symons 1995). Women’s breasts and the appearance of their stomachs also play a role in attractiveness, health, and fecundity assessments (Singh 1993, 1994, 1995; Singh and Luis 1995; Singh and Young 1995; Symons 1995). Gynoid fat is distributed on the abdomens of women (Björntorp 1987a, b; Singh 1993, 1994, 1995), and women with large breasts are considered more attractive, more feminine and healthier, and consequently most desirable for long- and short-term relationships (Singh and Young 1995). Physical fitness is also important. Kenrick and Keefe (1992) and Symons (1979) report that good physical fitness is related to fecundity and may also signal phenotypic quality (Symons 1995). Women’s sex drives also play a role. The consequences of sexual activity have a greater impact on women (Bailey et al. 1994). Women must bear the offspring that result from sexual activity and experience the body and life changes that are concomitant with that. Thus, men use women’s sex drive as a criterion for long- and short-term mate selection. A higher sex drive is associated with both long- and short-term mating (Buss and Schmitt 1993, p. 213, Table 2) preferences. Vocal pitch also plays a role since vocal pitch indexes developmental stability (Hughes et al. 2002). Collins and Missing (2003) report that men find women with higher pitched voices more attractive, and Hughes et al. (2014) report that men find women with hoarser voices more sexually attractive.

Facial Characteristics

Men also seek female partners whose facial characteristics indicate that they are healthy and fecund and have successful mothering potential. So, women with high cheekbones are considered more attractive, feminine, fertile, and healthier (Cunningham 1986; Cunningham et al. 1995; Symons 1995), because women’s cheekbone size indexes pathogen resistance (Folstad and Karter 1992; Iwasa et al. 1991; Zuk 1990). Additionally, women with smaller noses are considered more fertile, more attractive, and more feminine (Cunningham 1986; Cunningham et al. 1995; Enlow 1990; Symons 1995; Wade 2000, 2003). The lips are also important. Lip size is also an estrogen-mediated trait (Johnston and Franklin 1993) and an indicator of femininity and attractiveness (Symons 1995). Thus, men rate women with full lips as more attractive (Baudouin and Tiberghien 2004). In addition, since the eyes get smaller with age (Wade 2000, 2003), eye size becomes a heuristic for youth and fertility. So, women with large round eyes are considered more attractive, fertile, and healthier (Cunningham 1986; Cunningham et al. 1995; Symons 1995). Similarly, since the limbal ring, a dark annulus around the iris, gets thinner/lighter due to health problems and/or aging (Peshek et al. 2011), women with a dark and distinct limbal ring around the eye are rated as more attractive than women whose eyes do not have a limbal ring (Peshek et al. 2011).


Both bodily and facial characteristics are important for men’s selection of mates. Also, this is not a random process. Men engage in assortative mating where they select mates whose attractiveness matches their respective mate value (Buss and Schmitt 1993; Vandenberg 1972).


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyBucknell UniversityLewisburgUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Brian B Boutwell
    • 1
  1. 1.Saint Louis UniversitySaint LouisUSA