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Body Image. 2005 Jun;2(2):115-28. Epub 2005 May 31.

Female physical attractiveness in Britain and Malaysia: a cross-cultural study.

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Department of Psychology, University College of London, 26 Bedford Way, London WC1E 6BT, UK.


Two purported cues to perceived female physical attractiveness are body mass index (BMI) and body shape as measured by the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). This study examined the relative contribution of both cues in several culturally socio-economically distinct populations. Six hundred and eighty-two participants from Britain and Malaysia were asked to rate a set of images of real women with known BMI and WHR. The results showed that BMI is the primary determinant of female physical attractiveness, whereas WHR failed to emerge as a significant predictor. The results also showed that there were significant differences in preferences for physical attractiveness along a gradient of socio-economic development, with urban participants preferring images of women with significantly lower BMIs than their rural counterparts. The findings are discussed in terms of evolutionary psychological explanations of mate selection, and sociocultural theory, which emphasises the learning of preferences for body sizes in social and cultural contexts.

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