Female Body Ideals Since 600 BCE
In a previous article, The 'Ideal' Female Body Size, Over Time, we discussed female attractiveness since the 1950s in the U.S. The interesting findings were that men have gradually preferred less curvy woman, had no real change in preference for cup size and that in the last few decades there has been a preference for slightly larger women. In said article we focused on the relationship between waist-to-hip (WHR) ratio and female attractiveness. We did so because much research suggests that WHR is a reliable measure of female attractiveness. Work by Singh and also related work by Dixson and coworkers have shown, via multiple studies, that an ideal WHR exists. In short, WHR is a reliable and quick measure of fat deposits in women that is related to youthfulness, ability to produce offspring and long-term health.
As discussed above WHR is used in the literature as a measure of female attractiveness and is so used in this analysis. Given the interesting findings from our previous article that WHR was increasing in Playboy Models, we decided to look deeper into history and analyze the ideal female form, as WHR, from antiquity. For our previous analysis, we used Playboy models as the 'ideal' female form. Since Playboy was not in existence until 1953, another representation of the ideal female form was needed. One might argue that artistic representations of the female form are a historical analogue to the current female ideals as reflected in Playboy and the like. To that end, we found peer-reviewed data that measure WHR of historical models in both paintings and sculpture pieces.
Data courtesy of the following study.
Historical Female Ideals, 600 BCE to the 20th Century
Very little change in WHR from 600 BCE until Playboy appeared in the mid 20th century. The average WHR was 0.743 from 600 BCE to 500 CE, and the average WHR was 0.742 from the 14th Century to the 20th Century. The WHR values from these two periods of antiquity were compared and were not significantly different (p-value = 0.63). In contrast, the average WHR for Playboy models was 0676. However, when these historical WHR values were compared to the modern female WHRs, we do see a statistically significant difference (p-value = 5 x 10^-66 ).
Mouse over the above figure for additional information about the artworks.
20th Century to Present
In comparing the historical models to Playboy models we see a change in WHR ratio of the women. With the advent of Playboy Magazine in the 1950s, we see that WHR of the 'ideal' women was at an all-time low and only in recent times is the WHY approaching historical averages. In looking at the Playboy model data, shown below, we see that men initially preferred women with WHR values near 0.65 which is quite curvy. Over time men have gradually preferred less curvy woman, i.e., larger WHR.
See below for an animated GIF of Miss America winners from 1921 until the most recent winner in 2015.
See below for an animated GIF of Miss Universe winners from the 1950s until the most recent winner in 2015.
Slider courtesy of Online Doctor