Pretty Women

Singling out perfect breasts, shapely legs, or lustrous hair as a reason for why men swoon over women is far too simplistic. Male longing may in fact be most inspired by the distribution of body fat along the curves of a woman's waist and hips-an area that, not surprisingly, may also reflect a woman's evolutionary potential for long-term health and reproductive success.

University of Texas psychologist Devendra Singh, Ph.D., studied the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) of Playboy playmates and Miss America contest winners over the past 60 years. She also asked college-age males and men aged 25 to 85 to rate the physical attractiveness of average women with varying WHRs.

Both the playmates and Miss Americas had a consistently lower WHR (narrow waist, full hips) than average, Singh found. In addition, men generally judged women with low WHRs as more appealing than those with high WHRs (full waist, full hips).

But don't blame skin magazines and porno flicks for swaying male preference toward the more shapely of the feminine gender. Men, in fact, may have specifically evolved to recognize the hourglass curves of a woman's waist and hips. Because extremely high or low values for WHR reflect either very high or very low levels of body fat--and thus a potentially increased risk for menstrual irregularity, ovulatory infertility, and life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease--men may unconsciously select curvier mates to ensure that they'll have plenty of future offspring to carry on their genes.

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PHOTO: "Male preference for curvy contours is not one perpetrated by porn magazines. Indeed, the male sex may have spent the last half a million years or so evolving deep-seated mechanisms for detecting the shape of a woman's waist and hips." (MICHAEL KREISER)

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