The Stone Age Mind

An evolutionary explanation for humans' most puzzling behaviors

Why Sir Mix-A-Lot Had It Right

Women should love their big butts and hips

Last Summer, my sister was trying on wedding gowns, when, to my amazement, she turned her nose up at a gorgeous, slim-fitted dress because she thought it made her hips look too big. No one around seemed to be surprised to hear this; my sister does, in fact, have huge, child-bearing hips, and it has always been an insecurity of hers. But as the other ladies of the bridal party assuaged her fears and told her that she was wrong, I wanted to tell her that she was right. The dress did emphasize her curvy figure, and that that was exactly what made her look so beautiful in it.

Why do women envy the tubular, stick-straight, boy-hipped bodies of today's supermodels that could hardly pass for natural? Plenty of research has surfaced over the last couple of decades that points to the benefits of the feminine hourglass figure, and its time that girls and women, particularly in the U.S., start paying closer attention.

The waist-hip-ratio (WHR) was first popularized as a biomarker by Devendra Singh of the University of Texas at Austin, in 1993. In this study, he surveyed hundreds of men, across various age groups, to gather data on the body shape that men find most attractive. He discovered that the ratio of the width of a woman's natural waist to the width of her hips was significantly linked to men's ratings of attractiveness of that female. A lower WHR (or, greater discrepancy between the two measurements) in females predicted a higher rating of attractiveness by males. Further examination found that a low WHR is also significantly correlated to various aspects of physiological health, including greater fertility, and increased protection against diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and ovarian cancers.

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Images rated by men in Singh's 1993 study on waist-hip-ratio.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1993

Similar rules apply for men, but in the opposite direction. Men with higher WHR's, around 0.9, show greater fertility and less incidence of prostate and testicular cancer. Men with higher WHR's are also seen as more attractive and reproductively valuable by females.

But perhaps the greatest point of contention for the argument for hips, is what researchers from UC Santa Barbara and University of Pittsburgh discovered a few years ago. Low female WHR is even correlated with intelligence. Women with lower WHR, and their offspring, have significantly higher cognitive test scores, even when other correlates for cognitive ability were controlled for. In addition, teenage mothers with low WHR, and their children, are protected from the cognitive decrements generally associated with teen births.

However, it's not to say that these mothers have extra IQ points stashed in their fat stores (though that would be cool); it's that women with lower WHR's have healthier reproductive capability, in general, which contributes to proper neurodevelopment of the child. The supply of long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids found in the waist and hips of a curvy woman are essential for the baby's developing brain and nervous system. During pregnancy, the woman and child compete for energy resources within the woman's body. Nutrients from the mother's diet and localized fat stores break down to provide energy for both the mother and the developing child; so when a mother has excess gluteofemoral fat stores, there is less competition for energy. Greater energy availability means greater developmental potential for the baby.

It all seems to make sense from an evolutionary perspective. After all, heterosexual men are biologically hardwired to see healthy, fertile women as more attractive, in order to increase chances of reproductive success. And, as researchers have found, a lower WHR in women represents a greater presence of estrogen and a healthier pattern of reproductive development. Men love women's big hips, or at least, the healthy ones do. When are we going to stop pushing the limits of what's attractive, and start accepting what's healthy and natural? I think it's time to throw away your Spanx.

 

 

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Rebecca Searles is a science journalist and social media editor at The Huffington Post.

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