By LiveScience Staff
posted: 03 December 2008 10:06 am ET
An imperfect body might be just what the doctor ordered for women and key to their economic success, an anthropologist now says.
While pop culture seems to worship the hourglass figure for females, with a tiny waist, big boobs and curvy hips Ã* la Marilyn Monroe, this may not be optimal, says Elizabeth Cashdan of the University of Utah.
That's because the hormones that make women physically stronger, more competitive and better able to deal with stress also tend to redistribute fat from the hips to the waist.
So in societies and situations where women are under pressure to procure resources and otherwise bring home the bacon, they may be less likely to have the classic hourglass figure, Cashdan hypothesizes in the December issue of the journal Current Anthropology.
Until now, scientists (and apparently Western society) thought a curvy figure trumped other body shapes. The idea was based on results from medical studies that suggested a curvy waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 or lower (meaning the waist is significantly narrower than the hips) is associated with higher fertility and lower rates of chronic disease.
In addition, past research has revealed that men prefer a ratio of 0.7 or lower when looking for a mate. The preference makes perfect sense, according to evolutionary psychologists, because the low ratio is a reliable signal of a healthy, fertile woman. Along those lines, Playboy centerfolds tend to have a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.68, Cashdan found.
However, women around the world tend to have larger waist-to-hip ratios (more cylindrical than hourglass-shaped) than is considered optimal by these medical and social standards.
Specifically, Cashdan compiled data from 33 non-Western populations and four European populations, finding the average waist-to-hip ratio for women was above 0.8. So if 0.7 is the magic number both in terms of health and male mate choice, Cashdan wondered why most women exhibit a significantly higher ratio.
That's where the hormones come in.
A little testosterone
Androgens, a class of hormones that includes testosterone, increase waist-to-hip ratios in women by increasing visceral fat,
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