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The Ideal Female Figure Is...


Forget the sexy hourglass figure--large breasts, tiny waist and curvy hips--that so many men desire and pop culture worships. The ideal female figure is one with a tubby waistline that is more of a cylinder shape.

Women who have an imperfect body with a bigger waist than they may like could actually find this excess body fat is the key to their economic success, reports Anthropologist Elizabeth Cashdan of the University of Utah says the same hormones that tend to redistribute fat from the hips to the waist also make women physically stronger, more competitive and better able to deal with stress.

Cashdan has a daring hypothesis: When women are under pressure to provide monetary resources for their families, they are less likely to have that classic hourglass figure that has long been held up as a feminine ideal.

Previous medical studies have shown that a curvy body--specifically a waist that is significantly narrower than the hips with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 or less--means a woman is more fertile and has lower rates of chronic disease. This Playboy-centerfold body type has also been shown scientifically to be the one most preferred by men when selecting a mate.

How do you compute your waist-to-hip ratio? Use a measuring tape to determine your waist and hip measurements. Measure your hip circumference at its widest part, and measure your waist circumference at the belly button or just above it. Pull out your calculator and divide the waist circumference by the hip circumference or use an online waist-to-hip ratio calculator to run the numbers. An online calculator is available here.

By compiling data from 33 non-Western populations and four European populations, Cashdan found that women whose waist-to-hip ratios are higher, resulting in a body shape that is more like a cylinder than an hourglass with a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.8, actually have the optimal body shape by medical and social standards.

But if 0.7 is considered the ideal, why do most women have a significantly higher ratio? Hormones. The waist-to-hip ratio is increased by androgens, a class of hormones that includes testosterone, since they increase visceral fat that is carried around the waist, reports The good news is that when androgen levels are increased so are strength, stamina and competitiveness. The hormone cortisol, which helps the body deal with stressful situations, also increases fat carried around the waist.

Cashdan says these higher hormone levels, which do result in a fatter waistline, are so useful during times of stress that this benefit outweighs the advantages of a tiny waist and hourglass figure. This is especially prominent in societies that value sexual equality. "Waist-to-hip ratio may indeed be a useful signal to men, then, but whether men prefer a [waist-to-hip ratio] associated with lower or higher androgen/estrogen ratios (or value them equally) should depend on the degree to which they want their mates to be strong, tough, economically successful and politically competitive," Cashdan writes in the journal Current Anthropology. "And from a woman's perspective, men's preferences are not the only thing that matters."

--From the Editors at Netscape

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