There are good ways to talk about scientific studies, bad ways to talk about scientific studies, and then there are truly terrible ways to talk about scientific studies. And unfortunately an article in lifestyle magazine AskMen about female attractiveness seems to have veered into that third category. I mean, I tend to have low expectations when it comes to a male author talking about how men like it when women are skinny, but when the phrase "big, honking jugs," is used without irony, something has gone especially wrong.
Now, to give Ian Lang, the author of this delightful piece, some credit, the study he's talking about is real, and it's results are about what he says they are. Based on data from 1,327 participants, both men and women, in 10 countries located in Africa, Asia, and Europe, researchers found that men tend to rate women with a lower Body Mass Index as more attractive (though they themselves note the need for further investigation, given the limits of their own study).
This conclusion, of course, goes against the evolutionary theory that people are attracted to partners who weigh more because it indicates that they are more likely to survive if food is ever scarce. And the idea that tastes may have shifted is an interesting idea to talk about. People have been trying to break down the "logic" of sexual attraction for decades, and they show no signs of giving up.
Some people, though, seem to view this in more crass terms than others do.
"A little extra cushion for the pushin’ may have been ideal a few thousand years ago," Ian Lang writes in the AskMen article, "but now we recognize that child-bearing hips aren’t worth much if she’s going to keel over from a heart attack a year from now."
Really? You are aware that increased weight doesn't automatically mean decreased health, aren't you? And that you actually can't determine how healthy someone is by looking at them? People can't help who they find attractive, but you can correct the belief that a few extra pounds will make someone "keel over from a heart attack a year from now."
And that's not even the worst part. The worst part is when he writes, "It’s believed that men prefer curvier women because their wider hips and big, honking jugs suggest fertility."
Lang writes that this study is important because it people should "stop trotting out the same, tired evo-psych explanations for human behavior," but really, he's just peddling other tired, over-used, misguided narratives, narratives about what health "looks" like, and about how sexual attraction works.
What people find attractive varies widely from person to person. Are there trends? Sure. Are those absolutes? No. Do we really understand all of it at this point anyway? Definitely not. So making blanket statements like "Real men don't prefer curves, actually," is preposterous.
And more importantly, consistently referring to women's bodies in blatantly disrespectful ways while talking about which bodies men find attractive is just awful. The whole thing just reinforces the idea that women's bodies are not ours, but are somehow communal property, on display for anyone to comment on or make sport of or lust after, as men see fit. It is text book male gaze. It is insulting. It is gross.
So please, if we're going to discuss studies about what men find attractive, can we at least pretend to be respectful while doing it? That would be great.
Images: Wikipedia Commons; Giphy (2)