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Is an hourglass figure a sign of fertility? Researchers say no.


Read any of those online guides on dressing to flatter your figure, and you’ll realise that women’s body types are often categorised into different shapes – such as the apple, pear, and hourglass. 

For most folks, the hourglass is by far the most coveted body type. Women with hourglass figures and low waist-to-hip ratios are generally seen to be more attractive, desirable, and even more fertile. But as recent research shows, a woman’s waist-to-hip ratio may not tell you anything about her fertility after all. 

The concept of waist-to-hip ratio

The concept of waist-to-hip ratio as an indicator of attractiveness was first theorized by evolutionary psychologist Devendra Singh, back in 1993. This idea quickly caught on, and persists till today – in fact, if you do a quick search online, you’ll see many articles stating that the ideal waist-to-hip ratio (for women) is 0.7. 

This ratio is calculated by dividing the measurement of your waist by that of your hips, so if you have a 29 inch waist and 38 inch hips, for instance, you’d have a 0.76 waist-to-hip ratio. The general consensus is that women with these low waist-to-hip ratios tend to be healthier and more fertile, which is why men find them more attractive, and seek them out.

Women with low waist-to-hip ratios are not more fertile

Recent research shows that low waist-to-hip ratios may not be an indicator of fertility after all. The two studies in question are:

  1. Do the Low WHRs and BMIs Judged Most Attractive Indicate Higher Fertility?

  2. Do the Low WHRs and BMIs Judged Most Attractive Indicate Better Health?

The studies are authored by William Lassek and Steven Gaulin, and published in the Evolutionary Psychology journal.

According to Gaulin and Lasek, it is actually healthier for a woman to carry a little extra body fat, and women with slightly more overall body fat tend to be more fertile on average. The authors also suggest that there’s another adaptive reason that explains why men prefer women with hourglass figures (and low waist-to-hip ratios). 

Simply put, low waist-to-hip ratios are a signal of “mature youth”. Think about it: younger girls generally have narrower hips and waists, and older women tend to have wider hips and waists. Women in their teens and early adulthood, in contrast, have a particular distribution of fat that gives them the hourglass look. 

To unpack this further, the researchers state that once a girl reaches puberty, she begins to distribute omega 3 fatty acids on her hips and thighs. This is important for her potential offspring’s brain development, so the hourglass figure essentially signals that a young woman has now reached puberty, and has a large number of remaining reproductive years. 

In essence, this means that a low waist-to-hip ratio isn’t an indicator of fertility, but of youth. Women with low waist-to-hip ratios tend to be the ones with the greatest future reproductive potential, and as the researchers theorize, this has led to men evolving to find low waist-to-hip ratios attractive. 

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