Why Stressed-Out Men Prefer Heavier Women

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Most men prefer leggy and lean women, Gisele Bündchen lookalikes, right? Not necessarily. In fact, the body type that a man finds attractive can change depending on his environment and circumstances, a new study finds: when under stress, for instance, men prefer heavier women.

The study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, reports that when men were placed in stressful situations, then asked to rate the attractiveness of women of varying body sizes, they tended to prefer beefier frames, compared with unstressed men whose tastes skewed thinner.

“This suggests that our body size preferences are not innate, but are flexible,” said study co-author Martin Tovée of Newcastle University in the U.K., in an email, noting that they may be influenced by our particular environment and resources.

(MORE: Women May Suffer Fat Stigma Even After Losing Weight)

The findings fall in line with evolutionary theories that suggest when resources are scarce or unpredictable, a woman’s thin physique may signal illness, frailty and the inability to reproduce. Indeed, Tovée and colleague Viren Swami of the University of Westminster in London have previously found that men under trying conditions — like extreme hunger — tend to rate heavier women as more attractive. The researchers suggest also that underlying biological mechanisms, such as blood sugar and hormone levels, are major players in how we perceive our surroundings.

“Our work in parts of Malaysia and Africa has shown that in poorer environments where resources are scarce, people prefer a heavy body in a potential partner,” said Tovée. “If you live in an environment where food is scarce, being heavier means you have fat stored up as a buffer against a potential food reduction in the future, and that you must be higher social status to afford the food in the first place. Both of these are attractive qualities in a partner in those circumstances.”

Moving from a low-resource environment to a richer one, like the U.K. or the U.S., can cause a shift in these preferences, says Tovée, and to test the theory further, the researchers recruited some male volunteers and manipulated their stress levels — a key problem for people living in poor environments.

(MORE: Too Old For Weight Worries? Eating Disorders Are Common Among Women Over 50)

The study examined 81 heterosexual men, about half of whom underwent the Trier Social Stress Test. In the test, the men participated in an impromptu job interview in front of four interviewers. They were asked them to “sell” themselves for five minutes, and then calculate answers to simple math problems under time pressure.

Afterward, all the study participants were shown images of 10 women with body types ranging from emaciated to obese and were asked to rank them based on their attractiveness.

The images were numbered on a scale of 1 to 10 based on the women’s body mass index (BMI), with 1 representing very thin and 10 obese. The largest body size rated attractive by the stressed-out men was 7.17, which fell in the overweight category. The largest body type deemed attractive by the unstressed control group was 6.25, which was considered normal on the BMI scale.

Overall, stressed men preferred a bigger body — their “ideal” figure was a 4.44 — than the unstressed men, who idealized a thinner body type, at 3.90. Stressed-out men not only rated heavier women as more attractive, but they also gave higher ratings to a wider range of body types overall.

(MORE: An Ugly Trend: Teens Turn to YouTube to Evaluate Their Looks)

“This shift suggests that stress alters what you find attractive in a potential partner, and it is another factor helping you to optimize the fit of your partner preferences to your environment,” said Tovée.

Understanding how body preferences may change or be influenced by circumstance also sheds light on the development of warped body image, the authors say. “People suffering from conditions such as anorexia nervosa have a distorted perception of body size and body ideals, and it’s important that research focus on the mechanisms underlying and influencing the perception of body size,” says Tovée.

Despite our media’s seeming reverence for size-zero models and ripped muscle men, it may help people suffering from eating disorders and other body-image problems to know that such body “ideals” are not exactly ideal after all. “The information from this article could be useful in therapy of anxiety and eating disorders,” Dr. Igor Galynker, associate chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Beth Israel Medical Center, told ABC News. “The information could be an alternative to thoughts such as, ‘I am fat; no man would find me attractive.'”

MORE: Should Being Beautiful — or Ugly — Pay Off?

106 comments
mercury1729
mercury1729

Preference for a specific body type starts forming on an individual mind since childhood....This is strongly imprinted...

As far as I know, guys secretly like bigger women with big wide hips. This is truth. At the time of choosing partner, he definitely will go for a bigger, taller, bulky woman than with a thin woman.

socalmelanie
socalmelanie

Yeah we know its flexible becuase super thin hasnt been popular until maybe the last fifteen years give or take a few.

stressedoutmoms
stressedoutmoms

I wonder if this works the other way round??!! I help women who are stressed and I certainly think this is great research - And stress can make you fat research has now suggested. Women are under a great deal of pressure - and many actually just give themselves another couple of things to worry about and stress over as they look in the mirror! I think I may write a follow up post to this article - anybody like to contribute to what key points my forthcoming post should focus on? http://www.stressmanagementforbusywomen.com

Juju Costa
Juju Costa

i just dont understand why ppl associate thin ppl with healthy, when they dont eat nothin, and so bad

Juju Costa
Juju Costa

as the fact i like tall, big men, and most women dont care much for it.. as i like huge cocks, aparentaly, and most dont care.. so.. hahahahahaha i feel like out of the commom.. so, im used

Juju Costa
Juju Costa

im to a point i dont care..i m not happy the way i look, but i only want the ones who  like the wy i look. i really dont care for the guys who like certain shapes.. heheh cause if they dont like me, its finehehe someone will 

but i liked this article......

Juju Costa
Juju Costa

i dont like skinny men, i like them big..

Juju Costa
Juju Costa

cool, its cause in an extreme situation (stress) they let the media out, and the real them sets in

PreyingMantis
PreyingMantis

The error in this 'research' is amusing. 'Stressed out men prefer heavier women'. So, say I make a marriage proposal to a 'heavy' woman and we get married, the reason why I have stayed married to this heavy woman for say 4 years is because I've been stressed for these 4 years? When I'm no longer stressed out, what happens?

Is this article encouraging heavy women to seek out perceived stressed out men to begin a courting ritual with them? Personally, I feel research like this have no particular purpose or usefulness. Being stressed out isn't healthy. Being heavy isn't either. These are two extremities and they have consequences.

“Our work in parts of Malaysia and Africa has shown that in poorer environments where resources are scarce, people prefer a heavy body in a potential partner,” said Tovée. “If you live in an environment where food is scarce, being heavier means you have fat stored up as a buffer against a potential food reduction in the future, and that you must be higher social status to afford the food in the first place. Both of these are attractive qualities in a partner in those circumstances.”.

The excerpt above is completely false. I am an African and I can categorically say this. As men, our preferences in women have absolutely nothing to do with the availability of food. Circumstances like hunger or poverty as the research has purported don't determine who you are attracted to. In Africa, being fat doesn't mean you must be of higher social status. It means you are just fat. These researchers should quit trying to justify the idle time they have spent in coming up with nothing. It is ridiculous to come up with such a hypothesis. It is ironic that the people who have conducted this research are academicians. I sincerely doubt the authenticity of their qualifications.  

Everybodyneedslove
Everybodyneedslove

 An attractive person can be a size 2 or a 22, if you like size 2, go for it, if you like size 22 good for you, a lot more men prefer a "fluffy" woman, but, does not want to be seen with them as they feel they are being judged by some of their friends, family and society.  It is all relative people. When it comes to health that is another story as some overweight people have less health issues than some underweight or normal weight people, again relative, oh by the way i am not advocating one way or the other. Stop judging people by their looks only. "Everyone has a right to be here!  Yes i took that from" Desidarata", some of you should read that, it may help us all or (most) see life more clearly. Nuff said.

Em102784
Em102784

I'd like to know what the 'overweight' BMI was in 1950 vs the 'overwieght' BMI now. Have the numbers changed and are the women at 7 our of 10 actually overweight? How much impact has social pressure affected the overall definition of 'overweight' ?

liebab
liebab

I feel it’s little embezzled to conclude that way that

stressed men like heavier girls. More and more men stressed by the time they

reach 35+. They might like but not prefer to take.

Melora
Melora

Stressed out men liked 7.17 and unstressed liked 6.25 (on body size scale)--which is considered normal on BMI scale.  Wow--that isn't really much of a difference. I am guessing the 7.17 isn't really that big at all. It's just a hair above normal.  So any woman with 10 or 20 pounds over her normal weight is still going to be unattractive to both stressed and unstressed.  Unless that one shift in number is really a huge difference??

18235
18235

lot of fat women on welfare where i live.

Cingal
Cingal

Stressed men like heavier women because they eat more, cook more  and feed them more...and don't love themselves enough to be hard on them.

Cingal
Cingal

Stressed men like heavier women because they eat more, cook more and feed them more. Are less judgemental of them, because they don't even like themselves.

CtPaul
CtPaul

I have high blood pressure, a girlfriend who is bi-polar and my Mom has Alzheimer's disease. Despite this, I prefer slender women. How slender? Think of Whitney Houston's first MTV video "How will I know". That slender!

RobertSF
RobertSF

Fat is to women as muscle is to men. If you add a bit of muscle to men, they look more masculine. Most women prefer a more muscular man to a skinnier one, though too much muscle turns most women off. Likewise, if you add a bit of fat to women, they look more feminine, and most men prefer a fatter woman to a skinnier one. And as well, too much fat turns most men off.

But ladies, we're talking frankly an apple shape here. If your neck disappears and you're so fat you always look like you're holding your breath, that's too fat for most men. But if you're 110-130, and you're always agonizing over the 10-20 pounds you're supposed to lose, you're making yourself crazy for no reason. Most men would prefer you at 10 pounds heavier, not 10 pounds lighter.

ecstatist
ecstatist

Only 81 subjects tested???

Present day western preferences are primarily dictated by the "fashion"/beauty industry. Excluding breast size (primarily an American, biggest is best influence) the rest of a beautiful woman is a pre or mid pubescent girl. Note the amount and distribution of body fat (shape) and the insistence of unnatural body/facial hairlessness and the coverting of menstruation.

See what was desirable historically or in other cultures. Reubenesque is a clue. A "fat" mate denoted robust and enduring fertility and fecundity and also was a status symbol similar to today's big car. (I am successful enough to afford to run this!)

Paleologically view cave paintings

The industry perpetuates neo-pubescence because (almost) no women can maintain that appearance despite bras, high heels, corsets, liposuction, tailored/shaped clothing, eyebrow plucking (homo sapiens????,) stockings, expensive diet and gym coaching, cosmetics, razors and other depilatories, voodoo, labial (and hymen) reconstruction and photoshop.

And we wonder why pedophilia, (e)phebophilia etc seems to be increasing?

 

ml_ney
ml_ney

Thank you Mr Tovee and Doc Galynker! Whew! I'm so releived that my thoughts of "I'm too fat. No one could want me" are now moot! Now I know I'll get a man - One who is stressed and pschologically questionable.

ml_ney
ml_ney

Worst...study...ever. Waste money much?

ml_ney
ml_ney

Worst...study...ever

Raissa Falgui
Raissa Falgui

Here's a great t-shirt slogan based on this: "I'm not fat.... I'm a stress ball!"

Ben_300cg
Ben_300cg

I do not believe that we can draw a general conclusion from this study. It all depends on a variety of factors of which body design may be one of them. The weighting of this factors surely depends on the man making a choice, hence "beauty is in the eye of the beholder".

AWHodge
AWHodge

or to quote the immortal dude Scott-Thomas

i like heavy girls they do more stuff

Shopping Directory
Shopping Directory

Plus, when times are really hard and food is scarce, a fat little wife is so much tastier than a thin little thing with no fat on her bones

.

Tomasz Pelczar
Tomasz Pelczar

Thank You for the answer of the topic, personally I do need elevator on my 5th floor and heavier women would stop it on 3rd floor my heavier step, also essential is van or jeep, plus I like sports ...

Jill Jones
Jill Jones

this sexist drivel intentional or is someone really that much of an unconscious

social klutz?” Why weren't the same number of women tested to find out how we

perceive skinny, normal weight, and heavy men?

This

study is lacking in other areas too: This so-called “stress" that 40 or 41 men were under was role-playing in a job interview that they knew was fake and when they knew that  and nothing was at stake. That does not simulate how

someone who has been in a true life crisis for a few weeks thinks.

The

study states that some of the women who the men found more attractive than

skinny women had a NORMAL BMI-they were not even overweight-so what does that

have to do with anything about how men under stress perceive heavy women?

The

study states that some of the men participating found women with an above

average BMI more attractive than skinny women. That doesn't tell us enough

either. An "above average BMI" could 

mean that the woman in question was one point over normal because she

has breasts the size of Dolly Parton's with a nicely proportioned  figure, or "above average BMI"

could mean that some of the men found some of the still heavier women

attractive (gasp!)The

study doesn’t tell us whether "skinny women" means that they looked

like concentration camp survivors or whether they had good figures and were not excessively thin, and there is a huge difference.

My

guess is that the guys who found the heaviest women attractive would have felt

the same way whether or not they had just sat through a fake job interview.This study is inconclusive for numerous reasons.Additionally it's an insult to women.You can do better,Time.

Nyles7
Nyles7

"Tovée and colleague Viren Swami of the University of Westminster in London have previously found that men under trying conditions — like extreme hunger — tend to rate heavier women as more attractive"

Or perhaps, Mr Tovee and Swami, the reason starving men find fatter women more attractive is because they can feed on them so much longer if things got even worse.

I should have gone into the evolutionary sciences.

:-)

Danyz
Danyz

Evolutionary theory, my eye. Why look for an esoteric reason when a more practical one is at hand? Men under severe stress are not likely to be overly interested in intimate relations. So chosing a less attractive woman would not  draw off any of the energy needed to fight the cause of the stress. The bottom line is that being seriously overweight or obese is a health risk. Sagging, unhealthy bodies do not attract the average man or woman all that much. It's also true that spidery thin bodies are not too attractive for the same reason, the appearance of poor health.

sweetpeasmom
sweetpeasmom

Plus, when times are really hard and food is scarce, a fat little wife is so much tastier than a thin little thing with no fat on her bones.

Sithu Win
Sithu Win

ႈႈ It's very , very wonderful for issuing the landed voyage of Mars . Thanks for ,,,,,

amoverton
amoverton

Anecdotal analysis:

First thought:  It sounds like stressed out men still prefer women who are thinner than average, if I understand the scale, just not as extremely so as less stressed men.  Preferences are slightly affected, but it doesn't indicate that stressed men prefer obese women, just that they relax their idea of perfection incrementally.

Second though:  An extremely attractive woman will be able to attract an extremely attractive mate.  If a stressed out man assumption is that it's $$$ and the attention that he can pay that makes a man attractive (his perception, not hers) and he feels stressed already, he may not feel that he has the resources to attract what he might otherwise consider the most highly attractive partner, and instead chooses one marginally more attainable rather than waste them on a partner who will ultimately leave or cuckold  him.

Third thought:  A man who's already stressed out may not feel that he has sufficient personal resources to protect a woman from potential "poachers", and, so, chooses a woman who is less likely to be pursued by other males, marginally increasing the likelihood that her children will be his.

There's not enough information in this study to make it worthwhile to guess.  Anybody can come up with conjectures.

Gonzo
Gonzo

Could it be, perhaps, the stressed out male thinks the thinner and more attractive woman may add to his stress due her to being too high maintenance?

In reality, I need to see the data and determine whether or not adequate measures were taken to control for variables. I feel safe in saying that I question the statistical reliability of the "study." Additionally, it's published garbage like this that makes the field of psychology look bad.

ERenger
ERenger

Maybe the reason that men under trying conditions — like extreme hunger — tend to rate heavier women as more attractive is that in the back of their mind they're thinking, "If things get really bad, I could eat this chick." 

c_laird478
c_laird478

Did they do a similar study to determine if women under stress preferred fat men? LOL

Andrew Kamadulski
Andrew Kamadulski

I'm confused. The headline says "men prefer" when it should probably read "an extremely small subset of men from Newcastle England displayed this behavior, a correlation which we have interpreted based on our own biases from previous research to mean something."

ZeD
ZeD

Oh, a bigger crock of crap I have seldom read.

chenjie2082
chenjie2082

just it's sex hormone . in my experience, when i in a heavy stress, my lust would be higher than ever. i think that the true lust is unexplained, original and vulgar taste, a fatter woman may be more sex attractive, but i think that to me the fat or slim is un-correlation with my lust. i don't know, just vulgar taste, coquette is my favor in a unexpect stress.

Simon
Simon

"81 heterosexual men, about half of whom underwent the Trier Social

Stress Test. In the test, the men participated in an impromptu job

interview in front of four interviewers"

Could it be that the real conclusion is that when people are put in situations where they are being judged it leaves them afterwards with a higher level of empathy and therefore makes them less judgmental of others?

vuducat
vuducat

A HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!   What a load of crap!!!  A HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!!  I know when I'm stressed out, the LAST thing in the world I want to do is have sex with a slender, attractive woman.

RobertSF
RobertSF

I like 'em thick no matter how stressed out I am.

specialguy29
specialguy29

everyone knows fat girls are easy. these dudes are just too stressed to hunt

EukaryoteGrex
EukaryoteGrex

@18235 US culture discriminates heavily against fat women, and that includes in employment.  If your body type runs towards fat, you're a LOT more likely to be poor enough to qualify for welfare.

Jodi
Jodi

 Or, conversely, that these men needed a quick shot in the arm of their egos because of feeling insecure and set their sights on women they perceived as more "gettable."