Female body shape  

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This page Female body shape is part of the woman series  Illustration: The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli
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This page Female body shape is part of the woman series
Illustration: The Birth of Venus (detail), a 1486 painting by Sandro Botticelli

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Female body shape, i.e. the body shape of a woman, has a bearing on a wide range of human activities, and there are and have been widely different body ideals of it in different cultures over history. The female figure is usually narrower at the waist than at the chest and hips, and usually has one of four basic shapes — banana, pear, apple or hourglass. The chest, waist and hips are called inflection points, and the ratios of their circumferences define these basic shapes. Body shape depends on skeletal structure and the distribution of fat in the body.

Some of these body shapes normally occur only in women, although some endocrine conditions or deliberate use of female hormones, such as by transsexuals, can produce them in male bodies. As with most physical traits, there is a wide range of normal female body shapes.

Social and health issues

Each society develops a general perception of what an ideal female body shape would be like. These ideals are generally reflected in the art and literature produced by or for a society, as well as in popular media such as films and magazines. The ideal or preferred female body size and shape has varied over time and continues to vary among cultures; but a preference for a small waist has remained fairly constant throughout history. A high waist-hip ratio has often been seen as a sign of good health and reproductive potential.

A high waist-hip ratio has also often been regarded as an indicator of attractiveness of a woman, but recent research suggests that attractiveness is more correlated to body mass index than waist-hip ratio, contrary to previous belief. Historically, according to Devendra Singh, there was a trend for slightly larger women in the 17th and 18th centuries, as typified by the paintings of Rubens, but that in general there has been a preference for a slimmer waist in Western culture. He notes that "The finding that the writers describe a small waist as beautiful suggests instead that this body part - a known marker of health and fertility - is a core feature of feminine beauty that transcends ethnic differences and cultures."

New research suggests that apple-shaped women have the highest risk of developing heart disease, while hourglass-shaped women have the lowest. Diabetes professionals advise that a waist measurement for a woman of over 80 cm increases the risk of heart disease, but that ethnic background also plays a factor. This is because body fat buildup around the waist (the apple shape) poses a higher health risk than a fat buildup at the hips (the pear shape).

Waist-hip ratio

The waist-hip ratio (WHR) is a person's waist measurement divided by the hip measurement. Notwithstanding wide cultural differences in preferences for female build, scientists have discovered that the waist-hip ratio of any build is very strongly correlated to the perception of attractiveness across all cultures. Women with a 0.7 WHR (waist circumference that is 70% of the hip circumference) are invariably rated as more attractive by men, regardless of their culture. The ratio is shown to have a very high correlation to female fertility, thereby unknowingly guiding men's evolutionary choices. Women with a 0.7 WHR (waist circumference that is 70% of the hip circumference) are usually rated as more attractive by men from European cultures. Such diverse beauty icons as Marilyn Monroe, Sophia Loren, and the Venus de Milo all have ratios around 0.7. In other cultures, preferences vary, ranging from 0.6 in China, to 0.8 or 0.9 in parts of South America and Africa, and divergent preferences based on ethnicity, rather than nationality, have also been noted.

WHR has been found to be a more efficient predictor of mortality in older people than waist circumference or body mass index (BMI).

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Female body shape" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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