Looking Good Naked
Part 2: Why Women Lift Weights
Steven M. Platek – November 27, 2014
In Part 1, I discussed the role of markers of health, in men, mainly why females rate muscularity as attractive. In Part 2, I thought I’d discuss the morphological characteristics of women that men find attractive and how that morphology could relate to training and the Lady Power Athlete.
I might start with an anecdote. I was recently out on a second date with a young woman and the discussion of my research became the topic of conversation. (Nothing is sexier than drawing graphs and talking science on a date!) She indicated to me that prior to starting Power Athlete/crossfit-style training program she’d had a “very disproportionately small” posterior. When I told her about the so-called “magic number” of the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR; 0.7), she was so intrigued that she asked me to measure her, which I interpreted literally and when we got back to her place I did just that. Confidently, prior to measuring her, I told her, “you’re within 0.025 points of the optimal 0.7 WHR”.
She asked, “How can you be so confident?”
I replied, “You’re on a second date, aren’t you?” She measured in at 0.691.
Curvature of a woman’s body is an honest biosignal
Women’s bodies, like men’s, serve as honest biological signals of health to men. In fact, women’s bodies are a better signal than mens’ bodies are, because as it turns out women spend more time looking at men’s faces. In a series of eye tracking experiments scientists (Hewig, et al. 2008) showed that men spend more time looking at the bodies of women than women do of men’s bodies.
In the late 70’s early 80’s, Professor Devendra Singh reinterpreted a set of medical data showing males’ and females’ sexually dimorphic deposition of adipose tissue. That is, while men tended to carry adipose – should they have any – around the midsection, women tended to carry adipose around the hips an buttocks. The ratio of the circumference (or diameter, actually) of the waist to the hip has become know as the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) in human evolutionary science.
WHR is an important biological signal, so important that it predicts health measures such as the development of type II diabetes and hyperinsulinemia better than the infamous body mass index (BMI; a simple calculation that divides weight by height and is generally useless in trained individuals). Additionally, WHR has been positively associated with increased fertility and fecundity, increased circulating levels of estradiol and progestins, and increased neural resources available to offspring.
WHR has been negatively associated with physical (e.g., cardiac, pulmonary and bone diseases) and psychiatric (e.g., depression and anxiety, possibly schizophrenia) problems. Waist-to-hip ratio is a veritable goldmine of information for males to make determinations about mate quality, either for short-term mating, or more importantly for long-term mating.
What’s the importance of this ratio, you might ask?
Simple: the fat that’s typically deposited along the hips and buttocks appears to consist mainly of omega-3 fatty acids (Gallup et al., in press), particularly DHA and EPA (these two have been implicated in infant cognitive health presumably because of a role in neuronal myelination). The old notion of child bearing hips appears to relate to the fact the this ratio supplies the types of fatty acids that make reproduction more likely; gestation to parturition more likely, as well; and imparts a possible neurocognitive benefit to the offspring.
It’s been my hypothesis since I first wrote about this in the CrossFit journal (see also: (Platek and Singh 2010) that functional movement ought to accentuate functional phenotypes (bodies); I.e., form follows function and the types of training we do – constantly varied functional movements executed at high intensity – ought to produce the most attractive bodies not simply because of socially constructed ideas about beauty, but rather because those fit bodies serve as honest biological markers to health, fertility and fecundity, and so-called “good genetics.” Put bluntly when you look at someone and find him or her attractive your brain is performing calculations about the probability of success in mating (in lieu of the fact that you might actually be taking measures against producing offspring such as using contraceptive).
Because women’s primary region for adipose deposition is the hips and buttocks, I hypothesize that Lady Power Athlete dimensions ought to deposit fat in efficient ways that is exemplary of the form follows function notion; i.e. they will be curvier.
Furthermore, in the same way that resistance training, sprints, etc. activate neuroendocrinological programs in men; they should activate similar mechanisms in women. That is, they should up regulate natural female hormonal processes (estradiol and progestins), but also upregulate androgen production. This should result in regulation of such psychological states at libido and orgasmic potential – making them relatively higher. This area is greatly under researched, and remains conjecture, but a potential ripe area for new research questions to be asked.
It is also well-understood that women rarely if ever downmate; i.e. choose a mate of lower quality then their own self-perceived mate quality or value. Women are the “choosy” sex and as such upward mating mobility procures the necessary “good genes” for the offspring they are burdened to carry and nurture for so long (men do not incur this cost, hence mate selection can be arbitrary and indiscriminate). Even under circumstances of relatively short-term mating, women, unlike men, put a premium on upward mating for quality. Thus, one might conclude that Lady Power Athletes that are fit, strong, and fast put themselves in a position to acquire higher quality mating partners, in addition to being straight up bad asses!
Hewig, J., Ralf Trippe, Holger Hecht, Thomas Straube, and Wolfgang Miltner. “Gender differences for specific body regions when looking at men and women.” Journal of Nonverbal Behavior 32, no. 2 (2008): 67-78.
Platek, Steven M, and Devendra Singh. “Optimal waist-to-hip ratio in women activate neural reward centers in men.” PLoS ONE 5, no. 2 (2010): e(9042).
*PS: you’re welcome guys, for the pics 😉
Steve (a.k.a. Prof. Booty) Platek
Steve is a Professor of evolutionary neuroscience, Power Athlete follower since 2011. He co-owns CrossFit Gwinnett in Buford, GA, where he hosts the CrossFIt Football seminar, and he is also a Co-host of Power Athlete Radio Podcast. He's edited three academic volumes and published over 50 peer-reviewed papers on the topic of attractiveness and evolutionary psychology. He is currently acting President of the Applied Evolutionary Psychology Society, an international society for advancing the topic of applied evolutionary science in medicine, psychology, and health and fitness. He founded the academic journal 'Frontiers in Evolutionary Neuroscience'. He played competitive ice hockey growing up and has been a CrossFit coach since 2008.
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Women are the choosy sex?!
Shit I see a ton of women smashing anything they can every weekend. Maybe historically they were choosy, but not with the advent of alcohol, birth control, second wave feminism etc etc.
Good times 😉
That was good. Enjoyed the video. I’ve got a couple of comments but this is a public forum so I’ll suffice it to say I think you’re right in your hypotheses.
Who do I talk to about the GHD attached to the rack system in the last picture??? I want one for the garage gym.
Got this message from a family friend… she knows what’s up!
I concur with Andrew. Thank god for alcohol and birth control. Downmating FTW.
So, you discuss HTW ratio, and she invites you to her place to take measurements, which you actually do? How are you not a romantic comedy scriptwriter?
@splatek beyond the pictures (which are great btw) I am always curious about the science behind how we have evolved over time, yet still rely on these “primal” factors for seeking out members of the opposite sex. I was just having a discussion last night with a buddy over how the origins of blue eyes, blonde hair etc. came about among those of European origin vs those of Asian/African origin. I’d be curious if any of those biomarkers play(ed) a role in the biological decision making process and if there are any tendencies towards certain features similar to the desirable hip ratio? Or if it was simply an evolution of females in order to attract better mates (in the choosy sense). And my example would be if everyone had brown eyes, and all of a sudden a female had blue or green eyes, she would instantly distinguish herself and be able to attract males of higher quality than maybe she previously could have, there by increasing the “quality” of her future offspring.
And I hope you also threw in a line at the end of that date to the effect of “In the name of science, we must examine the effects of a near optimal WHR on male stimulation”
@AJSOMP thanks. Good questions. There isn’t a ton of great data on the origin of blue eyes, but light skin, hair and blue eyes probably evolved together – it’s called polygenic linkage. That means that the likelihood of one gene being inherited increases the likelihood of another genic allele to be inherited. Light skin and hair evolved as a consequence of a tradeoff in melanin production. As our ancestors migrated north, the need for melanin to protect from the skin lessened. Probably in favor of selection for genes that were helpful. The loss of dark skin pigmentation was probably a result not of selection FOR light skin, but no longer a strong (natural) selective pressure for DARK skin. I’ve actually written a paper about this called the Fireside Hypothesis. The idea being that as our ancestors moved north, into colder climates there was a distinct need to produce your own warmth; i.e. fire. The extant cancer genetics indirectly support this hypothesis. The rate of melanoma, skin cancer among african descendants is extremely low, where as for those of lighter skin, european descent it’s relatively high. However, the rates of lung cancer show an opposite trend. It might have been (interpret cautiously) the case that evolution favored or mutated or co-opted genes for the development of skin pigmentation in an adaptation to fireside smoke inhalation. A paper was just published similar to this in the flagship journal nature. I think while the reasoning is certainly aposteriori in nature, it certainly seems to hold water and produce additional predictions about regionally descendant genetic propensities.
Where I think this gets really interesting for the PowerAthlete is when we begin to think about nutrition. @john I think you have some interest in NutriGenetics. The idea that our evolutionary regional descent is likely a better predictor of what our digestive system can tolerate, as compared to a simply “paleo” model. Take for example lactose – better tolerated in descendants where there was a history of drinking animals milks.
…and by the way @ajsomp if I end up at a girl’s house measuring her, you know what’s next…