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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