By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 2 February 2012)
According to a number of recent studies, hungry men are drawn to plump women, and in places where food is often hard to come by, bigger women are more likely to meet the cultural beauty standard.
Pettijohn et al. (2009), in their study of hundreds of college students, found that when men are hungry, they’re more likely to prefer slightly older, taller, and heavier women. The researchers asked groups of students about their ideal mates, questioning some just before they had dinner and others afterward. Female students also showed a preference for slightly more mature males when they were hungry. This finding is supported by numerous studies showing that men in countries where resources are scarce are more likely to prefer heavier women, whereas men in affluent countries often state a preference for relatively thin women (this is unsurprising, given that thinness is associated with wealth in affluent countries).
Pettijohn and his colleagues were not the only ones to link hunger to perceptions of female beauty. The research of Nelson and Morrison (2005) yielded similar findings: Men who felt hungry or impoverished were more likely to seek heavier mates than satiated and affluent men. The same did not hold true for women, however; they didn’t shift their preferences for partner weight based on either hunger or economic status. Swami and Tovee (2006) also found that hungry men rated plumper women as more attractive.
Taken collectively, these studies suggest that when resources are scarce, men are more likely to favour women who appear to be well-fed and thus have access to resources. This makes sense as both a survival strategy and a reproductive strategy. In lean times, a woman with access to resources can help a man survive, and any children he has with her are more likely to survive as well.
Even in relatively affluent countries, the beauty ideal did not shift toward thinness until cheap, fattening foods became widely available so that for the first time in history, impoverished people were more likely to be overweight than rich people. Given that active fat people actually tend to be far healthier than sedentary thin people (Oliver, 2006), body weight is often a poor indicator of health. This suggests that the female body weight range that is attractive to the majority of men in a given region is based as much on what it says about the wealth of the woman (or her family) as what it indicates about her health and fertility.
- Nelson, L.D., & Morrison, E.L. (2005). “The Symptoms of Resource Scarcity: Judgments of Food and Finances Influence Preferences for Potential Partners.” Psychological Science, 16(2), pp. 167-173.
- Oliver, J.E. (2006). Fat Politics: The Real Story Behind America’s Obesity Epidemic. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
- Pettijohn, T.F.; Sacco, D.F.; & Yerkes, M.J. (2009). “Hungry People Prefer More Mature Mates: A Field Test of the Environmental Security Hypothesis.” Journal of Social, Evolutionary, and Cultural Psychology, 3(3), pp. 216-232.
- Swami, V., & Tovee, J. (2006). “Does Hunger Influence Judgments of Female Physical Attractiveness?” British Journal of Psychology, 97(Pt 3), pp. 353-363.