Waistline allure busts a myth

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 January, 2007, 12:00am

The ample bosom, it seems, may be no more than an ephemeral cultural obsession among contemporary males. Of all the body parts that make up the ideal feminine beauty, researchers have, surprisingly, identified the slender waistline as the most enduring and alluring attribute for men, over centuries and across cultures.

A US team has surveyed literary works in English from the 16th to the 18th centuries and found that an hourglass waistline - as opposed to breasts, buttocks, and face - most consistently set guys' pulses racing.

The team, led by Devendra Singh, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, Austin, obtained similar results from earlier surveys of writings from classical Chinese, Indian and ancient Egyptian literature.

'The waist does not sound an intuitively sexy body part,' Professor Singh told the science weekly Nature.

'Nowadays there's no culture without western influences, so it's easy to say 'oh yeah, they're copycatting the west'. But this shows that it cannot be explained as a whim of western culture.'

The famous Han dynasty beauty and concubine Zhao Feiyan was so light, with a tiny midriff, that she was said to be able to dance on the hands of her beloved emperor. Professor Singh cited the epithet of Queen Nefertari, wife of pharaoh Ramses II, which glorifies her narrow waist.

The explanation, he says, lies in evolutionary psychology. A slender midriff is an indication to men, at least subconsciously, that a woman is fit to bear healthy babies. If this theory is right, then Victorian women, who were obsessed with corseting, as opposed to the contemporary fixation on dieting among women, were closer to their evolutionary goal.