2005 February 04 Friday
Erroneous Views Of Western Men On Female Ideals For Male Bodies?

Researchers at Harvard Medical School-affiliated McLean Hospital think Taiwanese men have a more accurate view of what women see as ideal male bodies. How sexy is major musculature?

The researchers, led by Chi-Fu Jeffrey Yang, administered a computerized test, asking 55 male university students in Taiwan to choose pictures corresponding to their own bodies, the body they would like to have, the body of an average Taiwanese male, and the body that Taiwanese women would prefer. They then compared these results to those previously obtained in an identical study in the U.S. and Europe.

The Western men estimated that women preferred a male body with 20 to 30 pounds more muscle than an average man. But when actual Western women were asked to choose the male body that they liked, they selected an ordinary male body without all of the added muscle. By contrast, the Taiwanese men did not show this distortion; they correctly recognized that women did not prefer a bulked-up male body.

"Our findings suggest that Western men may have a very distorted view of what they ideally should look like, whereas men in Taiwan don't seem to have this problem," says senior author Harrison Pope Jr., MD, director of McLean Hospital's Biological Psychiatry Laboratory. "These factors may explain why body dysmorphic disorder and anabolic steroid abuse are far more serious in the West than in Taiwan. In fact, we have seen almost no evidence of steroid abuse anywhere in the Pacific Rim."

Is this difference in perceptions genetic or cultural? I have no idea. If it is cultural then where is it coming from? Are Hollywood movies with big strong action heroes the cause? But then why are those movies made? Also, Taiwanese people see some Hollywood movies.

Also, do American women really not prefer physically stronger men? My impression is that this is at least partially a function of intelligence and social class. There is a stronger preference for muscular men among lower than among upper class women. Is that preference (assuming I'm correct) due to economic or genetic causes? One can see how at least in the past strength was of greater value for earning higher salaries when doing manual labor. So did women prefer muscular men at least in part due to recognition of higher earnings potential?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2005 February 04 12:29 AM  Human Nature


Comments
Invisible Scientist said at February 4, 2005 4:10 AM:

Excerpts from Randall Parker's article:
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" "Our findings suggest that Western men may have a very distorted view of what they ideally should look like, whereas men in Taiwan don't seem to have this problem," says senior author Harrison Pope Jr., MD, director of McLean Hospital's Biological Psychiatry Laboratory. "These factors may explain why body dysmorphic disorder and anabolic steroid abuse are far more serious in the West than in Taiwan. In fact, we have seen almost no evidence of steroid abuse anywhere in the Pacific Rim."

Is this difference in perceptions genetic or cultural? I have no idea. If it is cultural then where is it coming from? Are Hollywood movies with big strong action heroes the cause? But then why are those movies made? Also, Taiwanese people see some Hollywood movies.

Also, do American women really not prefer physically stronger men? My impression is that this is at least partially a function of intelligence and social class. There is a stronger preference for muscular men among lower than than among upper class women. Is that preference (assuming I'm correct) due to economic or genetic causes? One can see how at least in the past strength was of greater value for earning higher salaries when doing manual labor. So did women prefer muscular men at least in part due to recognition of higher earnings potential?"
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

I think that the difference in perceptions of what "power" means in the Far East and in the West,
is both cultural and genetic. As a kid, I was studying martial arts, and I could clearly see that
the Far Eastern nations favored intellectual agility in fights, instead of strong muscles.
A certain mental discipline is central to Kung Fu and Karate. But at the same time, note that
European races are genetically more likely to have big muscles in general, partly due to their bone
structures that support this kind of infrastructure. I believe that there cannot be too many Arnold
Schwarzenegger or Johnny Weismuller type people in China, but at the same time, there cannot
be too many Bruce Lee types in Europe, even among those who study martial arts.
When I was at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing (and also in Shanghai on
Spetember 11, 2001), I saw that the elite Chinese soldiers were walking like tigers
as if they were floating in some sense, and I could easily recognize that they were trained to walk
in that martial arts spirit for many years. I also saw the Chinese soldiers do various types of
push ups and other exercises, but their exercises were more geared for agility and mental discipline
than strength. Of course, I must also add that the average IQ of the Far Eastern races, happens
to be at least 5 to 7 points higher than the white Europeans...

On the other hand, geography also seems to affet what people pay attention to. It is my
personal experience that in Boston, people ask how much you know, in New York they
ask how much money you have have, and in California how you look like. Additionally,
people from the rural areas, are generally less materialistic and they often have a lot less
such superficial complexes people acquire in big cities, and so, women from rural areas (especially
women from mountains are often more spiritual and they seem to pay more attention to
character (and I have observed the latter fact not only in the US but also in Europe.)

Eric said at February 4, 2005 6:42 AM:

Randall:
Is this difference in perceptions genetic or cultural?
Yes, it is. =) Or to be more accurate, if you start trying to sort out what's genetic and what's cultural, you find yourself running in circles. To put it simply, maybe some parts of culture are they way they are because of the genes of the people who compose the majority in those cultures?

Anyway, along with the difference in male perception of the female preference between Taiwan and the US, there is a definite difference in the actual female preference for male body type. I also strongly suspect this is cultural, rather than genetic; unfortunately, the best evidence I can give you is mostly anecdotal --- Asian-American girls, raised in the US surrounded almost solely by American pop culture and its images of musclebound guys, tend to share with other American girls the opinion that most Asian FOB guys are too skinny; AA guys are just as obsessed as whites and blacks with body-building (though they might be more prone to the body image issues pointed out in that article, since they could run up against genetic limits to muscularity sooner). The 2000 US census points to a lot more US-born Asian guys married foreign-born Asian females than vice versa; maybe it's for this reason. In contrast, Taiwanese girls, though they see Hollywood movies, as you mentioned, are also immersed in domestic media images of not-particularly-muscular Asians achieving very high social status and desirability as actors, pop singers, etc. And it's probably because of this that they'd describe big muscular football players as scary rather than sexy.

But then, why does Asian media celebrate all those skinny, sometimes even effeminate guys (google F4 or Yon-sama for extreme examples)? Maybe it's because Asians are relatively less muscular? But then, why doesn't Asian media at least celebrate the most muscular out of the set of guys available --- could be cultural? Or maybe Asian media doesn't celebrate muscularity because it's a continuum along which there's less noticeable contrast between the average guy and the genetic limits of what level of muscularity even some guy in the right tail can achieve?

A Berman said at February 4, 2005 7:23 AM:

Geez, women prefer men who look like X for what purpose?
For companionship?
For romance?
For sex?

Any chance the answers to the above three questions might be different?

Bob Badour said at February 4, 2005 8:07 AM:

Randall, I think you are way off base on your supposition regarding social class and preference.

What the study is saying is men point to Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steve Reeves as what women want while women point to Mel Gibson, Will Smith, Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan or Jackie Chan.

None of the latter actors are or appear weak. The all have well-defined muscles with their shirts off. I suggest women of all classes prefer healthy strong men who are reasonably lean and who can wear a tapered shirt.

I remember when I told my aunt that I was working out. She expressed disgust at body-building types, but I have seen her husband with his shirt off. I would have to work out a lot to get an upper body as well-defined as his. Ironically, I have never worked out with the goal of getting huge muscles but only to try to defeat obesity.

Randall Parker said at February 4, 2005 10:04 AM:

Upon reflection: I wonder if men want to be more buff in order to feel less intimidated and scared by other men.

In other words, the male ideal body in America may represent more a primitive desire to compete with other men and to come out of that competition as the alpha male. Women find high status an extremely attractive quality in men. Men do not attach as much importance to status in women.

Steve Sailer said at February 4, 2005 9:06 PM:

There have been lots of changes just in my lifetime. Slender men were the ideal up through most of the 1970s (e.g., David Bowie as The Thin White Duke), while weightlifting just started to become fashionable at the end of the 1970s. I would guess that The Terminator in 1984 had a big impact -- Arnold had been the star in Conan the Barbarian in 1982, which was pretty decent, but The Terminator was cool. (Although the big change might have come a couple of years earlier.) Then in 1985 a very pumped up Stallone hit it big in Rambo. So, the first half of the 1980s was definitely the era when body images changed radically for men. By 1987, I remember seeing a minor comedy called Summer School, which was notable because Mark Harmon was the first leading man I'd seen in a couple of years who wasn't pumped up like a football player (the irony being that Harmon was a football player -- UCLA's fine quarterback 15 years before).

Several different images coalesced -- the muscle man was popular with both gays and rednecks (e.g., pro wrestling fans). Athletes had started lifting weights in this era, so sports fans admired muscles more too. The hippie and glam rock eras had faded, in which men were supposed to be unmuscular.

lindsey said at February 5, 2005 2:27 PM:

It is interesting that as women were gaining more strength and equality in society, the image of men changed toward something more muscular; whereas, the ideal body image in Hollywood became breastless, hipless, terrifyingly thin women that could be broken in half over Arnie's knee. They were stripped of their most sexually attractive attributes/power over men.

lindsey said at February 5, 2005 2:35 PM:

You do see this changing a little though with action stars like Keanu Reeves, Tobey Maguire and Tom Cruise. Of course, we're also getting "men" who look like little boys thrown at us as being believable as men. God, I hate Leonardo DiCaprio. Who does Hollywood think it's fooling? Pre-teen girls, that's it. I'll never understand why Scorsese wastes his time with DiCaprio.

Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey said at February 16, 2005 7:37 PM:

Malay women like muscles over the face and status of a man.
Chinese women prefer a man with status (money, job, car) than muscles.
Indian women prioritise the face of a man over body, which must be similar to an Indian but light/fair in colour. Indians have evolved a new caste system based on education, skin colour and posession of UK/US/Canadian/Australian passports. Advertisments for marriage partners promoting themselves using those attributes are in the classified section of the Sunday Times of Bombay (Mumbai).
New Zealand Maori women like muscles.
Australian aborigine women prefer a man whos not drunk all the time.
Russian women prefer a man whos not drunk all the time.
Irish women prefer african negroes to drunk celtic men.


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