Attraction at Every Size: BMI Doesn’t Explain It

Attraction is in the eye of the beholder. And it turns out that BMI doesn’t do much to explain sexual attraction. Until now, some people have thought that a person with a high BMI might be more attractive to someone with a high BMI themselves. But a new study in Obesity this week squashes that idea. Guanlin Wang and colleagues studied 899 subjects across 12 countries.

They found that one’s own BMI does very little to explain why someone might find others with a high or low BMI attractive.

Assortative Mating and Obesity Genetics

We’ve long known that genetics explain about 70% of a person’s obesity risk. Assortative mating happens when individuals with similar physical characteristics mate. And prior studies have shown that this tends to happen in obesity, amplifying the risk of obesity for offspring.

But why does this happen? Maybe it’s a shared lifestyle. Or perhaps fidelity insurance – picking someone with a similar BMI so they won’t cheat – explains it. Timing could be another explanation, if leaner individuals mate sooner. However, mutual attraction based on BMI has long been a leading theory.

What Wang et al found was tremendous variability in attractiveness ratings for images of the opposite sex. Though most males favored the leanest females, others favored a bit more adiposity. Some rated images of women with obesity the most attractive.

Attraction was even more complex for women. But the patterns were unrelated to the BMI of the person doing the ratings. Senior author John Speakman explained:

What is new here is that with a large international sample, we can pretty much eliminate the mutual attraction idea as an explanation. Despite the overall patterns, some people prefer individuals of intermediate adiposity and others prefer partners that have obesity over individuals that are lean. However, these preferences were not related to the rater’s own BMI.

Sometimes opposites attract. Sometimes they don’t.

Click here for the study and here for a companion commentary.

Attraction, photograph © Modes Rodríguez / flickr

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February 22, 2018

One Response to “Attraction at Every Size: BMI Doesn’t Explain It”

  1. February 22, 2018 at 3:21 pm, Brenda said:

    Attraction does not necessarily correlate with “mating” I might be attracted to lean men, but what % of lean men would be attracted to me? Mating is based on mutual attraction. Looking at which people actually pair up and have children would be a better research study, I think.