What is the “Perfect” Body?

men women body shapes

Forty young men and forty young women offered their opinions on what a perfect body looks like for a British study.  As reported in TODAY online, they were surprisingly in sync as to what the ideal man and ideal woman should look like.  Trouble is, most of us don’t make the grade.  As one of my friends once said, “I’m a perfectionist.  What that means is that I’m always disappointed.”

TODAY wanted to visualize how far we are from what we imagine is the ideal figure and our average bodies. Pittsburgh artist Nickolay Lamm — who previously showed the world what Barbie would look like as an average 19-year-old woman — shows our “real” selves in a set of 3-D illustrations for TODAY, based on recent British study. 

All the participants in the study were Causasian and heterosexual, so the researchers acknowledged that there should be ethnic and cultural differences if the study were to be conducted elsewhere in the world or among different groups of people.  All the participants were college age.

Martin Tovée was the senior author of the study paper.  He is  a professor at the Institute of Neuroscience at Newcastle University.  “He’s done some cross-cultural comparisons and found differences that appear linked to wealth and food availability. The tougher food and resources are to come by in a society, the more men prefer plump women.”

In conducting the study…

They presented each person with 3-D computer representations of bodies. Each participant could adjust the images in many different ways until they arrived at the ideal body for their gender, and the ideal body of the other gender. These ideals were then compared with the participants’ own bodies. …

Essentially, the male ideal is an inverted pyramid with broad shoulders and small waist, while the female ideal is an hourglass with a small waist-to-hip ratio. Second, both women and men preferred slimmer female bodies than the real female participants possessed. 

Here we see vividly the influence of the media in making western women want to be slim, and in western men expecting women to be slim in order to look good.  One surprise was the agreement between men and women on both the male and female ideals. Another surprise was that the female participants thought the ideal woman should have larger breasts than the males did. Perhaps girls think this is desirable to attract guys, but the guys don’t really expect it.  Lamm’s observation was that all the participants in the study looked pretty good, but they still had ideals that might be unreachable.

Read more at TODAY online.




Gale Boyd is the managing editor for ThirdHour.org. She is a Jewish convert to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and has lived all over the world. She has raised 6 Third Culture Kids and is always homesick for somewhere.