Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pick, Pick, Pick

Different cultures find different body shapes attractive.
I, thank God, had a good figure (by American standards) when I was a teen ager and in my early 20s. Crucial years.

Now - I am your typical 30-something carrying extra luggage around the middle, the bottom, and everywhere else in between.

I have started heading back to the gym. My LEAST favorite place to be. Walking in place for 30 minutes is BORING. Riding a stationary bike is BORING. The elliptical machine makes me feel like a gazelle running through the forest.
Weights feel butch.

I hate the gym.
I do, however, love taking dance classes. However, dance classes don't come cheap. No where - never have. I was thrilled last year to be able to take my Flamenco dance classes. But it was NOT cheap. I started to take salsa classes at another dance studio - again, very expensive.

I would prefer to fill up my days with dance classes. I would happily attend an hour to two hours a night - dancing. But my wallet will not allow it.
But I digress.

I know the weight I need to be in order to be "healthy." It's fairly low - between 105 - 125. I am short. When I weighed that much I was between a size 2, 5, or 7.
Let's just say, it's been a while since I was any of those sizes. When I started college I was a size 5. When I graduated, I was a size 10. The weight jumped up in 5 years.

Now I have been out of high school for almost 20 years. And my weight has climbed, yet again.

I will take a moment and say one thing - I do not think that I am unattractive. No, I am not going to sit here and have a pity party. However, I know my body is not what many would deem attractive - or fit. My husband finds me beautiful. I asked him specifically - what do you think is beautiful about me? He laughed and teased me about the things I hate about myself. But then he answered me most seriously, "Your eyes. I love your blue eyes. When you are old, and wrinkled, and everything - those eyes will be the same." He also said he loved the color of my skin. He likes fair, porcelain skin. Of course he loves my mind, and my heart - etc. But I tried to make him stick to the physical.
But what does it mean to find someone physical attractive? The actual definition is: Physical attractiveness is the perception of the physical traits of an individual human person as aesthetically pleasing or beautiful, and can include various implications such as sexual attractiveness and physique.

Soo... what is considered physically attractive is dependent on three factors: universal perceptions common to all human cultures, cultural and social aspects and individual subjective preferences.

Despite universally held perceptions of beauty in both sexes, males tend to place significantly higher value on physical appearance in a partner than women do. Heck - no need to go into great explanation of this one, but there is a reason. This can be explained by evolutionary psychology as a consequence of ancestral humans who selected partners based on secondary sexual characteristics, as well as general indicators of fitness (for example, symmetrical features.)
Studies have shown that ovulating heterosexual women and gay men prefer faces with masculine traits associated with increased testosterone, such as heavy brows, wide jaws, and broad cheekbones.

Women who are in the late luteal or early follicular phases of the menstrual cycle (or those taking hormonal contraception) do not prefer masculine male faces. Isn't that fascinating???

Also, females tend to prefer different facial traits in short-term and long-term partners, and sociocultural factors, such as self-perceived attractiveness, status in a relationship and degree of gender-conformity.
Now - back to the men! Features such as a symmetrical face, full lips, and low waist-hip ratio are commonly considered physically attractive.
According to one source : The determinants of female physical attractiveness include those aspects that display health and fitness for reproduction and sustenance. These include correlates of fertility such as youth, waist-hip ratio, breast size, breast symmetry, body mass proportion and facial symmetry.

In a study by University of Louisville psychologist Michael Cunningham, dimensions and proportions of what was regarded as attractive emerged with remarkable consistency. The ideal attractive female face featured "eye width that is three-tenths the width of the face at the eyes' level; chin length, one-fifth the height of the face; distance from the center of the eye to the bottom of the eyebrow, one-tenth the height of the face; the height of the visible eyeball, one-fourteenth the height of the face; the width of the pupil, one-fourteenth the distance between the cheekbones; and the total area for the nose, less than 5 percent of the area of the face."

Desired traits were large female eyes, small chin and nose, and these "infantlike features draw out in them the same caretaking response a baby would–they make a woman seem cute and adorable."

Further, high wide cheekbones and narrow cheeks are "signs that a woman has reached puberty" and "high eyebrows, dilated pupils and wide smile" signal excitement and sociability. One psychologist speculated there were two opposing principles of female beauty: prettiness and rarity. So average, symmetrical features is one ideal, while unusual, stand-out features is another.
The Body Mass Index (BMI) is another important universal determinant to the perception of beauty. The BMI refers to the proportion of the body mass to the body structure.

However, the optimal body proportion is interpreted differently in various cultures. The Western ideal considers a slim and slender body mass as optimal while many historic cultures consider an embonpoint or plump body-mass as appealing.

Men do not appear to have evolved to hold a particular build as more attractive, but rather to be drawn to whichever build associates with social status.

In the United States, women overestimate men's preferences for thinness in a mate. In one study, American women were asked to choose what their ideal build was and what they thought the build most attractive to men was. Women chose slimmer than average figures for both choices, though when American men were independently asked to choose the female build most attractive to them, they (the men) chose figures of average build, indicating that women may be misled as to how thin men prefer women to be.

Some speculate that thinness as a beauty standard is one way in which women judge each other. A reporter asked: "Why do women suffer to look like skeletons even when men don’t want them to?" and wondered whether "women's aesthetic judgments are so influenced by other women."

The reporter surmised that thinness is prized among women as a "sign of independence, strength and achievement." Some blame the fashion industry from pushing an "unnatural thinness" with "waiflike models who paraded down the catwalk" and that these unattainable and dangerous examples of slimness could be harmful to young, impressionable women.

There is speculation that some beauty standards for thinness are harmful to women since they encourage extreme dieting; in one instance, a Ralph Lauren advertisement of a model was digitally altered to make her hips appear thinner than her head, and the distorted image caused controversy about whether the thin-beauty standard was false and harmful.

In his foreword to Peter Frost's 2005 Fair Women, Dark Men, University of Washington sociologist Pierre L. van den Berghe writes: "Although virtually all cultures express a marked preference for fair female skin, even those with little or no exposure to European imperialism, and even those whose members are heavily pigmented, many are indifferent to male pigmentation or even prefer men to be darker."

A consequence of this is that, since higher-ranking men get to marry the more attractive women, the upper classes of a society generally tend to develop a lighter complexion than the lower classes by sexual selection (see also Fisherian runaway).

In eastern parts of Asia, including Southeast Asia, a preference for lighter skin remains prevalent. In East Asia in particular, fair skin is associated with beauty and youth, since skin darkens with exposure to the sun and aging. This conflation of youth and beauty is not exclusive to East Asia, and can be linked to the phenomenon of neoteny. Thus, skin whitening cosmetic products are popular in East Asia.

A preference for fair skin however is not a recent development, and in China, for example, can be traced back to ancient drawings depicting women and goddesses with fair skin tones. While in Malaysia, up to 48% of Malaysian women use skin whitening product. Some Asian women, trying to conform to a Western beauty standard, have plastic surgery known as blepharoplasty to alter their eyelids to make their eyes "appear fuller, less slanted, more Western."

A reporter found plastic surgery was booming in South Korea as a result and wrote "Korea’s standard for beauty is this: the more Western you look, the better."

The perception of beauty can be influenced by racial stereotypes about skin color; the African American journalist Jill Nelson wrote that "to be both prettiest and black was impossible"and elaborated:

"As a girl and young woman, hair, body, and color were society's trinity in determining female beauty and identity, the cultural and value-laden gang of three that formed the boundaries and determined the extent of women's visibility, influence, and importance. For the most part, they still are. We learn as girls that in ways both subtle and obvious, personal and political, our value as females is largely determined by how we look. As we enter womanhood, the pervasive power of this trinity is demonstrated again and again in how we are treated by the men we meet, the men we work for, the men who wield power, how we treat each other and, most of all, ourselves. For black women, the domination of physical aspects of beauty in women's definition and value render us invisible, partially erased, or obsessed, sometimes for a lifetime, since most of us lack the major talismans of Western beauty. Black women find themselves involved in a lifelong effort to self-define in a culture that provides them no positive reflection."
Back to the body shape - what types of shapes are there??
Female shapes

Apple (triangle downward)
Apple shaped women have broader shoulders and bust, and narrower hips. Apple shaped women have (much) higher androgen levels compared to women with other body types.
Because of this high androgen level, the skeleton develops in a masculine pattern. Fat is mainly distributed in the chest, face and abdomen.

Banana or straight (rectangular)
The waist measurement is less than 9 inches smaller than the hips or bust measurement. The body has a relatively high androgen level compared to the estrogen level, and this causes the skeleton to develop in a more masculine pattern and body fat to be distributed predominantly in the abdomen, buttocks, chest and face.

Pear or spoon or bell (triangle upward)
The hip measurement is greater than the bust measurement.

The distribution of fat varies, with fat tending to deposit first in the buttocks, hips and thighs. As body fat percentage increases, an increasing proportion of body fat is distributed around the waist and upper abdomen.

Hourglass shape (triangles opposing, facing in)
The hip and bust are almost of equal size with a narrow waist.
Body fat distribution tends to be around both the upper body and lower body. This body type enlarges the arms, chest, hips and rear before other parts, including waist and upper abdomen.
A study of over 6,000 women carried out by researchers at the North Carolina State University around 2005 found that 46% were banana (rectangular), just over 20% pear, just under 14% apple, and 8% hourglass. Another study has found "that the average woman's waistline had expanded by six inches since the 1950s" and that today women are taller and have bigger busts and hips than those of the 1950s.
Again, what is considered beautiful? What is best for me? My guess is - I will stick to the insides. I will make sure my cholesterol is low. I will try to lower my blood pressure. I want my muscles to be strong enough to burn calories when resting. I want to be able to move my joints without pain. I want healthy teeth and a beautiful smile. I want my eyes to remain bright and blue. I will always cleanse, exfoliate, and moisturize my skin. I will try to get a better night's sleep. I will eat plenty of fruits and veggies to get my vitamins. I will drink plenty of water in order to stay hydrated.

More importantly, I need to work on my inner soul. :-)


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