Body Image 2 (2005) 383–393
Male physical attractiveness in Britain and Malaysia:
A cross-cultural study
Viren Swami a,*, Martin J. Tovée b
Department of Psychology, University College of London, 26, Bedford Way, London WC1E 6BT, UK
Department of Psychology, Newcastle University, UK
Received 8 May 2005; received in revised form 5 August 2005; accepted 6 August 2005
Three purported cues to perceived male physical attractiveness are the waist-to-chest ratio (WCR), body mass index (BMI)
and the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR). This study examined the relative contribution of each cue in several socio-economically
distinct populations. Ninety-five female participants from Britain and Malaysia were asked to rate a set of images of real men
with known WCR, BMI and WHR. The results showed clear differences along a gradient of socio-economic development. In
urban settings, WCR was the primary component of attractiveness ratings, with BMI playing a smaller role and WHR not
reaching significance. In the rural setting, BMI was the primary predictor of attractiveness, with WCR playing a more minor role
and WHR not reaching significance. In general, urban participants were more reliant on body shape and chose a relatively slim
figure with an ‘inverted triangle’ shape; rural participants were more reliant on body weight and chose a heavier figure with a less
triangular shape. These findings are discussed in terms of evolutionary psychological explanations of mate selection and
sociological theories that emphasise the effect of resource scarcity on preferences for body shapes and sizes.
# 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Keywords: Physical attractiveness; Waist-to-chest ratio; Body mass index; Cross-cultural
Although a great deal of the research concerning
physical attractiveness has focussed on the female
body, researchers are increasingly paying attention to
masculinity and the male body (e.g., Garrett, 1992;
Stam, 1998). Much of this research has employed an
evolutionary psychological perspective and considers
* Corresponding author. Tel.: +44 207 6795302.
E-mail address: [email protected] (V. Swami).
different traits to be an indicator of genetic variability.
This explanation assumes that a reliable connection
exists between body attractiveness and male quality,
that male attractiveness is an indicator or some
component of fitness such as health and vigour and
that females detect and use this indicator for choosing
a mate (Shackelford et al., 2000; Singh, 1995)
The most obvious case of sexually selected
characters in humans concerns features such as beards
and body shape that differ conspicuously between the
sexes (Barber, 1995). Thus, it has been argued that
1740-1445/$ – see front matter # 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
V. Swami, M.J. Tovée / Body Image 2 (2005) 383–393
men with dominance- and masculinity-related facial
and body characteristics are considered most physically and sexually attractive. Testosterone and areas of
the body indexing testosterone are suggested to play
key roles, as dominant males have higher testosterone
levels (Ehrenkantz, Bliss, & Sheard, 1974). It has also
been suggested that aspects of male body build,
particularly the upper torso, might be sexually
selected. The shoulders of men, their upper body
musculature and biceps are all more developed than in
women, even when differences in stature are
accounted for (Ross & Ward, 1982), and these
characteristics are influenced by testosterone levels
(Björntorp, 1987).
Using silhouettes as stimuli, a number of studies
have shown that females tend to prefer a moderately
developed male torso than extremely muscular
physiques (Barber, 1995). However, most of these
studies have not looked explicitly at male bodily
physique, but have used line drawings to focus on
the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR; the ratio of the width of
the waist to the width of the hips). These studies
report a preferred WHR of 0.90–0.95 (Furnham,
Tan, & McManus, 1997; Henss, 1995; Lynch &
Zellner, 1999; Singh, 1995). However, more recent
research using photographic stimuli shows that
while the WHR, body mass index (BMI) and
waist-to-chest ratio (WCR) are all significant
contributors to male attractiveness, WCR was the
principal determinant and accounted for 56% of the
variance (Maisey, Vale, Cornelissen, & Tovée, 1999;
see also Fan, Dai, Liu, & Wu, 2005). By contrast,
BMI accounted for only 12.7% of the variance and
the WHR was not a significant predictor of
attractiveness. Maisey et al. (1999) concluded that
women’s ratings of male attractiveness can be
explained by simple physical characteristics that
measure body shape (in particular the WCR).
Women are said to prefer men whose torso has an
‘inverted triangle’ shape, that is, a narrow waist and
a broad chest and shoulders, which is consistent with
physical strength and muscle development in the
upper body. This finding is comparable with other
studies using line drawings which show that women
prefer men with a ‘V-shape’ (wider shoulders than
chest, which was again wider than the hips;
Frederick & Haselton, 2003; Furnham & Radley,
1989; Lavrakas, 1975).
In opposition to evolutionary psychological explanations, however, it has been suggested that society
has expectations for ideal male body shapes (HesseBiber, 1996; Murray, Touyz, & Beumont, 1996) and
that males increasingly compare their bodies to
idealised media and cultural images (Davis & Katzman, 1997; Heinberg, Thompson, & Stormer, 1995;
McCreary & Sasse, 2000). Although gender differences emerge in attitudes toward cultural ideals of
attractiveness, with women more motivated to conform to these ideals than men (Cash & Hicks, 1990;
Muth & Cash, 1997), socio-cultural pressures concerning male body image seem to be on the increase.
For example, one content analysis found a consistency
in the V-shaped standard of male bodily attractiveness
presented in US men’s magazines between 1960 and
1992 (Petrie et al., 1996). In a more recent study, Leit,
Pope, and Gray (2001) examined centrefold models in
Playgirl from 1973 to 1997, and found that the cultural
norm for the ideal male body has become increasingly
muscular, especially in the 1990s.
If judgements of attractiveness are an innate
preference, as evolutionary psychology argues, then
it might be suggested that these preferences should be
consistent across cultures. Although there is now a
growing body of evidence examining body type
preferences for the male body, the literature examining
these preferences cross-culturally remains limited
(Cash & Pruzinsky, 2002). Using an undergraduate
sample of Caucasian and Asian–American students,
Mintz and Kashubeck (1999) found that males aspired
for a large, muscular cultural ideal that does not differ
between ethnic groups. However, while Mintz and
Kashubeck (1999) explored satisfaction with specific
body parts, they did not specifically investigate the
interaction between ethnicity and gender on overall
body figure preference. A more recent study suggests
that Asian–American men are more invested in
developing a large, muscular body (Barnett, Keel,
& Conoscenti, 2001), but to date few studies have
examined male physical attractiveness cross-nationally, using female participants.
This study therefore set out to explore judgements of
male physical attractiveness among groups of female
observers from different socio-economic and cultural
backgrounds. Previously, we reported that, because of
unequal socio-economic transformation in recent
decades, Malaysia furnishes a natural laboratory in
V. Swami, M.J. Tovée / Body Image 2 (2005) 383–393
which to examine preferences for physical attractiveness (Swami & Tovée, 2005a). In different parts of
Malaysia, people live in industrialised and rural
environments, and this allows us to explore the effect
of industrialisation on standards of male attractiveness.
Participants were, therefore, recruited from Britain (a
relatively modern and developed sample), Kuala
Lumpur (a culturally modern area of Malaysia) and
from Sabah (a rural, relatively under-developed area of
Malaysia). Importantly, the two Malaysian samples
were ethnically similar to one another, whereas the two
urban samples were culturally similar, reflecting shared
cultural values of modernity.
The participants of this study were recruited from
two countries, Britain and Malaysia, there being three
groups reflecting a gradient of socio-economic
development from industrialised (Britain and Kuala
Lumpur) to rural (Kota Belud outskirts). The first
group consisted of 30 female participants recruited
from Kuala Lumpur, the largest city in Malaysia with a
population of about 2 million. As the capital city of
Malaysia and an independent federal territory, Kuala
Lumpur is the heart of the Malaysian economy with a
GDP per capita of about US$ 8000 and a low
unemployment rate (2.6%; Government of Malaysia,
2001). Compared with East Malaysia, which is about
50% rural, Kuala Lumpur is a modern city that has
witnessed a noticeable rise in clinical eating disorders
(e.g., Hsien-Jin, 2000). Although a number of different
ethnic groups populate the city, we only recruited
participants of Malay ancestry.
The second group consisted of 28 female
participants recruited from rural villages on the
outskirts of the small town of Kota Belud, in the state
of Sabah in East Malaysia. Sabah is one of Malaysia’s
least developed states, with a GDP per capita of about
US$ 2400 and a high unemployment rate at 5.6%. In
1999, the average monthly household income for
Sabah was RM 1905 (about US$ 500), the lowest in
Malaysia (Government of Malaysia, 2001). Most
participants in this group were paddy farmers,
depending on the crop for their livelihood. A small
number also worked as temporary labourers in Kota
Belud. Although Sabah has witnessed increasing
urbanisation in recent years (including the dispersal
of urban development and new highway construction
through rural areas), the area around Kota Belud has
retained its essentially rural character. All villages in
the area of study had a permanent supply of electricity
and water, though sources of mass media were often
restricted to communal televisions (regulated state
channels) and print matter (local newspapers). Again,
only participants of Malay ancestry were included in
the group.
Both Malaysian groups were compared with a
sample of 37 Caucasian females who were born and
raised in urban Britain. The age ranges and means of
the different groups are summarised in Table 1. There
were no significant differences in the mean ages of the
different groups (one-way ANOVA, F(2,94) = 0.02,
p > 0.05). There were also no significant differences
in the body mass indices of participants in the
different groups (one-way ANOVA, F(2,94) = 1.04,
p > 0.05).
Participants in each group were asked to rate blackand-white images of 50 real men in front view. To
generate the images, consenting men were previously
(Maisey et al., 1999) videoed standing in a set pose at a
standard distance, wearing tight grey leotards and
Table 1
Participants’ age and BMI ranges, means and standard deviations
Kuala Lumpur
Standard deviation
Standard deviation
V. Swami, M.J. Tovée / Body Image 2 (2005) 383–393
Fig. 1. Example of male images used in the experiment.
leggings in front view. Images were then framegrabbed and stored as 24-bit images (see Fig. 1). The
use of high-resolution photographic images is more
realistic than the line drawings used to date, but it
should be noted that a two-dimensional image may not
capture all the visual cues available from a threedimensional image seen from the same viewing point
(DeSoto & Kopp, 2003). However, a recent study
which compared the ratings of two-dimensional
photographs with ratings of movie clips of the same
bodies rotated through 3608 found no differences
(Smith, Cornelissen, & Tovée, 2005), suggesting that
two-dimensional photographs can capture much of the
visual information available in three-dimensional
Although the images were derived from men of
British origin, every effort was taken to ensure that
ethnicity would not be a factor. To this end, the heads
of the men in the images were obscured, so that they
could not be identified and so that facial attractiveness
would not be a factor in subjects’ ratings. The images
were also presented in black-and-white to minimise
the impact of skin colour. The waist-to-chest ratio,
waist-to-hip ratio and body mass index were measured
directly from each of the volunteers themselves and
not the pictures. To ensure there was an equal range or
variation of BMI, WCR and WHR within the image
set, these characteristics were first measured from a
sample of 214 men (see Maisey et al., 1999). The 50
images representing a range of standard deviation 1.7
either side of the mean of the distribution of BMI,
WCR and WHR in the sample were then chosen for
the final image set. The men in the final set varied in
WCR from 0.69 to 0.89, in WHR from 0.83 to 0.98
and BMI from 18.94 kg/m2 to 28.07 kg/m2.
For this experiment, the images of men were
printed on sheets of A4 paper, so that each image
covered the entire page. This was done so as to
facilitate replication of the study in all locations.
Participants were presented with a booklet to record
their ratings, where the first page consisted of brief
instructions and a worked example of a rating, and
where the final page requested participants’ demographic details (age, gender, ethnicity, weight and
height). Other pages in the booklet provided a 9-point
horizontal Likert scale, which appeared below the
question ‘How physically attractive is the person in the
photograph?’ and on which participants were asked to
record their ratings.
All participants were tested individually, with the
only difference in procedure between the different
settings being the language used. While the questionnaire was in English for the British group,
instructions were translated into Malay for the
Malaysian samples. A back translation of the
instructions by an independent translator certified
the validity of the questionnaire across conditions.
Within the image set, individual images were
presented in a randomised order, and subjects were
presented with the entire set twice. This was done to
make participants aware of the range of variability of
body features represented in the images in the first run
through, and to encourage participants to use the
whole set of attractiveness ratings from 1 (least
attractive) to 9 (most attractive). Participants were
V. Swami, M.J. Tovée / Body Image 2 (2005) 383–393
Fig. 2. Plots of attractiveness as functions of WCR. Each point
represents the 50 attractiveness judgements made by participants.
Regression lines (solid lines) and their 95% confidence levels
(dotted lines) are superimposed. (a) Britain; (b) Kuala Lumpur;
(c) Sabah.
only asked to rate the images according to the leading
question on the second run through. The entire
procedure took approximately 40 min to complete for
each participant.
A multiple polynomial regression was used to
model the contributions of WCR, WHR and BMI to
the attractiveness ratings. Fig. 2 shows plots of
attractiveness ratings as a function of WCR for all
three groups, with all sets being significantly
explained by WCR (Britain, t(49) = 7.11,
p < 0.001; Kuala Lumpur, t(49) = 7.57, p < 0.001;
Sabah, t(49) = 2.87, p < 0.001). It is clear that there is
a strong correlation of attractiveness and WCR, with
even small changes in WCR significantly altering the
attractiveness rating of the male body. Fig. 3 shows the
corresponding relationship between attractiveness
and BMI, with all sets being significantly explained
by BMI (Britain, t(49) = 2.32, p < 0.05; Kuala
Lumpur, t(49) = 2.45, p < 0.05; Sabah, t(49) = 5.89,
p < 0.001). It can be seen from these figures that
the relationship between BMI and attractiveness is
non-linear. That is, increases or decreases in BMI
either side of the peak of the curve reduce the
attractiveness rating. Finally, Fig. 4 shows the
relationship between attractiveness and WHR. There
was no significant effect of WHR on any of the groups
(Britain, t(49) = 0.22, p > 0.05; Kuala Lumpur,
t(49) = 0.32, p > 0.05; Sabah, t(49) = 0.91,
p > 0.05), suggesting that the WHR does not have
an effect on the attractiveness ratings of participants.
There are a large number of functions that could be
used to model these data. Following Maisey et al.
(1999), we chose the simplest approach possible,
which was to include second-order terms in a multiple
regression model, to estimate the variance of attractiveness ratings explained by WCR, WHR and BMI.
Determining what order polynomial to fit to the data
was considered in earlier publications (Maisey et al.,
1999), and we settled on a second-order polynomial
for BMI because it balances the amount of variance
accounted for with the simplest possible regression
model. In addition, there appears little justification in
the psychological literature for fitting a more complex
function (Altman, 1991). The model, run separately
for the different groups, was:
y ¼ a þ b1 x1 þ b2 x2 þ b3 x3 þ b4 x4 þ e
where y is the attractiveness rating, a the intercept, x1
the BMI, x2 the BMP, x3 the WCR, x4 the WHR and e
is random error.
V. Swami, M.J. Tovée / Body Image 2 (2005) 383–393
Fig. 3. Plots of attractiveness as functions of BMI. Each point
represents the 50 attractiveness judgements made by participants.
Regression lines (solid lines) and their 95% confidence levels (dotted
lines) are superimposed. (a) Britain; (b) Kuala Lumpur; (c) Sabah.
Fig. 4. Plots of attractiveness as functions of WHR. Each point
represents the 50 attractiveness judgements made by participants.
Regression lines (solid lines) and their 95% confidence levels (dotted
lines) are superimposed. (a) Britain; (b) Kuala Lumpur; (c) Sabah.
The total variance explained by this model for the
relationship between WCR and attractiveness ratings
is shown in Table 2, and is dramatically different
between the groups. While the relationship accounted
for about 50% of the variance in both urban groups
(Britain and Kuala Lumpur), it accounted for only
24.1% in the rural group. This suggests that whereas
both urban groups use the WCR as the primary
V. Swami, M.J. Tovée / Body Image 2 (2005) 383–393
Table 2
Total variance explained by WCR, BMI and WHR and peak attractiveness
Kuala Lumpur
Correlation with ratings (r)
predictor of male bodily attractiveness, the rural group
does not. In addition, the gradient of this relationship
is similar for participants in Britain (23.02) and
Kuala Lumpur (24.18), with increasing attractiveness as the bodies become more V-shaped (that is, the
WCR is lower). However, the gradient is strikingly
different for participants in Sabah (+7.39), suggesting
that more tubular bodies (that is, the WCR is higher
and closer to 1.0) are considered as more attractive. To
test whether this difference was statistically significant, we carried out a series of dummy regressions
(Tukey, 1977). That is, in order to allow the
relationships between the response variable (attractiveness rating) and the explanatory variable (WCR) to
differ for the different groups, we introduced a dummy
variable into the regression model (Hays, 1988). This
allows us to model a regression for two observer
groups and determine whether they are significantly
different. Using this analysis, we found that the rural
group was significantly different from both other
groups ( p < 0.001). The British and Kuala Lumpur
groups were not significantly different from each
other. This was further confirmed by the correlations
between WCR and attractiveness ratings: for the
British group, r = 0.821; for the Kuala Lumpur
group, r = 0.820; for the Sabahan groups, r = +0.552
(see Table 2).
This basic pattern is reversed when the relationship
between BMI and attractiveness is considered (see
Table 2). For both urban groups, the relationship
accounted for less than 20% of the variance,
suggesting that BMI is a relatively weaker predictor
of male bodily attractiveness than WCR. For the
Sabahan group, however, BMI accounted for over
50% of the variance, which suggests that BMI is a
considerably stronger determinant of bodily attractiveness than WCR in this group. This is borne out by
the correlations between BMI and attractiveness
ratings: for the British group, r = 0.570; for the
Peak attractiveness
WCR gradient
20.86, SD 0.97
20.62, SD 1.11
24.09, SD 2.41
Kuala Lumpur group, r = 0.510; for the Sabahan
groups, r = +0.775 (see Table 2).
From Fig. 3, it is noticeable that the attractiveness
versus BMI function has shifted in the rural group (that
is, the peak or ‘ideal’ BMI value may differ across the
groups). To explore this possibility, we followed Tovée,
Maisey, Emery, and Cornelissen (1999) in fitting
second-order polynomials for BMI to the attractiveness
ratings made by all participants in each group, allowing
the BMI at peak attractiveness to be calculated for each
participant (see Table 2). There were overall significant
differences between the ratings made by participants
from the different groups (one-way ANOVA,
F(2,94) = 57.02, p < 0.001). To see where these
differences lay, a post hoc Tukey HSD was carried
out on the data. The peak BMI values from the Sabahan
group were significantly higher (24.09 kg/m2) from
both the Kuala Lumpur (20.62 kg/m2) and British
(20.86 kg/m2) groups, which were not significantly
different from each other.
The results of this study show that a woman’s rating
of male bodily attractiveness can be explained by simple
physical characteristics, in particular the WCR and
BMI. However, there are clear cross-cultural differences
in the way these characteristics are used. In urban
settings in Malaysia and Britain, the WCR is the primary
component of attractiveness ratings, suggesting that
upper body shape is more important for male attractiveness than body mass. Women prefer men whose
torso has an ‘inverted triangle’shape, which is consistent
with previous findings (Fan et al., 2005; Frederick &
Haselton, 2003; Furnham & Radley, 1989; Lavrakas,
1975; Maisey et al., 1999); the BMI of the male body
is comparatively unimportant. This is distinguishable
from investigations of female attractiveness, which
V. Swami, M.J. Tovée / Body Image 2 (2005) 383–393
show that body weight is the primary predictor of
attractiveness ratings (Fan, Liu, Wu, & Dai, 2004;
Swami & Tovée, 2005a; Tovée et al., 1999).
By contrast, BMI is the primary cue for male
attractiveness in rural Malaysia, with body shape (as
measured by the WCR and WHR) playing a
comparatively minor role. The preference among
rural participants for heavier men is combined with a
preference for a more tubular body shape (that is,
changing upper body shape has less of an effect on
attractiveness in the rural group, and a less
curvaceous shape is regarded as relatively more
attractive in the rural group than in the other observer
groups). This set of findings is striking given existing
cross-cultural evidence suggesting that Asian–
American men, like their Caucasian counterparts,
are invested in developing a large, muscular body
(Barnett et al., 2001; Mintz & Kashubeck, 1999).
Rather, when ratings are elicited from rural contexts,
body mass and not shape is the primary cue for male
physical attractiveness.
Some evolutionary psychologists have suggested
that judgements of attractiveness are an innate
preference, and that consequently such preferences
should be consistent across cultures (Singh, 1995).
However, the results of this study show that cultural
differences can exist in the perception of male
attractiveness, and that these differences may be
linked with socio-economic status (see Swami &
Tovée, 2005a). Cross-cultural research (primarily
regarding female physical attractiveness) has
revealed differing perceptions of attractiveness and
healthy body sizes (e.g., Furnham & Alibhai, 1983;
Furnham & Baguma, 1994; Miller & Pumariega,
2001; Powers, 1980; Swami, Caprario, Tovée, &
Furnham, in press; Wetsman & Marlowe, 1999; Yu &
Shepard, 1998), with increasing modernisation and
economic liberalisation resulting in the acquisition of
slimmer body mass preferences. In most traditional,
non-industrialised settings, body fat is believed to be
an indicator of wealth and prosperity (McGarvey,
1991), with obesity as a symbol of economic success
and sexual capacity (Ghannam, 1997; Nasser, 1988;
Rudovsky, 1974). Furthermore, there is often a
positive relationship between increased socio-economic status and body weight: only high-status
individuals would have been able to put on body
weight (Brown & Konner, 1987), as it would have
been advantageous to be able to store excess food as
fat in times of surplus. The reliance on and preference
for larger BMIs among rural women in this study may
therefore reflect such relationships.
Until recently, this pattern linking resource availability (as indicated by socio-economic status) and
body weight lacked an obvious psychological mechanism. Nelson and Morrison (2005), however, proposed
an implicit psychological mechanism based on the
situational influence of environmental conditions. They
argue that the consequence of collective resource
scarcity is that individual members of a society in which
resources are scarce are likely to lack resources
themselves. They further argue that the affective and
physiological states associated with individual-level
resource availability provide implicit information about
collective resource availability, and that this then plays
a role in the construction of preferences.
In a series of studies, Nelson and Morrison (2005)
tested this hypothesis by manipulating people’s
financial satisfaction or hunger (both these being
proxies for personal resources in industrialised
societies) and measuring their preferences for potential romantic partners. Their studies confirmed that
implicit cues to resource availability influence
preference for potential mates: financially dissatisfied
and hungry men preferred a heavier mate than did
financially satisfied men or satiated men, respectively
(see also Swami & Tovée, 2005b). Although their
studies only examined male preferences for female
body weight, the results of the present study suggest
that their findings may hold (although in different
directions) when female perceptions of male attractiveness are considered.
Importantly, industrialised societies appear to
promulgate different expectations for ideal male body
shapes (Andersen & DiDomenico, 1992; Frederick,
Fessler, & Haselton, 2005; Hesse-Biber, 1996; Leit
et al., 2001; Murray et al., 1996; Peixoto Labre, 2002),
which women may idealise. The preference for a
large, muscular and mesomorphic body type in
industrialised settings appears to develop at a very
young age (Collins & Plahn, 1988; Lerner, 1969,
1972; McCreary & Sasse, 2000; Staffieri, 1967) and
has been linked with media use and exposure (Morry
& Staska, 2001). In a recent study, for example, Botta
(2003) surveyed US college students to test the extent
to which reading fashion, sports, health or fitness
V. Swami, M.J. Tovée / Body Image 2 (2005) 383–393
magazines is related to body image and eating
disorders. Results indicated that reading was linked
to increased muscularity, which means that the more
time men spent reading, the more likely they were to
be committed to being muscular.
The absence of a strong preference for muscular, Vshaped bodies among rural participants in the present
study lends credence to the view that such an ideal is a
culturally influenced phenomenon. Although we have
no explicit measures of exposure to media images of
male bodies, our ethnographic observation corroborates the relative lack of exposure to Western media
images among rural Sabahans. Although some of the
women in this study have televisions in their homes,
this is restricted to regulated state-run channels. In
addition, local print media typically do not feature
images of men or masculine figures. In Kota Belud,
which women may visit occasionally, there are several
eating establishments that broadcast foreign channels,
and Western magazines are available in some shops.
However, for the most part, advertisements are
Malaysian and the most prominent reading materials
are Sabahan newspapers.
In addition to media exposure, other cultural
factors may play a role in explaining the attitudes
of females about male physical attractiveness. Emerging evidence, for example, highlights personal and
socio-cultural factors, especially parental and peer
influences (Field et al., 2001; Irving, Wall, NeumarkSztainer, & Story, 2002; Ricciardelli & McCabe,
2001a). One possibility is that, in most industrialised
settings like Britain and Kuala Lumpur, women have
rapidly achieved parity with men in many aspects of
life, leaving men with only their bodies as a
distinguishing source of masculinity (Faludi, 1999;
Leit et al., 2001; Nixon, 1996). Images of muscular, fit
and toned men thus represent men seeking to embody
the physical strength, hardness and power associated
with the traditional muscular ideal, signalling distance
from traditional cultural ideas about feminity.
The limitations of this paper include the fact the
stimuli employed attempted to measure BMI and
WCR at the possible expense of ecological validity.
For example, the range of body sizes and shapes used
in this study may not have been representational of
Malaysian men. Future studies should ensure as far as
possible that stimuli used are suited to local cultural
and demographic conditions. This limitation notwith-
standing, the fact that the more urban Malaysian
sample has come to agree so closely with the British
sample and differ so notably from the rural Malaysian
sample offers a suggestion that modernisation can
bring about quite rapid changes in attractiveness
perception. Because Sabahan women live in a
relatively rural setting characterised by few media
images of male bodies, they may be ‘buffered’ from
the more muscular, ‘inverted triangle’ shape prevalent
in industrialised settings. In other words, the
preference for specific body shapes in men appears
to result from exposure to modernity and related
media images of muscular bodies. Insofar as
Malaysian males seek to adopt larger and more
muscular bodies, a phenomenon already prevalent in
the West (Abell & Richards, 1996; Furnham &
Calnan, 1998; McCabe & Ricciardelli, 2001; Ricciardelli & McCabe, 2001b), it may be expected that they
would be at particular risk for developing body image
The first author was supported by an Overseas
Research Student Award from Universities UK. The
second author’s research is supported by Wellcome
Trust funding through the JIF initiative. We would
like to acknowledge the contributions of Dr. Dorothy
Einon, Prof. Adrian Furnham, Dr. Alaistair McClelland and Prof. Thomas Cash, as well as four
reviewers who made comments on earlier versions
of this study.
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