The Male Body Type Women Desire Most

November 12, 2015
Sexy or Repulsive?

Sexy or Repulsive?

I’ve never understood why guys try to bulk up in hopes of attracting more women. The young women I have worked with are turned off by bulging biceps and popping pectorals. Yet guys with that kind of physique strut like peacocks.

Not long ago, when dadbods took the internet by storm, I ran a poll to see which type of male body type most women prefer. Across the board women were attracted to “muscular but lean” men (think runner’s body).  “Dadbods” got some support, though women were clear to say that they prefer “normal” rather than a beer gut. The “body builder” physique was generally unpopular and even ridiculed.

Why the disconnect between what women want and what men believe they want? Could it be that men are getting jacked for each other, with female attraction a mere – and unreliable – by-product?

In their new book Mate: Become the Man Women Want, Tucker Max and Geoffrey Miller devote a chapter to getting in shape, and they address this question head on:

“Women are sexually attracted to guys who are healthy, capable and likely to live a long time. For most of them, that means a guy who is in good enough shape is good enough.

…Perfect can be the enemy of good, because while great shape screams “great health” it also screams “narcissistic gym rat who’ll be preoccupied and unfaithful.”

Thus, the mating benefits of improving from bad shape to good shape are astronomical, but the benefits of going from good shape to awesome, pro athlete shape are limited.”

I was immediately reminded of Beauty and the Beast’s Gaston, the narcissist who attempts to woo Belle with his “biceps to spare.” Scriptwriter Linda Woolverton based the character on previous unsuccessful relationships and referred to Gaston as a “blockhead.”

Max and Miller assert that women have not evolved to appreciate bulky musculature:

“No ancestral man would have looked like the Hulk. If a man had that much muscle mass in reality, he wouldn’t have been able to effectively run, climb, talk, hunt or dance, much less sustain his bulk with the food available.

Guys pay attention to the Hulk archetype not because women want to mate with him, but because he would be a formidable sexual rival for us who could keep us from mating with a woman. Don’t confuse the guy you’d most fear with the guy that women would most want.”

That’s brilliant! Men are focusing in on what it takes to physically dominate other males – brute strength. But female appreciation for musculature looks something like this:

Muscle Size.001

In Max and Miller’s terms, “pro athlete shape” would be the top of the curve. Going from that to bodybuilder reduces attractiveness. Why? Because that kind of obsession with one’s physique says a lot about a man’s personality traits, and women dislike it:

“A washboard stomach can definitely be attractive, but a preoccupation with shedding fat and signaling core muscles often strikes women as repulsively vain. Women frequently rate men with these “amazing bodies” as less attractive than guys who have a higher, healthier amount of fat (i.e., the energy reserves to survive infection, illness, starvation, and hardship.)

This is borne out in the media. Films made to appeal to young men, like superhero flicks, often have a bulked-up dude kicking ass. And he gets the girl. But romantic comedies, which are made for women, never feature these characters. They’re more likely to feature Jimmy Fallon (Fever Pitch), Hugh Grant (Bridget Jones) or Justin Timberlake (Friends With Benefits). And the same holds true for sexy leads, e.g. Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades of Grey or Robert Pattinson in Twilight. In the Terminator movies Arnold Schwarzenegger is the monster, not the romantic lead.

A recent Chapman University study (9/15) of body size in the mating market includes the following observation, echoing Max and Miller on men competing with each other:

Most men desire increased muscularity to attract women and to be more successful in intrasexual competition (Frederick, Buchanan, et al., 2007).

And what women find most attractive:

Men with very high or low muscularity are rated as less attractive than men with moderate muscularity. (Frederick & Haselton, 2007).

Strength training is important to health for both men and women, but lifting while ignoring overall cardiac fitness produces an undesirable result, at least from a female standpoint. Women want men who display energy, stamina and endurance. To provide the kind of protection we have evolved to desire, you need to be nimble and quick, not bulky.

And we really do assume guys obsessed with lifting weights are spending a lot time pumping at the gym and taking bathroom selfies. Repulsively vain indeed.

This is the fourth post in a 5-part series based on the new book Mate: Become the Man Women Want by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller and reformed bad boy Tucker Max. Previous posts include:

Why Women Are Sexually Disgusted By Players

Women Want All the Intelligences In a Mate

Social Proof: What It Is – and Isn’t