The results were clear. The stressed out guys preferred a larger body size than their relaxed counterparts – but that was not all. “Men experiencing stress not only perceive a heavier female body size as maximally attractive, but also more positively perceive heavier female body sizes and have a wider range of body sizes considered physically attractive,” explain the authors.
The wider range of preference was notably one-sided. “This difference was driven by the shift in the experimental group’s upper limit of attractive female bodies,” the authors write. “While there was no significant difference in the lower end of the range, the experimental group appear to have shifted the maximum cut-off for attractive bodies at higher BMIs, which resulted in their wider attractiveness range.”
Why did the stressed-out guys prefer weightier women? Because, evolutionarily, more weight means better able to survive in tough times. “In contexts marked by prolonged stress as a result of resource deprivation, individuals may idealise larger body sizes because such body types are associated with better ability to handle environmental threat.” These results are consistent with cross-cultural studies on attractiveness, which found that ideal body size varies by socioeconomic status and resource scarcity. In other words, our evolutionary past has affected why different cultures throughout the world have very different ideals when it comes to beauty.