Although Mad Men revolves around the life of the mysterious Don Draper, undoubtedly the coolest character on the show is Ms. Joan Holloway. When you talk to anyone that watches Mad Men, they all either want to be her or be with her. But what makes Joan so appealing? After all, Christina Hendricks, the actress that plays Joan, is not your typical overly skinny Hollywood actress. Instead, Joan Holloway’s appeal may come down to one simple number: .70.
In women’s bodies, there’s a universal formula that seems to be related to their attractiveness—it’s known as the waist-to-hip ratio.1 We’ll avoid asking you do any unnecessary math, but it might be helpful to illustrate with some numbers. Let’s assume that a woman like Scarlett Johansson has “34–23–35” proportions. First, if you can manage to do it, ignore her bust size. The second two numbers refer to her waist size and hip size. The optimal ratio appears to be about .70, or the width of the waist is about 70% of the width of the hips (think of your typical hourglass figure). I’ll pause for a moment while you take some quick measurements of the Joan Holloway picture that accompanies this article (or you can trust us; the science elves at SofR have done the measurements). In essence, women with a waist-to-hip ratio near .70 have a curvy figure. As ratios climb higher toward .8 and .9 curves are less apparent (e.g., men generally have waist-to-hip ratios closer to .90). As it turns out, there is a bit of science behind the corset.
The interesting part about the waist-to-hip ratio is that it works for different-sized bodies. Joan Holloway is heavier than Jessica Alba or Marissa Miller, but they all conform to the magical .70. It also works cross-culturally—the same ratio is preferred around the world, although the average overall body size may vary considerably. Researchers have actually studied this phenomenon by analyzing the waist-to-hip ratio of Playboy centerfolds and Miss America winners (gotta love science!).2 Their results strongly demonstrated the consistency in preference for this ratio dating back to the 1920s. Whereas they found that overall body size of these beauties decreased over time, the waist-to-hip ratio remained remarkably consistent. In other words, although the centerfolds ranged from Marilyn Monroe (who would be relatively heavy-set by Playboy’s current standards) to Twiggy (the Kate Moss of the 1970s, minus the drug scandals), they all had similar waist-to-hip proportions.
Waist-to-hip ratio relates to sexual behavior such that females with more desirable ratios have a greater number of sexual partners, have intercourse at an earlier age, and are more likely to have sex outside of their primary relationship (translation: they cheat).3 So why is a .70 ratio so appealing in women? As evolutionary psychologists explain, the .70 waist-to-hip ratio suggests that a woman is more fertile and more well suited for bearing children (or what your grandmother might have called “good child bearing hips”).
Interested in calculating your own waist-to-hip ratio? Click here.
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1Singh, D., Dixson, B. J., Jessop, T. S., Morgan, B. B., & Dixson, A. F. (2010). Cross-cultural consensus for waist–hip ratio and women's attractiveness. Evolution and Human Behavior, 31 (3), 176–81. doi:10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2009.09.001
2Singh, D. (1993). Adaptive significance of female physical attractiveness: Role of waist-to-hip ratio. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65 (2), 293–307. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.113
3Hughes, S. M., & Gallup, G. R. Gallup (2003). Sex differences in morphological predictors of sexual behavior: Shoulder to hip and waist to hip ratios. Evolution and Human Behavior, 24 (3), 173–78. doi:10.1016/S1090-5138(02)00149-6
Dr. Gary Lewandowski - Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Lewandowski's research explores the role of the self in romantic relationships with a specific focus on self-expansion. He has authored dozens of publications for both academic and non-academic audiences and is a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships.