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Sev­eral of France’s big­gest fash­ion houses in­clud­ing Louis Vuit­ton, Dior, and Gucci, pledged to stop us­ing size zero mod­els in run­way shows and ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns. The ban is her­alded as a sign that the fash­ion in­dus­try is fi­nally be­ing held to ac­count for pro­duc­ing sizes that re­quire women to starve them­selves for fash­ion. In ad­di­tion to ad­dress­ing the health con­cerns sur­round­ing women with 23-inch waists, could it be that maybe, the move also re­flects that con­sumers don’t ac­tu­ally find pa­per thin mod­els that at­trac­tive?

I first read about this ban just as my col­leagues and I at Prime Fit­ness con­cluded an on­line poll on body types and at­trac­tion, which sur­veyed more than 500 men and women. In­trigu­ingly, the poll we con­ducted also pro­vided ev­i­dence that both men and women over­es­ti­mate how thin they be­lieve they should be com­pared with what the op­po­site sex con­sid­ers to be at­trac­tive.

For fe­male body types, the ‘fa­vorite’ level of body fat se­lected was the 15-17-per­cent level and the scores given by men and women for this im­age were re­mark­ably sim­i­lar. At the ul­tra-thin 10-12-per­cent body fat level, there is a sig­nif­i­cant drop in the score from men (70-per­cent), and only a small drop in the score from women (75-per­cent). The most in­ter­est­ing re­sult was at the 25-per­cent body fat level, where men still gave a very high 72-per­cent score com­pared with just 59-per­cent from women. And, at 35-per­cent body fat, men and women both gave very low scores (12-per­cent and 6-per­cent, re­spec­tively).

The story for male body types is per­haps even more sur­pris­ing. De­spite decades of Hol­ly­wood movies and fit­ness mag­a­zines glo­ri­fy­ing six-pack abs and ripped mus­cles, the fa­vorite level of body fat se­lected was the rel­a­tively nor­mal 10-12-per­cent level with higher scores from men than women. When you get much lower than that, women were de­cid­edly put off whereas men thought this was still pretty cool. At 8-10-per­cent body fat, men gave a rel­a­tively high 67-per­cent score com­pared with only 61-per­cent from women. Drop down to the 1-4-per­cent level, and men gave a score of 39-per­cent ver­sus 24-per­cent from women. The bor­der­line obese 20-24-per­cent level re­ceived low scores from both men and women.

For both men and women, be­ing su­per thin is not ac­tu­ally con­sid­ered at­trac­tive by or­di­nary peo­ple, re­gard­less of the body types glo­ri­fied by the me­dia. By no means should this be con­strued as an ar­gu­ment that it is good to be over­weight – obe­sity is a gen­uine health prob­lem and should be taken se­ri­ously. But the goal­posts we should be set­ting for our­selves do not need to be the grossly ex­ag­ger­ated im­ages from cat­walk shows and ad­ver­tis­ing cam­paigns. Su­per low body fat levels not only en­cour­age eat­ing dis­or­ders – turns out they are less at­trac­tive too.

Vic­tor Rowse is a per­sonal trainer, fit­ness re­searcher, and co-founder of Prime


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