The Many Fallacies of the Westminster Study

By Kamaria Muntu
13th August 2012, 17:08 GMT

Few American’s and Brits alike would deny the beauty of Marilyn Monroe –  a plus-size woman by today’s standards – she was iconic beauty in the 50s.

There are so many issues of dire consequence, could be that my irritation at the latest study coming out about men and body size preference is minor league stuff. You’re probably thinking, another boring study about what men like…  in bed, in the workplace, in a girlfriend, in a life partner, in bed again – who cares right?  I’m feeling you.

Recently, some Westminster chaps wrote a paper for PLoS One: “The Impact of Psychological Stress on Men’s Judgements of Female Body Size” –

coming to the conclusion stressed men like bigger women.

Beautiful plus size model Philomena Kwao, Britain’s Top plus-size model

This study has prompted a few Black women to take it rather personally, even though it isn’t aimed at them per se, and is more likely aimed at all women to agitate our paranoia about not being a size one, not to mention proffer a justification for preferring non “mature” body types.

Hey, the authors of the study used that word, not me.

OK, so they picked 81 guys for this little experiment. You’ve no doubt got more Facebook friends than that. Now watch the bouncing ball. What upsets me this time, is that while women are so busy reacting to the idea that there is yet another attack on our weight in this horribly size-conscious society, we are missing, what I think is their real point.

The assumption that more laid-back guys prefer little girl bodies.

Plus Size Model Jasmine Edwards

In order to fully understand how not based in reality this study is, you have to see the pictures the guys had to choose from.

We’re all thinking that the pictures are rightfully anonymized, no familiar or famous women as that could kindle an emotional response – just a cold look at body types of different BMI’s (body mass index) – of which other studies have recently proved fallacious, but that’s a digression.

The actual pictures will no-doubt amaze.

The men were shown images from the Photographic Figure Rating Scale that rates human figures 1-10 (emaciated to obese).  These 81, British Caucasian males were asked to select from these pictures.

There were no Men of Colour in the study, so critics ascribing this to Women of Colour should be mindful that by the researchers own admission, race and culture play a huge role in determining perceptions of weight.

Among the group, 41 underwent a mental “stress” test and 40 got to sit back and relax with no distractions.  They were then asked to rate the attractiveness of the body types, and document this for the researchers.

PFRS courtesy of The Journal of Sex Research article “Big Beautiful Women: The Body Size Preferences of Male Fat Admirers”

I would remind you that attractiveness, (rightly or wrongly) for men viewing women is usually defined by a satisfactory hip-to-waist ratio (waist smaller than hips) and leg-to-body ratio (longer legs as opposed to shorter ones).  While these women are all around the same height, their hip to waist ratio do not become relative to their new size as the pictures progress.  As real women get larger, their bodies often change in other ways besides just waist and belly increase – but the digitally manipulated women’s arms, thighs, etc., remained very tiny in comparison to their new weight.  These are imagined body types with covered faces, not reflective of the way women actually look. These PFRS images just added weight to the next model using a computer, without maturing any other parts of her body – automatically rendering the skinniest woman more classically attractive.

Plus Size Model, Tess Munster

Another fallacy lay in the unraveling of male thought processes while under “stress”. These men were using their cognitive function – which  means even though the women they were shown looked a bit misshapen, they were probably thinking, “but if my girlfriend were that size she would look like ____”.

Jill Scott performing at Brixton Academy on November 30, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Joseph Okpako/WireImage)

Studies have shown when people engage in any mental exercise (which the type of simulated stress by the researchers could be considered) their reasoning functions improve, so they can better make parallels and judgements. The control group of men had no mental stimulus at all, and by the researchers own admission could very well have become bored. When boredom strikes, reasoning function is decreased, thereby causing people to go with their knee-jerk reactions – perhaps a “I need a woman with a waist” reaction to a picture of a woman who doesn’t satisfy the hip-to-waist or leg-to-body scale. It could explain why some of the men who weren’t stressed picked the emaciated figure, as typically anorexics wouldn’t set the world on fire in terms of sex-appeal.

This look is unhealthy, and as such, how on earth could such ill-health be appealing?

With all that said, and these obvious flaws (amongst others the researchers readily admit to), why do we even care?

So what a man in stress likes a bigger frame, if it can be said that this study truly leads to that.  If it suggests anything at all, it’s that men who are positively stressed are better equipped to take on life’s challenges; and are less likely to be intimidated by a bigger woman.

Gorgeous plus size model, proportionate – more in keeping with the average size woman.

Stress is negative in excess and prolonged periods of it can destroy the body. Sexual activity works to alleviate stress (i.e., a sexual romp on the roof counts as both exercise and an immune booster), and has also been linked to better cardiovascular health, as well as neurological function. The men who knew to become stressed at a job interview, (because after all people need jobs to survive), are perhaps better equipped to take on challenges and possess an innate understanding of the natural coping mechanisms required for a diverse sexual palate.  Important to note is that the “stressed men” tended to like a variance of sizes – from the very skinny to the very large – while the “non-stressed” men focused in on the underweight women. The researchers stated in their conclusion:

“Men in the experimental [stressed] group also rated heavier female bodies as more attractive and idealised a wider range of female figures than did the control group”.

A group of average women – considered in this day and age “plus-sized”. Photo courtesy of

This is perhaps because men who become more quickly stressed possess higher levels of testosterone, the sex hormone that gives men their sense of masculinity and virility. This could be triggered when men are working towards something (such as job hunting). It would also be classed as eustress (or good stress), which has extremely positive physiological outcomes for humans (better immunity, sexual and neurological health).

This study largely has no bearing in the real world of real women. And the suggestion that men prefer immature bodies is disturbing to anyone with underage daughters or sisters.

As this study was largely incomplete (the design faulty, the lack of women participants to let us know whether or not the study was truly gender specific, and the absence of ethnicity) – all of this serves to make an extremely weak case.

Chaka Kahn, mature plus-size model and legendary chantreuse

Honestly, I don’t believe this study illuminated anything we don’t already know. Hard working men like something they can hold on to at night.

And as a curvaceous woman, I can appreciate that.

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