The plus-size model scam and evolutionary psychology

When it comes to fashion I am usually the last person to notice trends. I recently came across two interesting articles that indicated that the fashion industry is trying to scam its customers. The first one was the more obvious scam of Calvin Klein trying to sell a girl with a perfectly healthy BMI as a plus-size model (see picture).

The less obvious scam became clear to me when I read the second article titled Why is the hourglass figure the only version of plus size that we see ?

So, let’s start our research. The hourglass figure is supposed to occur only in about 8% of all women, so it is not representative of all overweight or obese women. Those who cheer the trend of plus-size models should be aware of it. While doing my research on plus-size models, I saw several people asking “How do I become a plus-size model?” It should be clear by now that 92% of women are excluded from the club merely by having a different body shape.

Why does the fashion industry exclude 92% of women? The obvious answer is that they aren’t as attractive when overweight.

What makes plus-size models so much more attractive? Many people would agree that the lady in the photos does look more attractive than most skinny models: beautiful curves, no protruding belly, and a perfect waist to hip ratio (WHR). Plus-size models store their fat typically above and below the waist and not so much in their belly. This type of obesity is also called peripheral adiposity, where fat deposits are mostly subcutaneous rather than visceral or abdominal like in central adiposity.

Overall the fat distribution is quite even, without any bulging parts like love handles. This is what typically happens in other body shapes when becoming overweight.

The terms for body shapes vary. Here is their distribution (spoon ~ pear; rectangle ~ apple).

Now let’s go deep into our human past. The variation between our body types is most likely due to natural and/or sexual selection, rather than genetic drive. Which factors in our ancestral environments contributed to the selection pressures? As obesity and related health issues themselves were mostly a non-issue in our evolutionary past the reasons must lie elsewhere.

Evolutionary psychologists have long been interested in WHR: Men prefer a low WHR, around .7 (Jessica Alba, Heidi Klum, and many more models) is considered the most attractive WHR.

One reason why the hourglass shape is so attractive is that WHR remains low when the woman becomes overweight, whereas it rapidly increases with the other shapes, in particular with the rectangular shape (central adiposity).

Evolutionary psychologists hypothesize that low WHR was a good indicator for non-pregnancy, whereas a high WHR with a lot of belly fat may or may not hide a possible pregnancy. If true that would explain why men have a preference for low WHR, but not why so few women have the hourglass body shape. Bodies that invest so much in beauty (high mating effort) are likely to have evolved in an environment with high intrasexual competition, potentially higher sociosexuality, and lower lifespans. All these factors are selection pressures for higher mating effort.

I have argued that our ancestral modes of subsistence (foraging, farming, and herding) had a bigger impact on human evolution than is commonly recognized. The environment that matches the hourglass shape best therefore would be pastoralism (herding). Pastoralists typically have a strong dominance hierarchy, high sociosexuality, and frequent polygamy. Also, the lifespans of herders are typically shorter than those of farmers and hunter-gatherers all over the world. A shorter life history strategy typically selects for higher mating effort.

In conclusion, I would infer that women with an hourglass shape have a higher genetic admixture of pastoralist (vs forager and farmer) ancestors. The temperament that goes with an evolutionary pastoralist profile is “adventurer” or SP in Myers-Briggs. Also, they are more likely to be F-types (higher levels of estrogen). The typical personality profile for plus-size models is therefore XSFP. Here are two examples from a personality database :

In fact, herder types aren’t only overrepresented in plus-size models, but in modeling and beauty contests in general, albeit to a lesser extent.

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Originally published at on July 21, 2021.