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Try out PMC Labs and tell us what you think. Learn More. A profusion of studies have demonstrated that body size is a major factor in mate selection for both men and women. The particular role played by weight, however, has been subject to some debate, particularly with respect to the types of body sizes deemed most attractive, and scholars have questioned the degree to which body size preferences are constant across groups. In this paper, we drew from two perspectives on this issue, Sexual Strategies Theory and what we termed the cultural variability perspective, and used survey data to examine how body size was associated with both casual dating and serious romantic relationships.
We used a United States sample of African American adolescents and young adults between ages 16 and 21, living in the Midwest and Southeast, and who were enrolled in either high school or college. showed that overweight women were more likely to report casually dating than women in the thinnest weight category.
Body size was not related to dating status among men. Among women, the suggest stronger support for the cultural variability argument than for Sexual Strategies Theory. Potential explanations for these findings are discussed. Research on the association between body size and romantic relationships has long been of interest to feminist scholars because of the deeply gendered nature of this association Bordo ; Smith et al. Among high school and college age women living in the United States, physical attractiveness is often seen as synonymous with extreme slenderness and as a necessary precursor to romantic relationships Paxton et al.
The importance of a slender physique for men has received far less attention. One group widely thought to be an exception to these patterns, however, is African Americans, particularly African American women, to whom a different set of body size standards may apply Lovejoy Research with African Americans across a broad age spectrum suggests they are relatively unconcerned about weight as an element of attractiveness and consider a wide variety of body styles to be attractive Freedman et al. Further, some evidence suggests African Americans consider very thin body styles to be unattractive Ali et al.
Very few papers have looked at African Americans as a free standing group or examined the association between body size and dating status itself. Further, the association between body size and dating status among African American men has received almost no attention. In this paper, we examine the body size and dating association among African American women and men attending either high school or college. We also examine two types of dating statuses: casual dating and serious relationships i.
Athens male seeking black building our arguments, we rely primarily on literature conducted with U. Where samples differ, we note it specifically in the text. Better understanding of the dynamics of body size and romantic relationship status among African Americans is important because it adds to knowledge about how gender and weight influence romantic status. Also, dating patterns formed in young adulthood tend to presage patterns across the adult life course. Thus, work in this area can contribute to better understanding the dynamics of romance, dating, and relationships generally and among African Americans specifically.
The study of body size and romantic relationships is deeply intertwined with ideas about gender and gender roles Beauboeuf-Lafontant ; Lovejoy and has become even more so as evolutionary theories of sexual attraction such as Sexual Strategies Theory Buss; Buss and Schmitt have become popular. Theories such as Sexual Strategies Theory posit a biological and evolutionary basis for sexual and romantic attraction and emphasize the consistency of weight standards for physical attractiveness across cultures, nations, and groups Buss et al. At the same time, Sexual Strategies Theory has also been criticized for oversimplifying the association between biology and attraction and doing so in ways that reify traditional gender roles Eagly and Wood Theorists working in Sexual Strategies Theory and related traditions have acknowledged that culture and other factors may bring about some variation in attractiveness standards but have yet to incorporate this into their theoretical models Buss et al.
African Americans are a group for whom variation in attractiveness preferences has been well documented Jackson and McGill ; Thompson et al. This literature does not represent a formal theory but does constitute a viewpoint about body size and attractiveness recognized and applied by many researchers Jackson and Mc-Gill ; Thompson et al.
In this paper, we analyze the association between body size and relationship status among a cohort of African American high school and college students. We consider the predictions of both Sexual Strategies Theory and the cultural variability perspective and offer hypotheses derived from both. Our goal is not to pit these theories against one another but rather to produce a more nuanced and specific analysis of the way body size is associated with dating among a community sample of African American young adults.
We begin by discussing the links between our research question and gender roles and gender ideology among African Americans. From there we examine the literature on body size, attractiveness, and dating from both Sexual Strategies Theory and the cultural variability perspective and offer a set of hypotheses drawn from these literatures.
Throughout U. Instead, African Americans lived within a system of gender arrangements reflecting the social and economic structure of their lives. Enslaved women, for example, were always identified first as workers and only secondarily as wives and mothers Lawrence-Webb et al.
Enslaved men were not permitted to act as either protector or provider since both roles threatened the authority of their owners. These dynamics continued in the decades following emancipation, particularly after reconstruction, when it was often much easier for African American women to find stable work than for their husbands Staples This was especially true among African American men who were literate or who had building or other skills as they were not permitted to compete with Caucasians for highly paid positions.
The interaction of race and gender combined with the legacy of the slave system to reshape gender relations among African Americans and the impacts of this system are still visible today McDaniel et Athens male seeking black. African American men and women experience greater economic equality than any other racial group in the United States with African American women earning 90 cents for every dollar earned by African American men Nobles Over the past 70 years, African American women have also completed college at higher s than African American men McDaniel et al.
In addition, there is evidence the economic position of African American women is more stable than that of African American men, even for those with equivalent credentials Kane The cumulative result of these historical and demographic forces is Athens male seeking black that African American women are much less likely to be economically dependent on their husbands or male partners than are Caucasian women Kane ; Nobles The current and historic economic equity between African American men and women is also visible in patterns of gender ideology Davis and Greenstein Athens male seeking black In particular, support for women in the workplace and awareness of gender discrimination is higher among African American men than among men in other racial or ethnic groups in the United States Hunter and Sellers Further, the gender gap in these attitudes among African Americans is smaller than that found among Caucasian Americans Scott Carter et al.
Taken as a whole, the present state of economic and social capital held by African American women suggests they should command considerable resources and it would not be surprising if this altered the bases upon which men evaluated their attractiveness. At the same time, however, there are areas of African American life where traditional gender roles and ideologies prevail Davis and Greenstein In particular, social arenas such as the church encourage conformity with more traditional ideals of appropriate gender relations Hunter and Sellers Finally, the higher rates of incarceration and death among African American men has skewed the gender ratio such that there are approximately 80 African American men available for every African American women Chapman Thus, while some elements of gender relations and ideologies appear to empower African American women, others may work in the opposite direction.
We next assess attractiveness and dating literatures from Sexual Strategies Theory and the cultural variability perspective. We consider the degree to which each perspective combines with gender stratification and gender ideology among African Americans and develop hypotheses about the association between body size and dating status. Given our populations of interest, we focus on literature looking at African Americans of high school or college age and also assess evidence for the attractiveness preferences of both men and women. One of the most widely used theoretical frameworks for understanding the association between physical appearance and mating is Sexual Strategies Theory Buss Sexual Strategies Theory hypothesizes men and women form attractions and act on them with the goal of maximizing the likelihood they will produce offspring that can survive into adulthood.
The theory emphasizes the biological and evolutionary roots of traditional gender roles, highlighting ways men and women differ in their priorities, behaviors, and bases of attraction Buss and Schmitt Sexual Strategies Theory argues body weight is a crucial component of attractiveness because it als both health and fertility and Sexual Strategies Theory researchers cite work done across both time and culture to support this finding Buss et al.
Men place greater emphasis on attractiveness and body size, the theory argues, because they maximize their reproductive advantage by mating with as many healthy and fertile women as possible Gangestad and Scheyd and weight is a valid and visible indicator of both. Sexual Strategies Theory does not formally specify the particular body size range men should prefer but instead states it would be the range most strongly associated with health and reproductive fitness. Almost no Sexual Athens male seeking black Theory studies have explicitly examined African American men and their preferences or dating decisions.
One exception is a study examining preferred waist-to-hip ratio among a group of African American male college students; it concluded average sized women with a low waist to hip ratio were most attractive Singh A review of literature using Sexual Strategies Theory to examine attractiveness preferences in general noted African Americans had body size preferences similar to other U. No Sexual Strategies Theory research has explicitly examined the preferences of African American women but a review of research on the association between male attractiveness and health among western societies noted that both very thin and very overweight men are considered unattractive.
Sexual Strategies Theory also draws attention to the importance of context when making predictions about the role of body weight in definitions of attractiveness Buss and Schmitt In particular, Sexual Strategies Theory hypothesizes body weight should be most important when individuals are looking for short term mates where information is limited and there is no expectation of a permanent relationship and will be less important to long term Athens male seeking black relationships Bussa contention that has been tested among U.
To our knowledge, it has never been examined among African American undergraduates or in samples including high school students. As discussed here, Sexual Strategies Theory literature has generated a substantial framework for studying the bases of attractiveness. Sexual Strategies Theory researchers have acknowledged the potential that local conditions can influence attractiveness standards Buss and Schmitt but have not studied the phenomena in depth nor incorporated it into their overall theoretical model.
This suggests the following hypotheses:. H1: Women in the low normal body size category will be more likely to casually date or be in a serious relationship relative to women in the high normal or overweight, body size. H2: Men in the high normal body size category will be more likely to casually date or be in a serious relationship relative to men in the low normal body size category. H3: Among both men and women, the association between body size and dating status should be stronger for casual dating than for serious romantic relationships.
Although Sexual Strategies Theory is one of the most widely applied theories of attraction and mate selection, it has also been the subject of critique Pedersen et al. The criticisms most relevant to this study are that it has received little testing outside of undergraduate populations in the U. The substantial literature documenting body size preferences among African Americans makes them a particularly important group to consider. In this section, we review this literature focusing on those studies with African American participants attending either high school or college; from this we derive a hypothesis.
Based on our review, the most extensive research in this area has looked at college students and primarily examined the female body size African American men find most attractive. Finally, one study concluded African American men found overweight female bodies most attractive Harris et al. Two papers have looked at the preferences of African American college women regarding the body size of the men they date.
Women using a 9-point rating scale to specify the male figure they found most attractive chose an average of 5. Only one paper has examined body size preferences among high school aged African Americans and this paper focused only on the preferences of males Thompson et al. This study also employed a 9-point figure rating scale and determined that the mean ideal female body size was 3. We are aware of no research that has examined what body size high school age African American women believe is ideal in the men they date.
A second arena of research has looked specifically at the association between weight status and dating among African American high school students and focused largely on the dating statuses of women. This work has produced mixed. One study focused solely on the dating status of African American high school women and reported no association between obesity and dating Ali et al. Importantly, though, this study only compared obese to non-obese women and did not look at ranges of body size e.
Two other studies examined associations between weight and dating for multi-racial samples of U. Both found, for girls of all racial groups, the probability of dating dropped as body size increased. The one study to date that has examined the association between body size and dating among African American high school males found an inificant association Cawley Taking these findings as a whole, the literature suggests there is evidence both high school and college men hold attractiveness preferences about women that suggest a high normal or overweight body size would be considered ideal.
The limited research available on the preferences of African American women about men suggests consistent with the expectations of Sexual Strategies Theory. Thus, with respect to this literature, we offer only a hypothesis for women. H4: Women in the high normal or overweight body size will be more likely to casually date or be in a serious relationship relative to women in the low normal body size category. As discussed above, high school and college students have been the subjects of most research on dating and body size.
Sexual Strategies Theory predicts that low normal body size women and high normal body size men should be most attractive in all cultural contexts Buss et al. Research from Athens male seeking black cultural variability perspective has been done in both high school and college populations Jackson and McGill ; Webb et al.
Other research, however, suggests that body size should be a more important factor in high school dating than in college. First, the relatively recent experience of puberty makes bodies more salient during the high school years Pearce et al. A panel study following German high school and college aged adolescents over 8 years suggests that during the high school years concerns with status are paramount when selecting a romantic partner Seiffge-Krenke As individuals leave high school and enter college, in contrast, research from both Germany and the U.
These patterns suggest that the association between body size and dating should be especially strong during high school, among both males and females. The unique economic status of African American men and women adds an additional layer of complexity to this association particularly, we argue, in the college setting Collins ; Kane ; Lovejoy Given the well documented positive association between education and income, African American collegiate women should be in considerable demand and thus weight might be less strongly associated with their romantic prospects Nobles On the other hand, the gender ratio in collegiate settings, especially among African Americans, is skewed such that there are many more African American women attending college than African American men Chapman Among African American college men, in contrast, we expect that weight may not be related to romantic status for two reasons.
First, the skewed gender ratio among collegiate African Americans acts in favor of men. Second, they should be attractive both to women in college and women not in college, thus we expect their economic prospects would balance out their weight status. Nothing in the literature on Sexual Strategies Theory or the cultural variability perspective le to specific hypotheses regarding differences between high school and college dating contexts and thus we do not offer any formal hypotheses. However, given the considerable evidence suggesting that body size may differ in its importance in these two contexts and evidence that the importance of body size evolves as individuals mature, we assess differences between high school and college respondents.
The study was deed to assess how interpersonal, Athens male seeking black and neighborhood contexts influence the health and well-being of African American youth and their families.Athens male seeking black
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