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Weight and Mating

According to Amy Alkon, Sarasota Herald-Tribune “Advice Goddess,” men are hard-wired to assess women’s looks. From an evolutionary standpoint, they’ve used body weight to select mates to ensure survival of the species, hoping that someone who looked healthy was healthy. Alkon adds that “…research suggests that the body size men look for in a woman is inverse to the availability of food. Where eats are scarce, like in the Sahara, Lane Bryant ladies are in. Where there’s food-a-plenty, men go for slimmer women.” (When I emailed her, Alkon quoted the source as Shackleforth and Buss and I will try to track down their work and get more information on the theory).

An interesting and unsettling observation. What the quote is saying is that at least one explanation for the fat phobia epidemic in the U.S. (and elsewhere) and males rejecting females for being overweight is due to a lethal combo of biology affected by culture. I’m still trying to make sense of this correlation. According to the survival-of-the-fittest concept, men in food-scarce regions mate with overweight females because the women 1) would have the best chance of survival, 2) appear healthy, meaning fertile and able to carry a fetus to term, and 3) their good health would hopefully mean that their progeny would be born with healthy genes to get out there and populate the earth.

Honestly, though, I’m not sure I understand the link between food-abundant societies and men choosing thin women. Does this mean that slender women would be healthier because they choose to regulate food or because they metabolize it better? Are they healthier no matter that they’re undernourished and over-exercised? Are they fitter because they won’t have the health problems of overweight? I confess, I’m stumped.

More to the point is what this theory means regarding romance and sex for heavy women. I’d like to believe—I’d really like to believe—that enlightened men can overcome pre-programming, put weight aside, and see women in their marvelous totality. On the other hand, if that were to happen, would that affect the balance of human existence, ie, is there something more right in terms of evolution about men choosing thinner women in a land of plenty for the long-term good of homo sapiens?

The thought is too scary to contemplate. If evolution rules, that leaves overweight women in our food-abundant culture out of the running for romance, sex, and marriage, as if they’re irrelevant, which is how many of them already feel. If the fat-thin theory is true, at least maybe this bit of creepy news will stop them from blaming themselves.