I figure there’s no sense denying that physical attraction plays a role in our relationships, especially at first. Whether that’s right or wrong, there’s no real avoiding it. The research clearly shows that whether or not people say they value physical attractiveness, they still base their actions on it. Even the people who truly believe they don’t care about physical attractiveness still care about it just as much as everyone else, they just don’t admit it (study, study).
Most studies show both men and women place a great deal of importance on physical attractiveness. We’ve written a companion article on male attractiveness, and that’s just as true there. That isn’t to say that physical attractiveness is all that matters, but it’s one of several factors that can have an impact on your life.
Some of our research comes from a survey we conducted. We’ll cite the other research as it comes up. Some of it might surprise you. Most people guess incorrectly about quite a lot of it.
On that note, this article is long. I’ll understand if you don’t want to read the whole thing, so here’s a quick and simple trick to make yourself instantly sexier: have a drink. It will boost your attractiveness (to yourself) by 50%. This is called the reverse beer goggles effect, aka, Beauty is in the Eye of the Beer Holder. (study) Best of all, you don’t even need to have a real drink – the placebo effect is more than enough – you only have to think you’re having a real drink. (The placebo group also experienced the benefit.)
If you’re looking for a more wholesome and longer-lasting aesthetic improvement, or perhaps an improvement that other people will notice too, don’t worry – that’s what the rest of this article is all about.
- What is sexiness?
- What’s the most attractive female body type?
- The problem with looking average
- The benefit of looking extra healthy
- Men and women have different body preferences
- Why don’t male and female attractiveness ideals line up?
- What’s the most attractive female BMI?
- Women don’t need to be thin to be attractive
- Why are conspicuously healthy physiques so rare?
- The most attractive waist-to-hip ratio
- The most attractive body-fat percentage
- What’s the most attractive amount of muscle?
- The most attractive butt size
- The most attractive boobs
- The most attractive posture
- How to build muscle
- Summary of the ideal female body
What is sexiness?
Before we start, keep in mind that most men don’t look at women critically, trying to find weak spots. Most men love how women look and are much more likely to focus on the best aspects of a woman’s body. In fact, one of the interesting things we found when surveying over a thousand men was that every body type had at least a few men who thought it was the most attractive of all.
The other thing to keep in mind is that sexiness isn’t just sexiness. Men tend to prefer women who look strong, fit, and healthy. So to look attractive, often times focusing on getting stronger, fitter, and healthier is more effective than trying to improve your appearance in a more superficial way. Even having a big round butt ultimately comes down to being a health indicator. In fact, this is arguably why we even value physical attractiveness in the first place. Sexiness is conspicuous health.
For example, regardless of their race, a healthy person’s skin looks a little more attractive. A higher intake of vitamins and minerals (good nutrition habits), higher levels of oxygenated blood (good exercise habits) and a healthy amount of melanin (exercise, nutrition, and sunlight) will turn your skin redder and yellower, giving you a healthier “glow.” It will probably go a long way to clearing up acne and improving your complexion, too. But even just that ever-so-slightly different colouring can make you look more attractive to others (study).
Now, on to understanding (and achieving) the most attractive female physique.
What’s the most attractive female body type?
The short answer is that there isn’t a most attractive body type. Guys like all female body types equally. What’s going to have the biggest impact on how attractive you are isn’t your body shape, it’s whether you’re in good shape or not.
Most guys do prefer women who are strong, fit, and in good health. However, that has little to do with your bone structure, or how naturally curvy or thin you are. As a result, it usually makes more sense to focus on improving your strength, fitness, and health, regardless of your natural body type.
However, every body type has different struggles as they try to get into better shape. A naturally thin woman will benefit from building muscle, and she’ll probably have trouble eating a weight-gain diet. On the other hand, a naturally overweight woman will benefit from losing her extra body fat, which can be equally difficult. This means the path to building a sexy physique can vary quite a bit. One woman might build a sexier body shape by gaining weight, another might become sexier by losing weight.
It’s also true that some women have an easier time building an attractive figure. Some women naturally have wide hips, small waists, and broad shoulders simply due to their bone structure, making it easier for them to look curvy even if they aren’t very strong. And some women naturally store their body fat in their breasts and butts, maintaining their hourglass figure even at high body-fat percentages. Some women have a much easier time looking like they’re in great shape.
Mind you, much of what appears to be genetic could also be due to lifestyle. Most people know that women who exercise more and eat better diets tend to be leaner and more muscular. However, it goes deeper than that. Some research shows that exercise and diet can result in different proportions of visceral fat gain, causing less fat to be stored in your waist, more in your breasts and butt (study, study). Stress can also play a role in how a woman builds muscle and store fat. So can birth control pills. However, even with all of these factors accounted for, there’s still a large genetic component to body shape.
So although all female body types are equally attractive to guys, and even though all of them can get into great shape, just keep in mind that it’s more difficult for some women than others.
The problem with looking average
First, let’s take a look at a few everyday female body types. The vast majority of women fall somewhere on this spectrum:
None of these women look morbidly obese or like they’ve been in a starvation experiment or anything, and these aren’t unhealthy or unattractive body types – far from it. These women all look at least somewhat healthy. However, they don’t necessarily look remarkably healthy.
The funny thing is, they may actually be remarkably healthy. For example, the thin gal may have a slender bone structure, have a naturally small appetite, eat lots of nutritious foods, and really enjoy forms of exercise that make her smaller – jogging, yoga, aerobics, etc. She may be in amazing shape even though she doesn’t look that strong. This is common for naturally thin women.
Similarly, the naturally heavier woman may be a professional rugby player who exercises for several hours each day. She may be in excellent shape and excellent health, just with a higher body-fat percentage.
Or they may not be. The thin gal might be someone who doesn’t eat well enough to support muscle growth. She might be someone who doesn’t exercise at all. Furthermore, since muscle size is so closely correlated with strength, she surely isn’t as strong as she could be.
And the curvy woman could be someone who eats too much and doesn’t exercise. And even if that’s not the case, since excess body weight is so closely correlated with heart disease and diabetes, she may not be as healthy as she could be.
Now, these girls may be healthy, but they aren’t conspicuously healthy. Whether our instinctual judgements are fair or not, it’s just too hard to tell.
The benefit of looking extra healthy
There’s nothing wrong with looking like a gal of average health who’ll live till she’s 81, but looking like the national average sure won’t get you noticed. If you want to get noticed, better to build a remarkable physique that look like it’ll survive until 120:
Now, obviously what size you’ll look and feel your best at varies depending on your body type and bone structure. Girls who are naturally thin are often able to build up enough muscle to look “slim & fit” very quickly (and here are some examples of that), then could gradually work their way up to looking “strong & toned.” However, simply due to their bone structure, it may be nearly impossible for them to rock the “strong & curvy” physique shown on the right.
Similarly, someone who’s naturally voluptuous can usually become “strong & curvy” fairly quickly just by losing a bit of body fat (and here’s an example of that). However, because of their body type, they may never be able to rock the very slim physique shown on the far left.
Your body type isn’t really going to have a huge effect on your attractiveness, though. What matters more is being lean enough, strong enough, and healthy enough. Every body type can accomplish that. It’s going to look a little different on every woman (and every man). Everyone can get there.
Regardless of your body type, when you get into great shape, what men see is someone who only needs to make one trip with all of the grocery bags, someone who will make their best friends a little bit jealous, and someone who can easily muscle open up an old jar of honey with a sticky rim that’s keeping the damn lid glued on. Men are seeing someone who can pick them up and carry us to them to the doctor if they get the flu, someone who will live long enough to keep them company as they grow old, and someone who will surely pass all these impressive traits down to the next generation.
And all of a sudden, men are struggling to get their hearts out of their stomachs. It’s also rare enough that it stands out in a crowd.
Men and women have different body preferences
According to women, the ideal female body tends to be quite thin. Most women have a preference for thinner body types, less muscular development, and less body fat. With lots of media exposure—a passion for fashion, say—some women have a preference for even thinner body types than we’ve even shown here.
According to men, the ideal female body isn’t quite so specific. Men love the look of fairly strong women since visible strength makes women look even healthier and more capable. Men don’t tend to care as much about a little extra fat, either, so long as it’s within the healthy range. That can be sexy, too. Being slim, lean, and toned is still attractive, certainly, but men aren’t as hyper-focused on it as women are.
Why don’t male and female attractiveness ideals line up?
Men like healthy women, yet many men want to be extremely strong. Women like healthy men, yet many women want to be extremely slim. Just like some men are taking the “muscle is masculine” thing to extreme levels, some women are taking the “slenderness is feminine” thing to extreme levels.
Now, women do prefer men who are strong, and men do prefer women who are slim… but only if it’s within the healthy range. And that healthy range is fairly wide.
Women who are fashion models (or who are exposed to photos of a lot of fashion models) often want to be fashion-model-thin. Similarly, men who are bodybuilders (or who are exposed to photos of a lot of bodybuilders) often want to be bodybuilder-big.
This is a well known and well-researched phenomenon. In more extreme cases, it can cause body dysmorphia, often leading to steroid abuse in men and eating disorders in women (study).
Is being incredibly thin or super enormously muscular impressive? Hell yes. These are people devoting an incredible amount of time and energy to their hobbies.
Is this the way to become maximally attractive? No. Male bodybuilders mainly appeal to men and women who are into bodybuilding. Female fashion models mainly appear attractive to other models and fashion designers. They don’t suffer for attention from the opposite sex – there are plenty of people who adore these niche physiques – but they aren’t as good at attracting the majority of the opposite sex.
What’s the most attractive female BMI?
Most guys prefer women with a fairly normal BMI. Now, normal isn’t the same as average. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the average woman is overweight and has a BMI of almost 30. Guys tend to prefer women who have a normal healthy BMI of somewhere between 18–23. Not overweight, not overweight, just a regular BMI that’s somewhere in the healthy range.
Just like you probably prefer men who are strong and healthy but not ridiculously musclebound, guys have a similar preference in women. Guys prefer women of average healthy BMI (source). No need to get your freak on, Missy Elliot.
Now if you think that “average” healthy weight sounds a little too good to be true, well, you aren’t wrong. Guys aren’t preferring women with average body composition, they’re preferring women with an average BMI.
Keep in mind that the most women don’t eat well or exercise. Men prefer a woman who has less body fat and more muscle than that. She’ll still weigh a fairly regular amount, but she’ll be significantly fitter and more muscular than average, with a leaner waist, stronger hips, and broader shoulders.
This doesn’t mean that you need to look like a fitness or fashion model in order to look attractive. We aren’t talking about an extreme body shape. We’re just talking about guys preferring women who are really thriving in their bodies. We could say that the sexiest body shape is one that looks “conspicuously healthy.” That body shape still has a normal BMI but is in great shape.
This is because being in better shape communicates a number of positive things about your health:
So by conspicuously healthy, we’re talking about the type of health that makes guys glide their sunglasses down to the bottom of their noses and say “damn … that girl’s heeeeeealthy!” That’s the kind of healthy that we’re talking about.
And that kind of health is pretty hard to achieve in a society where the scent of Cinnabon wafts through the air as we’re hustling from our beds to our cars to our office chairs. Or perhaps like me, it’s hard to build a strong and healthy physique because you find it hard to eat enough to gain weight. Different body types have different struggles.
Now I’m not saying that average bodies aren’t attractive – they are – what I’m saying is that they aren’t necessarily invading our minds with the uncontrollable urges that a fiery hot impressively healthy gal would. They just aren’t the bodies whose scents draw us compulsively in like a freshly baked Cinnabon.
In fact, they might be amazing people, drawing us in like broccoli, because we know that’s where the longterm amazingness is to be had. But you can totally get the best of all worlds and become a delicious fresh wild blueberry – impulsively delicious like a Cinnabon and totally wholesome on the inside.
I’m sorry for the weird food references. The talk of Cinnabons made me kind of hungry.
Women don’t need to be thin to be attractive
Anyway, many women are furiously struggling to become underweight. They’re working their asses off, not realizing that it’s usually better to work their asses on. It’s not even that they’re lazy – they’re often trying really damn hard! Like, harder than most men could possibly even imagine.
It’s just that if you’re a woman, well, when you look into exercise and nutrition, all you tend to find is weight-loss information. Even the muscle-building stuff seems to be aimed at people who are trying to lose weight overall.
What does this do? Well perpetually battling to become underweight doesn’t make you stronger. Leaner? Yes, well, sometimes, kind of. More often than not it makes you lighter – smaller.
They’re starting to look into the psychological side-effects of this mainstream desire to become physically smaller, and it’s a little scary. For example, it seems like eating less food is directly linked with submissive body language. Trying to diet down to a smaller body is not just reducing women’s physical strength, it’s possibly also reducing their social confidence (study). It’s also hard to have good energy and focus when you’re constantly underfed and obsessing about your next source of calories.
Moreover, since the average healthy weight is considered optimally attractive, this means that if you’re already of average weight (or below) then getting smaller won’t even make you more attractive. In fact, it might even make you less attractive.
Oftentimes, efforts to lose weight are combined with cardio, aerobics or yoga. All great forms of exercise with loads of benefits. However, combined with a calorie deficit and in the absence of any heavy weightlifting, they’re atrocious when it comes to preserving muscular size, strength, power and speed.
So the underweight warriors often aren’t the toned kind of lean that made every man in the world fall in love with Jessica Biel when she buffed up for her role as a warrior:
That’s because Jessica Biel isn’t underweight. She’s not skinny. She’s not even thin. She’s fit as hell, but she has a totally average body weight. And men aren’t attracted to her body because she has abs. She doesn’t have abs. Her body is attractive because she has confident shoulders, glutes that can crack walnuts, and legs strong enough that she could probably pick up a runway model and squat her for two reps. Maybe even three.
And she looks like she eats, too. She looks like she eats a whole helluva lot. You can’t build muscle like that by just crunching on carrots.
And that’s why our jaws drop: she’s strong, healthy and vibrant.
Now, I’m not trying to point to the specifics of her body. I mean, you don’t need to have guns as big as hers to be optimally attractive. It looks like she did a lot of focused arm and shoulder work to really create that distinctive look. But hey, badass biceps certainly don’t hurt either. There are lots of ideal female bodies.
The point is the idea of her body. It’s a body that goes along with a strong, healthy lifestyle.
And it’s not like being slender is unattractive, either. Of course it isn’t. But many women still underrate the value of visible strength.
Why are conspicuously healthy physiques so rare?
So, this is all to say that the average healthy weight isn’t as common as you might think. But it’s actually not that hard to be remarkable either. We’re not talking about needing to train six times per week or live on a broccoli and chicken diet. We’re talking about genuinely living a healthy lifestyle in a way that will make you look like you genuinely live a healthy lifestyle. That takes cleverness, but it doesn’t take that much time, that much obsession, or that many sacrifices. After all, obsession wouldn’t be healthy.
Many people take the other approach, actively trying to ignore the fact that strength, fitness, and eating a good diet is important. They might even tell themselves that looking attractive isn’t important either. They might tell themselves that their lifestyle just doesn’t have room for this stuff, that it doesn’t matter, or that they’ll get to it later. That’s why impressively fit physiques are so rare.
Ironically, the people who procrastinate with this stuff are the ones who often suffer the most for it. Once you develop some good exercise, diet, and sleep habits, it’s actually not that hard to build a great physique. You wind up getting more energy out of it than you put into it, too. And then you never need to worry about how you look again.
But the momentum is hard to overcome. It’s hard to go from one way of living to another.
Oh – and this isn’t the time to be cursing your genetics. Yes, having good genetics makes this easier, but there are many attractive body weights, shapes and sizes (and goals). With that said, the sexiest bodies are nonetheless defined by several common characteristics.
So onward into the specifics.
Waist-to-Hip Ratio & Attractiveness
Fit young boys and girls tend to be built like string beans. They’re just kind of narrow everywhere. But as soon as puberty hits, men and women emerge.
Men are shaped by testosterone. Strong healthy men with high testosterone are shaped like V’s – big broad shoulders, lean stomachs, small hips. Women tend to dig that stereotypically masculine shape because it’s indicative of good strength (broad muscular shoulders), good health (small lean waistline) and you can see it at a glance. It’s the quickest (a fraction of a second) and most accurate (most physical and mental health markers are affected by our muscles, hormones, and fat) way to get an immediate snapshot of a guy’s overall health.
Same deal with women… except not at all. Women are shaped by estrogen, and strong healthy women with lots of estrogen are shaped like hourglasses – strong broad shoulders, lean waists and very strong hips. Just like you can size up a man’s health in a split second based on his body shape, the same is true with women. Strong women are wickedly muscular in the hips and glutes, indicating fearsome strength and bone structure, and lean through the waist, indicating healthy levels of body fat.
Although, interestingly enough, some women are cheating the system, using estrogen to signal to their bodies to store fat in their butts and upper thighs instead of their stomachs. By moving their fat from their tummies to their tushes, they’re enhancing their hotness via their fat stores. Kind of cool, kind of deceptive. You tricksters.
Now, at this point you might be thinking, “but I’m a grown woman and I’m still a bean!” Don’t fret – you may not actually have small hips. Yes, bone structure is probably a factor, but chances are that your hips still have a ton of growth potential.
See, most women these days can’t perform a proper squat or deadlift, resulting in muscles accumulating in their lower back and quads instead of in their butts, hips, and hamstrings. While the bone structure of your hips won’t change, you can certainly build bigger hips and glutes by lifting weights.
Here’s one of our members, Reetta. She has great genetics, and she preferentially stores fat in her butt. You can see what that looks like on the left. Over the course of a couple months she got a lot stronger and lost a bit of fat. You can see what a butt built out of muscle looks like on the right:
This works well for those who aren’t genetically gifted too. Here’s a photo of Aomi. She built her butt from scratch.
Here’s her weight-gain transformation from another angle:
Now, your results may vary. Everybody has a different body. The point isn’t that you’ll look exactly like Reetta or Aomi, the point is just that you have the potential to build hips that are much bigger if you want to.
The most attractive waist-to-hip ratio
The waist to hip ratio most correlated with health is 0.7 (study). Not surprisingly, that’s also what’s considered the healthiest ratio by the World Health Organization. Although, to be fair, it varies slightly between cultures. You also don’t need to have exactly the ideal ratio. Being in the ballpark is fine.
Here’s what a 0.9, 0.7, and 0.6 waist-to-hip ratio looks like, so you can see the difference:
How to measure your waist-to-hip ratio
To measure your waist-to-hip ratio, take the circumference of your waist at the narrowest point and divide it by the circumference of your hips at their widest point.
Is waist-to-hip ratio or body-fat percentage more important?
You know, that’s a good question. There’s no good answer for it, either. This is where the studies diverge, which is odd because this is the part that gets talked about the most when it comes to the most attractive female physique.
There are two things that are generally agreed upon by most researchers:
- A healthy body composition is attractive. Put another way, this means that being lean and muscular is going to look attractive. This is easier for some people than others, but body composition is largely in our control.
- Having big hips relative to your waist is attractive. This is interesting because waist-to-hip ratio has a lot to do with bone structure. Some women have naturally wide pelvises. It’s not that they’re any stronger than average, it’s just extra bone. Similarly, some women have naturally wider waists.
So this is a little confusing. Is it better to aim at having a better ratio? Or better just to try and improve your body composition?
After all, it’s possible to have a totally healthy body composition and still not have the “ideal” waist-to-hip ratio. It’s also possible to be overweight or underweight and have a perfect waist to hip ratio.
Some research indicates that wide hips and a slender waist is ideal, because that’s what instinctively looks the healthiest. Other research indicates that having a good body composition is more important, whatever waist-to-hip ratio that happens to result in. It’s unclear.
Either way, there’s nothing stopping you from working your way closer to both by improving your body composition, building your hips up a little bit extra, and maybe strengthening your transverse abdominis, which will help to cinch your waist in. (That’s the ab muscle that’s worked with squats, deadlifts, overhead presses, and most other big compound exercises.)
By doing that, you’ll be improving your body composition while also intentionally trying to exaggerate your waist-to-hip ratio a little bit. There’s no harm in having glutes that are extra strong, after all.
The most attractive body-fat percentage
With body-fat percentage, it’s not as simple as thinking that leaner is better. In fact, body fat isn’t necessarily a bad thing, especially in women. If you can’t see your abs in the mirror you might care, and that’s okay – there’s nothing wrong with wanting abs – but men probably won’t even notice.
Having a certain amount of fat is feminine. If you prefer men who are lean, that’s not because being lean is good, it’s because being lean is masculine. The more testosterone a man has, the more muscle he’ll build and the less fat he’ll store. So if you flip those same standards back on yourself, it doesn’t quite work.
Women hold onto more fat in their faces due to lower levels of testosterone, they hold onto more fat in their hips and breasts due to higher levels of oestrogen, estradiol and progesterone. This means that in order to look stereotypically feminine, you actually don’t need to be that lean. You need to be healthy, but you don’t need to be shredded.
The healthy range varies depending on age (and which expert / study you consult), but most experts and institutions would agree with the following:
The range of healthy body-fat percentages
- Dangerously underweight: <14%
- Extreme (athletes and fitness models): 14-18%
- Visibly and genuinely healthy: 19-24%
- Average: 25-31
- Obese: 31+
For example, according to research done by Abernathy and Black, the healthy range for women is between 20-30% body fat . However, they also add an important caveat:
Although persons with BMIs and percentages of bodyfat above these values have an increased likelihood of being functionally obese [aka unhealthy], not everyone will be. Equally important, many within these ranges will be functionally obese.
What this means is that being strong, active, and eating well may very well matter more than your body-fat percentage as far as your general health goes. But is that going to impact the ideal body-fat percentage for attractiveness? Probably not. Men will still likely prefer the body-fat percentage that is a more reliable indicator of health, which will fall within that healthy range.
What’s the ideal body-fat percentage?
A certain amount of body fat is feminine and healthy, and being shaped by it isn’t unattractive to men, especially if those fat deposits are landing in stereotypically womanly places (boobs, butt, thighs, hips, etc). Furthermore, having a leaner waist is strongly correlated with health and mood as well as improved attractiveness.
This means that it might make more sense to stop worrying about your body-fat percentage and worry more about how lean your waist is. If you have more fat in your boobs or butt, that might not matter. (And it may even improve your ratio.)
You don’t, however, need visible abs. We have electric washing machines now, so you don’t need your stomach to double as a washboard.
As for how lean you’d want your waist, just try to move your waist-to-hip ratio closer to 0.7.
Note: You can’t reliably spot-reduce fat, so the only way to consistently lose fat around your waist is to lose fat overall.
Is cellulite unattractive?
Cellulite is dimpling created by body fat pushing up against your fascia. A good way to think of cellulite is to imagine the difference between fishnet stockings and regular stockings. Men usually have fascia more like regular stockings, so it’s very very rare for any dimpling to show through. Women usually have fascia more like fishnet stockings, so you almost always have some dimpling showing through. It’s more common than you might imagine. (Just because it’s photoshopped out of most photos doesn’t mean that most women don’t have cellulite.)
Yes, you can minimize the appearance of cellulite by reducing your body-fat percentage, but you can never totally get rid of body fat. Besides, most women have cellulite in their butts and thighs, which are very feminine places to store fat anyway. These aren’t the areas where having fat is even a problem.
Most women don’t like having it. Most men don’t notice or care. Interestingly, when it comes to what’s considered optimally attractive, cellulite really doesn’t matter. Men don’t consider it unattractive. It’s a feminine trait that’s caused by feminine fascia combined with feminine body-fat storage patterns. Some women care about cellulite, and that’s fine (although I’d argue that they shouldn’t). Most straight men, though, have no issue with cellulite whatsoever. They find feminine traits in women to be sexy.
If you happen to find a guy who does care about cellulite, just cancel his subscription to Cosmo and his problem should eventually go away.
What’s the most attractive amount of muscle?
As far as overall musculature goes there’s a big discrepancy in the research as to what men tend to find attractive (strong women) and what women tend to find attractive (thin women). The illustration of the “strong” woman above corresponds with what men find most attractive. The illustration of the “thin” woman corresponds with what women find the most attractive (study).
The male ideal isn’t surprising since, as with the other attractiveness indicators, it corresponds with what looks the healthiest. To be clear, the female ideal can be healthy, too, especially in women with smaller bone structures. However, even then, it often isn’t quite as healthy. After all, having more muscle mass tends to be healthier.
Just to be sure, though, I tried to find conflicting research. It’s true that there are studies showing that slenderness is attractive, but only through the waist. Moreover, they were strictly measuring body fat, not muscle mass. And even then, the stronger girls with bigger hips and glutes were deemed slightly more attractive.
Men do tend to find strong women more attractive.
Are broad shoulders attractive on a woman?
The short answer is that, yes, broad shoulders are attractive on women. After all, an hourglass figure includes strong, broad shoulders.
The long answer is still yes, but we can add some nuance. So, the reason why most women wonder whether broad shoulders are feminine is because broad shoulders are also a sign of masculinity. The more testosterone a man is exposed to and the more muscle he builds, the broader his shoulders will become.
As a result, it’s primarily men who are trying to build broader shoulders. I’m no exception, either. I added 13 inches to my shoulders while bulking up, and our article about building broader shoulders is one of the most popular articles on our bulking site for skinny guys.
Remember, strength is attractive on women, too. And not in a niche sense, either. The stereotypically attractive female body shape is an hourglass figure, which includes wide hips, a narrow waist, and broad shoulders. If you think about it, if broad shoulders weren’t feminine, we’d call the stereotypical female shape an Erlenmeyer flask figure, not an hourglass figure.
As a general rule of thumb, developing full-body strength will tend to make you more attractive. That’s why we recommend building your workout routine around all five big compound lifts.
Which type of exercise will make you the most attractive?
Let’s use cardio as an example. Cardio stands for cardiorespiratory training, where the goal is to elevate our heart rates in order to improve our cardiovascular fitness. It’s a catch-all term for exercise that’s designed to strengthen our hearts and lungs—jogging, rowing, biking, aerobics, and so on. Even yoga might count as cardio, depending on how you do it.
Cardio is certainly an important part of improving our general health. In fact, cardio has become pretty much synonymous with improving our general health. And there’s good reason for that, too. There are many benefits to cardio (study):
- Cardio burns calories and helps us lose weight
- It makes our hearts bigger and more efficient.
- It increases our lung capacity.
- It helps to reduce our risk of heart disease.
- It improves mood and reduces anxiety.
- It can improve sleep.
However, cardio won’t make you significantly stronger, curvier, or more attractive. You’d be relying strictly on your genetics for your curves and muscles. Cardio also doesn’t do a very good job of preserving muscle mass during weight loss.
So if attractiveness can be simplified to “conspicuous health,” then why is cardio—which is clearly healthy—not the best type of exercise for improving our appearance?
The first thing is that cardio probably will make you look slightly more attractive. Maybe not in a dramatic way, but it will probably result in a little fat loss, a little muscle gain, and improved skin tone. These things are going to have a positive impact on your attractiveness.
However, cardiovascular health is just one piece of the puzzle. It’s a big piece of the puzzle, and it will help people stay in a healthy weight range, but in order to improve our overall health, we need to exercise in a more complete way. That’s why organizations like the World Health Organization recommend doing 150 minutes of cardio and two strength training workouts every week. That’s a more complete way of exercising for health, and it’s going to yield a markedly more attractive physique, too.
Why is muscle so attractive on women?
There are few reasons why gaining muscle mass and strength improves our health and appearance:
- More curves. Muscle mass makes our muscle cells more sensitive to insulin. You could think of this like the opposite of diabetes. The food that we eat starts being used to build muscle instead of being stored as body fat (study). This will prevent a lot of obesity-related health issues down the road, it will make staying lean much easier, it will help reduce waist size, and it will help build wider hips and shoulders (study, study).
- Better posture. Lifting weights is great for improving our bone density (study), connective tissue strength, stabilizer muscle strength, and posture. Here’s a great example of posture improvements through gaining muscle.
- Gaining muscle reduces all-cause mortality, increases longevity, and improves our quality of life as we age (study, study, study, study).
- More brainpower. Strenuous physical activity (such as lifting weights) stresses our brains, promoting adaptation and growth. Dr John J Ratey’s research has shown that lifting weights can positively impact your memory, focus, and ability to learn new things (study).
- Better mood, energy, and confidence. Gaining muscle can also improve mood, reduce anxiety, decrease the chances of becoming depressed, and improve our energy levels (study).
Some of those benefits have obvious visual signals. People can see your curves and your posture. Some of the other benefits are more subtle. People won’t necessarily be able to see that you have lower anxiety levels. However, because of the strong association between muscle mass and these other benefits, simply seeing a woman is more muscular hints at her having developed these other positive traits.
Combining cardio with weight training
If you had to pick just one type of exercise that would make you more attractive, lifting weights would probably take you further. It will allow you to gain muscle mass and strength, and lifting weights will also raise your heart rate, allowing you to make cardiovascular improvements as well.
However, if you have time to do both types of exercise, the ideal approach would be to follow the World Health Organization’s guidelines, doing at least 150 minutes of cardio and at least two strength training workouts every week.
Now, to be clear, in the fitness industry, “strength training” usually refers to the style of lifting that’s geared at improving powerlifting performance. That’s not what they mean. They simply mean training in a way that will improve your strength. If you aren’t planning on becoming a competitive powerlifter, you’ll want to approach your strength training more like this. Here’s an example of a beginner’s workout for a woman who wants to improve her strength and appearance.
How muscular is too muscular?
In an objective sense, there isn’t really such a thing as a woman being too muscular. At least not without having outlier genetics or taking performance-enhancing drugs, anyway. If you’re a natural lifter, your body will naturally limit how much muscle mass you can develop.
In a subjective sense, some women don’t want to be overly musclebound. Genetics will generally limit muscle growth, preventing women from becoming bulky. However, even then, we’ve still had a lot of clients over the years who have told us that they aren’t trying to become more muscular in certain areas.
Fortunately, weight training leaves plenty of room for personal preference, so that’s perfectly fine. You can still build overall strength without needing to fully develop every muscle on your body.
For most naturally thin women, becoming too muscular isn’t a concern and never will be. Their slender bone structure and naturally slender musculature won’t ever grow so large that it would in any way ever become remotely unappealing.
Here’s an incredibly strong women with a naturally thin bone structure. As you can see, even though she has incredible muscular development, she isn’t bulky or musclebound:
Even for naturally muscular women, more muscle can still be an asset. Keep in mind that even if you build a tremendous amount of muscle, there will be a ton of similarly muscular guys who will think that you look absolutely amazing.
Here’s Jessica Buettner, a famous female powerlifter with remarkable genetics and world-class strength. Her degree of muscularity is far beyond what the average woman can develop, and yet she still doesn’t look musclebound, even for the attractiveness preferences of the average man:
However, this doesn’t mean that you need to fully develop all of your muscles. Reetta, our member with great muscle-building genetics, told us after just a couple months of lifting weights that her back was “finished.” It was as muscular as she ever wanted it to be.
At that point we simply switched to maintaining strength in her back and began focusing more on other areas that she did want to work on. Here’s how she’s looking more recently:
The most attractive butt size
The hips are the hub of a woman’s strength, with the main muscles there being the glutes. Of all the muscles in your body, your it’s your butt that has the most potential for growth. The only muscles that could rival your glutes in terms of sheer size are your quads, which can also make your hips appear wider (although much less so). This means that the stronger you get in the gym, the more your hip measurement is going to climb relative to your other body measurements. This is going to give you more of an hourglass figure.
However, women also tend to store fat in their butts. A lean women will often have a fairly flat stomach and yet still have quite a lot of fat in their hips. This is generally considered a fairly healthy place to store fat, and if anything, it tends to be attractive. So you don’t need to rely on fat to build bigger hips – you can build bigger hips out of muscle – but if you naturally store fat there, then great.
A woman’s butt is arguably her most attractive muscle group. According to the studies I managed to dig up, 60% of men are more attracted to a woman’s butt than her breasts (study). Men are notorious, though, for not having any idea of what they actually want. So instead of asking them, the researchers tracked their eye movements to see where their gaze rested. They found that more often than not, when looking at a woman’s body, a man’s gaze tended to rest on her butt.
Why do men find butts so attractive?
One theory is that bigger butts lead to greater balance (lower centre of gravity) and thus improve athleticism. In order to retain agility, reserves of fat should be placed as close to the centre of gravity as possible, which is near to the navel. Men can store fat directly in their navel, causing them to gain more fat in their stomachs. However, a woman’s abdomen is already occupied by a uterus. So the next-best place to store fat is in the hips, upper thighs, and thorax. (Thorax is an unsexy way of saying “the boob area.”)
Storing fat away from the waist also seems to be better for general health. When fat is stored around the organs inside the stomach (visceral fat) has a larger negative impact on our health, whereas fat that’s stored under the skin (subcutaneous fat) seems to be fairly neutral. The fat in your hips, breasts, and thighs isn’t going to have any impact on your organs, so it doesn’t tend to have a negative impact on health. This is one reason why having an hourglass figure is considered so attractive—because it’s so healthy.
Some women get lucky genetically, naturally storing almost all of their fat in their butts, almost none in their waists. Other women need to deliberately get leaner through their waists and stronger through in their hips.
There’s also the fact that strong women invariably have big butts. A man who likes big butts, however subconsciously, may simply have a preference for strong and athletic women. After all, a woman who can squat, deadlift, and hip thrust a lot of weight will naturally have bigger butts. So will women who can run fast. So will women who can jump high.
If you want to know how strong someone is, whether they’re male or female, simply look at their butts. However, when it comes to male strength, there’s more of an emphasis on upper-body strength. We have naturally bigger upper bodies that have far more room for muscle growth. So a man’s butt is often overshadowed by his shoulders, upper back, and chest.
With most women, though, their butt (and thighs) have a much larger potential for growth. Women also have better hip shapes than men. Women have proportionally wider hips that have a better shape for squatting and deadlifting, allowing for more mobility and strength.
This is all to say that having a big, muscular butt shows that a woman is strong and athletic.
Are bigger butts more attractive?
There’s no arguing with the fact that having a big, strong butt is going to be considered more attractive by men. It’s also healthy and functional. However, there’s a recent trend for women to develop a disproportionately large butt.
Instead of focusing on developing overall strength, letting their butts grow accordingly with their squat and deadlift strength, women are starting to invest extra effort into isolating their butts. This allows them to develop quite a bit of extra glute size.
They aren’t wrong. By building a disproportionately large butt, women are indeed making themselves more attractive (study). It’s by no means necessary in order to build an attractive physique, but if you’re determined to not only turn heads, but also give men whiplash, building an extra-big butt can certainly help.
To do this, keep the foundation of your training the same. Get your butt incredibly strong by doing the standard exercises for your hips: squats and deadlifts. However, you might want to choose variations of these lifts that prioritize glute development. To get more glute growth out of your squats, you might want to hip-dominant squats with a low-bar position, focusing on “sitting back” into them. To get more glute growth out of your deadlifts, you might want to do Romanian deadlifts, which will emphasis the hip extension portion of the deadlift.
You can then add in extra accessory lifts for your glutes, such as hip thrusts, glute bridges, reverse lunges, donkey kicks, and so on. Just remember that these are accessory lifts. Don’t rely on them for your glute growth, use them to boost your glute growth. Your main emphasis should be getting stronger at the compound lifts (and on gaining weight).
For an example of what it looks like when you develop overall strength, but with extra emphasis on developing bigger hips and glutes, here’s Ioulia’s weight-gain transformation:
Whenever I show these photos, it’s important to remember that your results won’t look quite like anyone else’s. You can see a wider variety of women’s muscle-building transformations here. (Update: Bret Contreras, PhD, the leading glute hypertrophy researcher, has featured our women’s weight-gain transformations on his website.)
What’s the deal with muffin tops?
Sometimes you can get muffin tops because you’ve got fat building up in your love handles. This is a common area for women to store fat. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re doing anything wrong. If you want to get rid of them, just focus on either losing fat, which will shrink your love handles, or on building bigger hips, which will make them less visible.
However, if you’re building muscle and gaining weight, remember to get new clothes! With a lot of our members, they’re gaining weight, their hips are getting bigger, and they’ve forgotten to get bigger underwear and pants. If you’re noticing that you’re developing a muffin top, it might not be fat gain, it might simply be that you’re starting to get too big for your breeches.
I would recommend getting bigger pants, and fast. We’ve had members tell us stories of their pants exploding in public because their butts have grown too big.
Can you build bigger hips?
Have you ever heard about how Brazilian women tend to have genetically bigger butts? Well, apparently one reason why Brazilian women stereotypically have larger butts is because they do more glute-specific exercises in an effort to build bigger butts. It’s a cultural exercise trend, not (just) lucky genetics.
The same is often true of people with great physiques. They seem like they’ve got great genetics, but really it’s just a good lifestyle they’ve developed. Genetics definitely play a role – some girls have such great genetics they don’t even need to lift weights. However, the cleverer and more consistent you are with your exercise and diet, the better your genetics will seem.
Also keep in mind that if you build more muscle by lifting weights, many of those muscle-building adaptations are permanent. If you build a bigger butt with hard work in the gym, you may be able to maintain it with fairly light workouts afterwards.
Is it possible to have a butt that’s too big?
While going through all of the female attractiveness research, I haven’t come across a single piece of research that suggests that it’s possible to have a butt that’s too big. Now, if your body-fat percentage is outside of the healthy range (over 30%) and that’s causing your butt to become quite large, then that might be a problem. That’s not because your butt is too big, per se, it’s because your body-fat percentage is too high overall.
When it comes to building a stronger butt, it seems impossible to build a butt that’s too big. Even if you build your hips to their full genetic muscular potential, that should only make you more attractive with every added inch. You’ll probably experience the law of diminishing returns, though, where every extra inch is harder to gain and has less overall impact on your attractiveness.
If you want to see butts that are developed to their full muscular potential, one place to look is bikini models. Bikini models are, essentially, women who professional train their glutes. Their have a moderate degree of overall muscularity with disproportionately large glutes. However, keep in mind that having a fully developed butt is also incredibly common in women’s athletics.
If you want another place to see world-class glutes that are developed to their full potential, take a look at the top female sprinters:
Why do sprinters have such large glutes?
- They lift weights in order to get stronger and faster on the field.
- They exercise with great technique.
Do you need a huge butt to be attractive?
The idea of building an attractive physique is to develop a physique that’s strong and healthy overall. You don’t need to build a disproportionately large butt to do that. This is common with women who train using a more unisex approach, where all muscles are given equal emphasis. That’s perfectly fine.
The most attractive boobs
Research shows that men are more than twice as likely to glance at your breasts before looking at your face. Although men find boobs absolutely fascinating, though, boob size isn’t an important attractiveness factor. According to the researchers:
Men may be looking more often at the breasts because they are simply aesthetically pleasing, regardless of the size.
That means that if you’ve got big boobs, men will love them. It also means that if you’ve got small boobs, men will still love them. Basically, if you’ve got boobs at all, then you don’t need to really worry about it.
The most common Google search that men make about boobs is: “I love my girlfriend’s boobs.” Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, an economist and data analyzer, commented on this peculiar truth with, “It is not clear what men are hoping to find from Google when making this search.”
- Poorer men prefer larger boobs: when resources are lacking, men gravitate towards women with higher body-fat percentages, since it shows that they have ample energy in reserve. Bigger boobs are a good indicator of a higher body-fat percentage, so the poorer a man is, the more he’ll be attracted to large boobs. In fact, even simply reminding a man that he’s poor will make him increase his cup-size preference.
- Hungrier men prefer larger boobs: this means that if you want to make the most of a dinner-and-a-movie date, wear a push-up bra before dinner and then change into a sports bra for the movie.
- Sexist men prefer larger boobs.
Can you increase boob size with exercise?
The short answer is yes. Any exercise that trains your chest muscles will make your boobs appear larger and perkier. This means that doing push-ups, bench presses, and chest flyes are all effective ways to increase your breast size and even to improve your breast shape.
The long answer is that it depends on what you’re trying to accomplish. Boobs have muscle tissue underneath them (your pectoralis major muscles). However, boobs don’t have any muscles in them. They’re made out of fat.
This has a few implications:
- The main way to change the size of your boobs is to change your body-fat percentage. If you gain fat, your boobs will probably get bigger. However, they may sag lower due to the extra weight. If you lose fat, your boobs will probably shrink a little bit. However, they may become perkier because they’re lighter.
- Hormones can influence body-fat distribution. If you use hormonal birth control, you may notice changes in the size of your boobs. The same thing can happen with natural hormone fluctuations, albeit likely to a smaller degree.
- Exercise can impact body-fat distribution, too. Exercising, such as doing cardio and lifting weights, causes women to burn extra visceral fat. This causes them to lose more fat in their waists, less fat elsewhere. Over time, it’s possible that this could give you bigger boobs relative to your overall body-fat storage.
- Gaining weight, even if you maintain the same body-fat percentage, will probably make your boobs bigger. Let’s imagine that you have a body-fat percentage of 25%. That means that even if you maintain the same body-fat percentage while gaining weight, for every ten pounds that you gain, you’ll gain 2.5 pounds of fat. Chances are that most of that extra fat will wind up in your breasts and butt. However, your body fat will be spread thinner over larger muscles, including larger butt muscles. So the main place you’ll notice that extra fat may be in your breasts.
Furthermore, if you’re building muscle mass in your chest, that’s going to push your breasts out further and raise them up higher, making them appear larger and perkier.
This means that bulking up can, in some cases, increase breast size without noticeably increasing body fat. Here’s a good example of that:
For overweight women, their boobs will tend to get smaller as they lose weight. However, for naturally thin women who gain weight, they’ll often develop bigger boobs as they bulk up.
The most attractive posture
Quasi Modo was the only hero in Disney history not to get the gal. He was also the only guy in Disney hero history not to rock absolutely perfect posture. Coincidence? I think not. Plus, the girl they were all fighting for – Esmeralda. And Esmeralda, of course, had perfect posture.
An easy way to think of posture is that it shows weakness in your postural muscles. As you build stronger muscles throughout your body, they’ll naturally hold your body in a stronger position.
Of course, in practice, it’s not quite that simple. Improving your posture often means focusing on lifting with good form. It may mean adding in some extra corrective exercises. And in some cases, such as with scoliosis, it can be genetically predetermined.
However, even if you have atrocious posture and a severe case of scoliosis (as is common with naturally thin people), you can still strengthen your postural muscles and radically improve your posture. In most cases, you’ll be able to develop totally attractive posture that radiates confidence and strength.
There are a ton of different postural defects out there, but the most common portfolio of postural problems is this one:
This “upper-lower crossed syndrome,” as it’s sometimes called, is usually rooted in having a weak butt and spending too much time sitting. That’s why it’s so common nowadays. We spend a lot of time sitting.
To make matters worse, bad posture is often asymmetrical, too. One side of our hips tilts a little further forward then the other, causing our shoulders to tilt in the opposite way to counterbalance our lopsided hips. As a result, nearly everyone has one shoulder sitting higher and more internally rotated higher than the other. This will also make one of your boobs look smaller than the other.
Why is poor posture unattractive?
Posture communicates even more about us than our facial expressions. Several personality traits are subconsciously inferred from how we stand: aversion, openness, irritation, happiness and self-confidence (study). So the problem with slumpy posture is that communicates a whole slew of bad things:
- Low confidence
Posture showcases strength
Fortunately, weak posture can be strengthened. Building up the muscles that hold your body in a stronger position will make you appear more confident, trustworthy, happier, and more assertive (study).
In fact, posture is so closely connected to confidence that it won’t just improve how confident you look, it will also improve how confident you feel (study). Having a more attractive posture also makes it easier to breathe well and to breathe deeply, making you calmer and more relaxed. Proper posture even changes your hormone secretions, further emphasizing all those positive changes to your mood and wellbeing. This may be one of the reasons that lifting weights is so good for improving confidence and reducing anxiety.
There’s an interesting caveat here. Women will sometimes rock the bikini-model pose, intentionally going into anterior pelvic tilt, like so:
That’s okay. There’s a big difference between being stuckin that position because you’ve got a weak glutes as opposed to stylistically striking a pose to show off your strong glutes.
Yes, this is the same kind of anterior pelvic tilt that can cause the postural problems we’ve been discussing. However, this posture isn’t rooted in weakness. Intentionally going into anterior pelvic tilt has nothing to do with lacking hip strength or having weak spinal erectors.
As far as strength and athleticism goes, proper postural alignment allows us to correctly transfer strength from our lower bodies to our upper bodies. For example, when lifting something overhead, having good posture will evenly distribute the load throughout our entire spinal columns, keeping our backs safe.
However, many women with extremely strong glutes, such as sprinters and athletes, spend a lot of time with an anteriorly tilted pelvis because it helps them run faster. Similarly, many women who are trying to build bigger hips will squat with an arched lower back. Again, because their bodies are showcasing strength instead of weakness, their postures look completely different, and these women don’t tend to experience the same downsides.
Improving your posture will also make you appear younger. Over the course of our lives we slouch, slump, and sit. Muscles atrophy, posture degrades, and people gradually crumple. You know what I mean. I’m sure you’ve seen an old person. If you’re seeing an old person in the mirror, though, we can fix that by improving your posture.
Weak posture can be strengthened
The main mistake that women make with their posture is thinking that they can fake it. They try to stand taller, raise their chests up, push their shoulders back. However, weak posture is caused from weakness. You can’t build a stronger posture simply by willing it into existence.
I’m sure you know what I mean. If you’ve ever tried to stand with better posture, just give it a few minutes. It will collapse again as soon as you stop paying attention. You might notice that trying to force better posture makes you tired, too. Your muscles aren’t strong enough to casually hold your body in that position yet.
We need to drill down to the foundation. We need to build stronger bodies. That strength will then radiate from the inside out.
For an example of a how posture can improve as you gain strength, here are two photos of Sara taken ten weeks apart. They show five pounds gained, which is already starting to improve her muscularity. Even more noticeable than her muscle gains, though, is her rapidly improving posture:
How to build muscle
For most people, the best way to improve their attractiveness is to improve their body composition. Most people are overweight, so part of that involves losing fat. We specialize in helping naturally skinny people, though, and for us, the best way to improve our appearance is to build muscle.
To build muscle, we need to challenge our muscles in a way that stimulates muscle growth. Then we need to fuel that growth by eating enough protein and eating enough calories. Then we can improve our recovery and keep our hormones healthy by getting enough good sleep. That gives us just four things to focus on:
- Hypertrophy training: there are many different types of weight training, ranging from strength training to endurance training. To build muscle, though, you’ll want to train specifically for muscle growth—hypertrophy training. This usually means lifting weights, using a mix of compound and isolation lifts, doing 6–20 repetitions per set, doing 3–8 sets per muscle per workout, training each muscle 2–3 times per week, and resting long enough for your heart rate to return to normal between each set. That might sound complicated, but it can be done with just 3 full-body workouts per week, each taking less than an hour. For example, here’s a beginner workout routine.
- Eating enough protein: once you’re stimulating muscle growth with your workouts, you need to make sure that you’re eating enough protein to allow your muscles to recover and grow. About 0.8 grams per pound bodyweight per day is enough to maximize your rate of muscle growth, but you might want to aim for a full gram just to make sure you’re getting enough. For a 110-pound woman, that’s 88–110 grams of protein per day.
- Eating enough calories: it’s possible to build muscle without gaining weight, especially if you’re an overweight beginner, but at a certain point, you’ll need to start gaining weight to continue building muscle. That’s when calories become important. Here’s an example of a good muscle-building diet.
- Getting enough good sleep: it’s possible to build muscle even if you aren’t sleeping well. But if you’re sleeping properly, you’ll be able to build muscle around 30% faster and quite a bit more leanly. Here’s our guide for improving sleep.
If you’re a naturally thin woman and you want help bulking up, building bigger and more capable muscles, and improving your attractiveness along the way, check out our Bony to Bombshell Bulking Program.
Summary of the ideal female body
The most attractive female physique is impressively strong, healthfully lean, and fit. There’s no shortcut, no, but the good news is that we don’t need to rely on our genetics, either. An attractive physique is something that we can build.
It’s basic human nature to care about being attractive. It might feel shallow, but it’s not. After all, the only way to radically improve your attractiveness is to radically improve your health, body composition, and strength. That’s going to ripple into every detail of your body, improving your complexion, your muscle tone, your butt size, the appearance of your breasts, and even your posture.
What’s great about this approach to becoming more attractive is that a “shallow” desire, such as wanting to become more attractive, can help us develop the habits that will make us healthier in the longer term.
I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.