Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

  • Scientific Correspondence
  • Published:

Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?


Why are some humans considered more beautiful than others? Theory suggests that sexually reproducing organisms should choose mates displaying characters indicative of high genotypic or phenotypic quality1. Attraction to beautiful individuals may therefore be an adaptation for choosing high-quality mates2,3,4,5,6. Culturally invariant standards of beauty in humans have been taken as evidence favouring such an adaptationist explanation of attraction3,4,5,6,7; however, if standards of beauty are instead no more than artefacts of culture, they should vary across cultures3,4,5,6. Here we show that male preference for women with a low waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) is not culturally universal, as had previously been assumed.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Access options

Buy this article

Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Female figures8 depicting two WHR classes (high 0.9 and low 0.7, referred to as 9 and 7) and three weight classes (‘overweight,’ ‘normal’ and ‘underweight’, referred to as O, N and U, respectively).
Figure 2: Contrast analyses of WHR preferences.


  1. Andersson, M. Sexual Selection (Princeton Univ. Press, NJ, 1994).

  2. Barber, N. Ethol. Sociobiol. 16, 395–424 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

  3. Symons, D. in Sexual Nature, Sexual Culture (eds Abramson, P. R. & Pinkerton, S. D.) 80-120 (Univ. Chicago Press, 1995).

  4. Buss, D. M. Behav. Brain Sci. 12, 1–49 (1989).

    Google Scholar 

  5. Cunningham, M. R., Roberts, A. R., Barbee, A. P., Druen, P. B. & Wu, C. H. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 68, 261–279 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

  6. Jones, D. & Hill, K. Hum. Nature 4, 271–296 (1993).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Perrett, D. I., May, K. A. & Yoshikawa, S. Nature 368, 239–242 (1994).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Singh, D. . Pers. Soc. Psychol. 65, 293–307 (1993).

    Google Scholar 

  9. Singh, D. Hum. Nature 6, 51–68 (1995).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  10. Furnham, A., Tan, T. & McManus, C. Pers. Indiv. Diff. 22, 539–549 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  11. Henss, R. Pers. Indiv. Diff. 19, 479–488 (1995).

    Google Scholar 

  12. Shepard, G. H. J. Amazon. Lang. 1, 20–57 (1997).

    Google Scholar 

  13. Pinker, S. The Language Instinct (Harper, New York, 1995).

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Rights and permissions

Reprints and permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Yu, D., Shepard, G. Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?. Nature 396, 321–322 (1998).

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing