Every year after the age of 25, the average American gains one pound of body weight yet loses one third to one half pound of muscle. Consequently, our resting metabolism decreases approximately 2% to 5% every decade after 25 years of age (Evans 1992). Proper exercise and sound eating habits can reverse this process and restore the appearance of our figure or physique. But, what constitutes a beautiful or aesthetically attractive body?
Bodily beauty has been described as the average of everyone. In other words, if everybody's visual traits were reduced to numbers and the average of the numbers were converted back to a human figure, this average of the human image would constitute ideal beauty.
According to evolutionary psychology, the attraction to bodily characteristics is said to be biologically innate. Early humans were attracted to particular physical traits in the opposite sex; an attractive individual was, and still is, perceived by having traits conducive to optimal procreation. The classic female figure suggests fertility. For women, fuller breasts and hips 1/3 wider than the waist, or a waist-to-hip ratio of 0.7 is considered the ideal. A smaller waist suggests youth and greater fertility. Similarly, the early male physique implied protector and provider. For men, a more muscular physique with wider shoulders and a waist to hip ratio of 0.9 is considered more attractive. A larger waist would signal ill health and, thus, bad genes. We have inherited the physical and psychological characteristics of the winners of this evolutionary beauty contest.
It also appears that beauty is defined by cultural constructs that continue to change throughout time. Ideal beauty also varies in different societies around the world. Western culture at this time has embraced the fashion model as an exemplar - greatly because we are constantly inundated with these images which are, ironically, far from the norm. We find beauty in physical traits we see often, particularly those images portrayed in the media. However, those images are often unrealistic for us to achieve ourselves. Just looking at a fashion magazine tends to leave women less satisfied with their weight and size (Turner et al. 1997). In fact, people with eating disorders are much more likely to report being influenced by unrealistic body images in the media (Murray, Touyz & Beumont 1996). Interestingly, due to various editing and imaging techniques, not even models or actors are as attractive as their own image.
Variations in body shape are dictated by differences in the size, shape, and proportion of muscle, fat, and bone. The distribution of body fat has more variation in its shape and size than does muscle. A greater than normal fat content can increase the likelihood one's body shape will vary from the norm. Certainly, there are those who can maintain an attractive body at a higher-than-normal body fat. Their genetics for fat distribution allows them to maintain normal shape and proportions despite their higher body fat.
Visual aesthetics involve the compliments of lines, shapes, and proportion. The irregular lines and shapes of an unfit body result in its less-than-ideal beauty and aesthetics. The combination of muscle building and fat loss can restore bodily aesthetics and beauty.
In today's sedentary society, many individuals have significantly less muscle mass and more fat than what they had when they were younger. Likewise, most of us probably have less muscle and more fat than what we would have had if we would have lived hundreds of years ago, performing daily manual labor. Exercise and sound dietary modifications can restore more normalized proportions, curved segments, posture, and lines associated with an attractive body.
"Man tries to exaggerate what nature has given him," Charles Darwin (1809-1882).