Surprising new research from the US has shown that there is a dramatic shift in the perception of female beauty and the ideal body shape. While modern advertising and catwalk models would have you believe the majority of women aspire to a thin aesthetic, the University of Missouri-Kansas City has conclusively found that toned, muscular and fitter women are becoming increasingly desired by both sexes.


“There is a shift in the thin ideal female figure to one that now includes the appearance of physical fitness via muscularity,” says Frances Bozsik, head researcher on the study., who explains that the results of the current study further suggest that muscularity and thinness are becoming more ubiquitous among female media figures.

The study consisted of two parts. The first analysed the winners of beauty pageants over the past two decades, identifying more recent winners as noticeably more muscular than their 90’s counterparts. The second segment of the study involved side-by images of the same women, photo-shopped to reduce muscular definition in the second photo. Of the 64 students surveyed, the participants identified the stronger, more toned images to be the most desirable.

The desire for women to aspire to a stronger physique, and for men to lust after fitter women, may be evolutionary according to science and the research of John Speakman, a British biologist working at the University of Aberdeen. “Fitness in evolutionary terms comprises two things: survival and the ability to reproduce. What we wanted to investigate was the idea that when we look at someone and think they are physically attractive, are we actually making that assessment based on a hard-wired evolutionary understanding of their potential for future survival and reproductive ability?” says Speakman, explaining the evolutionary reasons behind these desires. 

Boksik recognises that her results definitely align with the prominence of “fitspo” models dominating social media and the popularity they receive from their followers, but that the trend could place extra pressure on women to not only lose weight, but tone up as well.

“These [apps] allow individuals to collect images of women with whom they identify or admire, essentially allowing them to cultivate their own media repertoire of highly salient thin and fit media. This process of selecting preferred images and then narrowing the media focus by placing these images on their ‘boards’ may inadvertently increase the risk of developing higher levels of body dissatisfaction, as well as subsequent disordered-eating behaviors that are linked to it,” says Bozsik.

This article originally appeared on Men’s Health US. 

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