Oppressive beliefs and breast size preference

A recent study showed that White British heterosexual men’s preferences for larger female breasts were significantly associated with a greater tendency to be benevolently sexist, to objectify women, and to be hostile towards women (Viren Swami and Martin J. Toveé, 2013).

Since the article isn’t open access, I will briefly summarise what they did and found, which will inevitably leave out things that are also relevant and noteworthy, but ok:

Small breast sizeLarge breast sizeBased on self-reports, they selected a sample of 361 males of Britisch White descent, who didn’t indicate being gay or bisexual or didn’t disclose their preference (average age 30, ranging from 18 to 68). Those were asked to rate the attractability of photo-realistic 3D models that were rotated on the screen. I copied and pasted from the article the model with the smallest breast size out of five on the left, and the one with the largest on the right so you get a bit of an idea. In the study they were presented in colour. After having rated the models, the participants were asked to fill in questionnaires that measure sexist attitudes (Hostility Towards Women Scale HTWS, Attitudes Towards Women Scale AWS and Benevolent Sexism BS subscale of the Ambivalent Sexism Inventory ASI) and that measure objectification of women (an adaptation of the Self-Objectification Scale SOS).

What they found was that on average men found the medium breast size model most attractive, with a skewed distribution towards the larger breast size, which seems unsurprising. The men’s preference for larger breast sizes was significantly and positively correlated with hostility towards women, more sexist attitudes towards women, benevolent sexism and objectification of women. They also found that young men were more likely to rate large breasts as more attractive. Neither education nor relationship status had an effect. Benevolent sexism was the strongest predictor for breast size rating, while objectifaction of women and hostility towards women were also significant predictors.

Some highlights from the discussion which I thought were noteworthy:

“[…] insofar as breasts are an index of a gendered difference between women and men, benevolently sexist men may perceive larger breasts as ‘‘appropriate’’ for feminine women; in other words, in the view of benevolently sexism men, a feminine and submissive woman is likely to be someone with large breasts.”

“Based on this set of results, it might be argued that it is the tendency to view women in ways that are subjectively positive for the perceiver rather than to explicitly denigrate women that drives men’s breast size preferences. Of course, both types of sexism stem from issues relating to power, gender identity, and sexuality, and it should also be noted thatbenevolent sexism may also serve to justify hostile attitudes toward women (Glick&Fiske, 1996).”

“Our results also showed that a greater tendency to objectify women was associated with a greater likelihood of rating larger breasts as physically attractive. Previous scholars have argued that, in many socioeconomically developed societies, female breasts have become an important site of objectification of the femalebody (Seifert,2005;Wardetal.,2006). This is evidenced, for example, in media aimed at hegemonic masculinities (Gerald & Potvin, 2009), where large female breasts are fetishized and treated as sexual objects that fulfill the pleasures and desires of masculine men. In this view, the objectification of women’s body parts, including though not limited to their breasts, is an example of the dominance of men over women and is further reproduced through cultural expectations of heteronormativity (Martino & Pallotta-Chiarolli, 2005). Moreover, this normalization compels women to put up with the objectification of their breasts and bodies by men, and even to treat such objectificationas flattering (Pascoe, 2007).”

They acknowledge a number of shortcomings in the research, such as the models all having the same face and waist-to-hip ratio and such, and all the breasts being the same shape. They further indicate the rather standard issues with recruitment method of the participants that might limit the generalisability (if that’s a word) and the possibility of socially desirable responding.

“In summary, the results of the present study showed that men’s oppressive beliefs predicted their idealization of larger female breasts. These results may have important implications for contemporary theorizing of breast size preferences. In addition to considering the distal evolutionary pressures that led to men’s breast size preferences, our findings also highlight the importance of considering the proximate sociocultural context in which thosejudgments aremade (cf. Little, Jones, DeBruine, & Caldwell, 2011). Specifically, it seems clear that the lived experiences of women and men in contemporary societies, and particularly their gendered relations with one another, will have a major impact on their beauty ideals and practices (Forbes et al., 2007).More broadly, future research would do well to more carefully consider the ways in which such beauty ideals shape and maintain gendered divisions in contemporary societies.


17 thoughts on “Oppressive beliefs and breast size preference

  1. That data seems to fit with my completely unscientific observations of male sexuality and

    Someone might study for the relation between males primarily attracted to women’s faces
    and possible relatively low levels of sexism.

  2. Not sure what would be worse if correlation would indeed mean causation: that increased sexism and hostility towards women causes greater breasts in the female population, or that having bigger breasts leads to more sexism in the male population. The latter would surely raise some serious questions about the permissibility of breast enlargements.

  3. Hippocampa, I would have said “desirability” rather than “permissibility” (I think we are far too quick these days to lump the undesirable – even the intensely undesirable – with the justly prohibitable), but otherwise I agree.

    It occurred to me to wonder, though, if in a country where much smaller breasts were typical, we might find the correlation reversed – could the attitudes in question be correlating not with a preference for big breasts as such but with a preference for female body morphology that more closely approximates what is perceived as “standard”?

  4. I don’t believe that breast size necessarily indicates that male preferences for violent sexual tendencies correlate, though it seems like it would cause this fact, moreso if breast sizes were actually small, rather than large. The thing about objectification is, however, a valid point, although that the least common denominator would believe that breast sizes actually do coincide with the tendency for male objectification. And at some point in time, the objectification does cause harm for women as a whole, but no more so than certain aspects of the argument as pointed out above.

  5. The study provides zero information, though may be useful for further studies. We don’t know if there’s any link to causation (could attractiveness to breast size and sexism both have a common cause – like consumption of pornagraphy?) Do women exhibit same or different tendencies regarding toward anatomical features of men? of other women? Is this cross-cultural?

    The fact that a simple correlation was found with no follow up makes the study unsavory and empty.

  6. Hi Jane, I didn’t get the impression from the paper that there was any. party influencing the research, so I guess this research *is* independent.
    I wonder what kind of third party would actually benefit from those results.

  7. It is also know that men who prefer many casual relationships prefer women with larger breast sizes, and women with larger breast sizes are high-estrogen females who also prefer many relationships are commonly unfaithful. I find no surprise that objectification of the other sex is a necessary ingredient for having many casual relationships, so this is no surprise.


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