Why heterosexual men are attracted to women with small feet

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The face on the left is a composite of eight women with "unusually small feet." The face on the right is a composite of "eight women with unusually large feet."

The morphs were created by evolutionary psychologists Jeremy Atkinson and Michelle Rowe at the University at Albany, New York. Atkinson called them the "most strikingly different morphs I've ever seen."

These morphs were then rated for attractiveness by 77 heterosexual male students. The men were three-and-a-half times as likely to pick the short-footed morph as more attractive, and almost 10 times as likely to say it was more feminine, Atkinson and Rowe found.


Atkinson thinks men find these features attractive because they serve as markers of a healthy childhood. Biologists know that stress and poor nutrition during foetal development and puberty can affect sex hormone levels and cause earlier puberty.

New Scientist: Why men are attracted to women with small feet


    1. Absolutely. The first comment in this thread is the only one really needed here.

      The sample size was sixteen women, total, for the face morph.

      That’s a ridiculously low sample population, and any data would be junk data, whatever algorithm you applied.

      Opinions aside, it’s a fool’s story, and I think Mark is posting it in a Puckish mood. Why else would he? Mark don’t do bad science.

  1. Huh???? Then why do men always salivate over “supermodels” all of whom wear at least a size 9 or higher? (You can’t balance a five foot ten inch body on size six feet.)More junk science.

    1. Supermodels are not drawn from a random sample of large-footed women. They are selected for both height and attractiveness (among all the other things they talk about on America’s Next Top Model), and they are extreme outliers in both categories. The study is not saying that men find large feet (and therefore supermodels) ugly; it is saying that there is a correlation between large feet and (for example) a prominent chin, and that men tend to prefer less prominent chins. Supermodels are rare (and highly valued) precisely because they combine strikingly feminine features with unusual height (and larger feet).

  2. Wait, I’m confused. Men prefer women with narrow hips and small feet who aren’t short? I’m very petite, 5 foot 1, 105 lbs, with a size 5 US women’s foot. I know of no women in my circle of friends who are small footed and tall. The average women’s foot size is 8 to 9. Similarly, how are narrow hipped women being seen as more feminine? Maybe I’m reading this incorrectly?

    1. “Wait, I’m confused. Men prefer women with narrow hips and small feet who aren’t short? I’m very petite, 5 foot 1, 105 lbs, with a size 5 US women’s foot. I know of no women in my circle of friends who are small footed and tall.”

      What are you doing later?

  3. Oh boy. An evolutionary psychology post on boingboing. Can’t wait to see the foamy-mouthed comments on this.

  4. I liked the part where the evolutionary psychologists carefully showed this is an innate preference attributable to biology rather than a cultural effect, and then advanced a disprovable hypothesis instead of a just-so story.

    All the rigor I have come to expect and love from evolutionary psychology, especially in pop-culture science stories!

    1. Indeed. I also like their statistically significant samples of 60 females and 77 males.

      And that the findings were presented in Eugene, Oregon. Nominative determinism strikes again.

      1. Two things:

        First, a sample of 77 is clearly not to small to demonstrate significance, as long as the differences are large. As suggested, the differences are quite large, and so I suspect you could have even smaller numbers and still end up with a respectable p.

        Second, as to the question of the similarity of the two morphs–once you combine the faces of several people you very quickly converge on a “mean” face. As noted, what is striking is not the similarity between the two faces (which is to be expected) but how strikingly different they are.

  5. Yeah I’m confused. I’m 5’10 and wear a size 8.

    Does that make my feet big or small? I have no clue.

    Good thing I don’t particularly give a damn if men want to have sex with me! Or else I might be concerned ;P

  6. More I think of it why would this not hold true for women’s preference too if it implies biological health?

    Why the focus on men selecting attractive women? Do these biologists think that women don’t judge men on their looks and health?

    1. Biologically, women generally don’t select men on their looks and health, but rather on their ability to protect them and their children. Arguably, that could be extended to cover “looks and health”, but not quite in the same way I think you meant it.

  7. I am reminded of the Van Eck Phreaking scene from Cryptonomicon.

    At least Stephenson’s character had the excuse of being a sophomore when he came up with the “Black hose stretched over calf muscle as selected trait” explanation for his fetish.

  8. Being a guy, I’m having a hard time spotting any difference between these two women. The one on the left has slightly fuller lips. Other than that, they are more identical than the most identical pair of twins I’ve seen in my life, and I should know, because I’m an identical twin.

  9. Evolutionary psychology has about as much merit as the eugenics movement from a century ago. In other words, very little.

  10. Ummm, those women do NOT look identical. Both are attractive, but the one on the left would catch my eye first.

    I don’t pay any attention to feet – that said, I guess they’re saying that “small feet” are connected to other features that men do find attractive.

    All that said, I’m not sure I buy their conclusion – it could easily be cultural influence.

  11. Really what this post taught me is that I am attracted to composite women. Any single composite ladies out there?

  12. The most we can say we learned here is that the average aesthetic preference for white female faces of American heterosexual men is correlated with smaller-than-average feet. Probably, we’d need to repeat the experiment with a larger sample.

    That’s interesting! But speculation as to the ‘why’ is just speculation, and I’m not sure if we could ever figure that out.

    I’d say that we could be a bit more confident in *a& biological explanation, though not necessarily the one offered here, if this was found to persist across times and cultures. But only a bit.

  13. Here’s a data point: I’m a gay guy, and before I read a word of this post, I immediately homed in on the right hand picture as the more attractive of the two.

    1. I’m straight, and I homed in on her too. I think that, in a case like this, the sample is WAY to small to be statistically important. I think that trying to tie personal preference to evolutionary markers might be a bit too far a stretch.

      1. I preferred the woman on the right too- The one on the left looks “unfriendly” to me while the one on the right looks like she is less pretentious, more adventurous and fun loving.

    2. Interesting – I’m a bi female and I chose the one on the left with the thought that it looked more effeminate, but if I have to be brutally honest, I look at women’s weight to height ratio and ‘architectural features’ below the neck before I even worry about what colour her eyes are. Anyone’s face can be interesting and appealing if you ask me, but I prefer women who are fit and active, no matter what height or general body type.

  14. It seems like the fact that the men were shown composite images makes the results somewhat questionable. I personally don’t tend to mentally gather women’s faces and then decide whether I’m attracted to a composite of them before asking one of them out.

  15. Atkinson called them the “most strikingly different morphs I’ve ever seen.”

    That’s probably because they used a whopping total of 8 human faces to make each one.

  16. The two shown could be sisters. As a guy, I know which I find more attractive (though not overwhelmingly so), but I had no idea shoe size when making that assessment. Is this asserting that women with small feet somehow have the rest of their body cooperate in making them more appealing? I guess I’m just not making the connection between these composite images and the size of their feet. Yeah, I find this silly.

  17. piniminnowcheez is on the right track: judged solely from the visual evidence the issue of foot size is an epiphenomenon. The differences — round face versus subtly squared jaw, eye size, and lip size and shape — all point towards gender markers. Big feet, more male: gender’s a continuum.

  18. I find the one on the left more attractive. It’s something about the cheeck/jaw shape. I don’t know if you could say that face is “more feminine” or somehow an example of a “healthy childhood,” but there may be some body shape things that tie into your left-handed composite having an overall more petite form than the right-handed composite. Which would imply smaller feet.

    Though it wouldn’t necessarily hold that all guys are interested in a more petite girl. I’d be willing to stick down some dollars that it’s a tendency in America at least, though.

  19. Is it just me or these composite ‘women’ look barely older than 14 years old?

    I’d like to see the 30/40 year-old equivalent… Because small feet or not, their fleshy little round faces, button noses and poreless, baby-skin make me look like I’ve been through several car wrecks (and I’m reasonably attractive) ;)

    1. I’d bet all the participants were undergraduates, so the pictures are composites of 18-22 year olds.

  20. One face is round, the other is square. Facial shape is a trait I’m hardly surprised is culturally linked to perceptions of femininity/masculinity.

    There may be some genetic correlation between facial shape and foot size, although with a sample size as small as this I can’t see it as anything definitive.

  21. I know what you mean, but I’d put them @ anywhere betwen 16-26. That photoshop image retouching can works magics.

  22. The title is misleading. They ask men to rate faces, not feet. What they seem to be saying is that the size of the feet relate to facial characteristics. Yes, as a man I’d say the woman on the left is more attractive. Her face is softer and rounder and the one on the right seems slightly masculine, narrower and harder.

    Now if they said curvy, fertility goddess hips there would be no contest.

    As a side note, there have been studies done around the world including cultures with little to no media exposure where men were shown pictures of woman to evaluate. The pictures were adjusted for the local people (e.g. black or asian). All of the men chose woman with a similar hip-waist-shoulder ratio. I find myself choosing the same thing, the height and weight of the woman doesn’t matter. I’m drawn to hips about the same width as the shoulders and a waist about 2/3 or so as the hips.

  23. How does a healthy childhood make a woman’s feet smaller? Mine are size 6, and I was under the impression it was because my parents and grandparents had small feet.

  24. If we really want to talk about truly biological benefits, wouldn’t a larger-hipped woman who can work and not die in childbirth be of most appeal?

    I would have thought that a slim woman is culturally appealing in a similar manner to women with bound feet in historical Asia.

    I think they are mixing biological imperatives with cultural ones.

    1. I agree, insofar as “women desired by the elite” does not equal “whatever is the norm for women in that society”.

      People who regard themselves to be of extraordinary fortune, merit or achievement (like the elite, by definition) usually prefer the extraordinary (ie beyond the usual; exceptional) in their particular pleasures and comforts – even those merely domestic – as well. But not always.

  25. Hmmm. I say, Hmmmmmmmmm. If these two morphs were constructed with no guiding principle except that one was composed from the largest-footed and the other from the smallest, how come they turned out so strikingly similar?

    I do find the one on the left more attractive, but I also find it to be in slightly softer focus…

  26. Ugh…that hairstyle is helping neither of them. And would a little makeup kill anyone?

    1. “And would a little makeup kill anyone?”

      Sure, let me just get an extra 15-30 minutes in my day to put it on and take it off, spent on extra 30-100 dollars a month on paying for it and make sure I don’t have a job that either requires the more expensive waterproof sh*t or otherwise renders wearing makeup extremely impractical.

    2. And would a little makeup kill anyone?

      Would a little pizza sauce in the petri dish affect the culture?

  27. I saw the pictures and initially thought they were the same person. After looking closer, I decided that the one on the left is prettier. And here’s where my own eccentricity kicked in: I then decided that I probably didn’t like the left girl’s personality. I also decided that the right girl was probably too cool for me.

    Obvious conclusions:
    -childhood famine builds character.
    -it’s a good thing I’ve been spoken for since age 17, because I would cut a pretty dumb swath in the single/dating world.

  28. I look at womens feet, its one of the first things I notice about females. Pretty feet that are taken care of make a woman so much more better looking.

  29. I’m going with max_supernova on this one…

    I find the girl on the left slightly more attractive, but frankly I need to see all of her to make any conclusive decisions…

    I prefer my women to be on the larger side, not necessarily weight, but build. And typically that comes with larger feet, and umm, well sometimes larger everything…

    My wife has size 12 feet and I massage them on a regular basis. I don’t have a foot fetish or anything, they look fine, very well proportioned.

    My feet, as she would say, “Look like ogre feet.” Size 10.5 mens, at double EE width…and very tall. And no they don’t get massaged.

  30. ah, more hate for evolutionary psychology from Boing Boing readers. I await the next article on evolution that is derided by the same crowd. Oh wait, that’s right, the body can evolve but not the mind. Show disdain for evolution and you’re a backward zealout; attack the very basis of evolutionary psychology and you’re just doubting “psuedoscience”

  31. I have to be honest I actually find the one on the right more attractive. She looks more… sexual… some how.

    The one on the left looks too child like.

    But eight faces and nothing about what size their feet were in relation to other features?

    First shouldn’t they prove a correlation between foot size and facial features!?

  32. The only thing I think you could legitimately get out of this study is that it might be worthwhile to try on a more statistically significant scale. More women per composite, bigger sample sizes, perhaps split by demographic and culture.

    I don’t think the hypothesis is unreasonable, though, even if it is speculative. I don’t get the hate.

  33. If you morphed the faces of 100 supermodels (who are by definition 5’9″ or taller, and therefore, have big fucking feet), I bet dudes would overwhelmingly choose that over either of these two.

  34. I could be over analyzing, but I’d guess that the face on the left includes a one or two Asian faces with the rest white while the face on the right is entirely white. Possibly what they are finding is an Asian fetish among American males. Even if not, they obviously didn’t include any black women in the composites. How am I supposed to believe that the composite women’s faces correlate well to shoe size, let alone their impression on men, when their samples seem so biased?

    That being said: Straight male here and I like the one on the right better. I think that it is because, on first impression, she seemed to be smiling more.

  35. “Atkinson thinks men find these features attractive because they serve as markers of a healthy childhood.”

    Never mind the inherent difficulties in working with something as malleable as “attractiveness” (most of these studies on attractiveness use a tiny sample size of university-age subjects who have the both the means and ability to go to a North American university) we should be very, very critical of anyone suggesting that these results mean anything other than someone like a picture more.

    This is typical evolutionary psychology: work backwards from a data point to paint a just-so story of a possible “meaning” for a “trait”, ignoring the fact that any number of random and inherited traits could be tested for that involves nothing to do with attraction (and its immediate intention, sexual selection.)

    Please, take any story based on these sorts of hotly contested methods with a grain of salt. It make for tantalizing journalism, but the science is, by and large, highly suspect.

  36. From reading the poster abstract linked in the New Scientist article, it looks like they regressed body part measurements against body height for 69 individual women, and made two groups of eight women each with the smallest and largest residuals, respectively.

    So if I’m reading it correctly, women in the two groups had longer/shorter foot lengths then expected for women at their body height. Women weren’t categorized as having small feet just because they were short, for example.

    The results are sort of interesting but with all such studies I’m skeptical as to how reproducible these results would be. Also, how do morphs of women with average-sized feet compare with these two groups, or morphs of photos from women chosen at random?

    The causative explanation seems haphazard as well. We know that having large feet for your height is a biomarker of poor nutrition as a fetus or during childhood?

    Selecting women with narrower than average hips doesn’t make much sense from an evolutionary perspective either.

  37. If these are the most strikingly different morphs they’ve ever seen, then they really don’t get out much.

    1. What they mean by “morph” is an averaging-out of several different faces. Those tend to look very similar, because they’re averaged. These have only had 8 people go into them; they are not very good morphs. The left one is, to me, prettier. However, I wouldn’t want to infer anything from that other than my own preferences.

  38. Ok maybe i’ll buy it but it seems to me
    the ladies should at least be wearing the
    same colored shirt. right? i mean one color
    is clearly more feminine. even the lighting
    of the face and hair folks is different?
    I’m gay.

  39. The one on the left has fuller lips and a narrower jaw. More stereotypically feminine. Is there a genetic or developmental link between smaller feet and those features? Quite possibly. Lots of other features are linked. It would hardly be a revelation if a few more were.

    The interesting thing to me is how Jewish the left face looks. Not even close to Asian. Give her non-composite hair and makeup, and she could be Regina Spektor’s sister. Incidentally, I didn’t even know Regina was a Russian Jew until just this minute, when I Googled just to make sure that my assumption was correct.

    The face on the right could have belonged to any number of the corn-fed midwestern German softball player girls who went to my high school. I had a horrible crush on her, and she turned out to be gay. And good for her. But I have gotten good at recognizing her just to avoid a certain amount of awkwardness.

    1. Russian woman in general tend to have very round faces, a trait I find very attractive. Not sure why, that’s just the way it is.

  40. All I want is a woman who can enjoy a Francios Truffaut film and an Ice Hockey game. One who appreciates Tom Waits and the B52s. One who likes the Office and The Smoking Gun Presents… I’m currently single.

  41. The one on the left has larger irises.
    The one on the right looks more athletic to me.

    @Boba Fett Diop: Neither composite figure has any skin blemishes, so I’m left wondering what you would have them cover up with make-up?

  42. They obviously stole the graphic from a CollegeHumor article on beer goggles.

  43. It’s pretty simple. The smaller a woman’s foot, the more you can fit in your mouth.

  44. Would it not have been simpler and more accurate to put those 16 women’s faces on a hotornot.com clone and then average the ratings, rather than going through the bother of averaging the faces? That would have been far more scalable and probably allowed for a range of statistical analysis not possible here.

  45. So were the researchers Chinese?

    Hey, I had to ask. And for the record, I’m Chinese.

  46. The major problem with research along these lines is the oppressing reasoning that is inherent in the methodology and the limited understanding of human nature it then propagates often times buttressing common cultural stereotypes as if this is the only way we can be. This type of reasoning uses a correspondence theory of truth, where a reality is set up in advance and methods are used to prove that reality. This is unfortunately an all too common practice in the social sciences with their inappropriate use of statistics.

    If any of these people would pick up a history book they may start to realize the complexity of life. Although it is beyond a doubt that baser instincts are at play in our actions, these actions have undergone years of sociohistorical reconfigurations and to ignore one at the expense of other is ludicrous. The important point for me in the story of human evolution is our ability for growth, not a predetermined story of who we are forever to be. Biologically we are very similar to our ancestors 10’s of thousands years ago, and yet their world would be largely unfamiliar to us.

    What the eff is a average face? That is meaningless to me, when I’m out I don’t see an average person but a particular person. Is the correlation really that high between facial features and foot size?

    Basing attractiveness of facial beauty is just as irrelevant. For me attractiveness is a product of the person. To solely judge attractiveness on physical features strikes me as an utterly naive understanding. The hottest person in the world could turn me off completely if they were a complete ass.

    As has been said already, junk science!

  47. I was hoping for some sexy foot photos as well.

    Why couldn’t they have morphed photos of large and small feet together, then had people vote on those, then compare those with facial measurements?

  48. Okay…

    “It’s quite a difference, isn’t it? Women with smaller feet have prettier faces, at least according to the men who took part in this study. So do women with longer thigh bones and narrower hips, as well as women who are taller overall. And the contest isn’t even a close one. “These are the most strikingly different morphs I’ve ever seen,” says Jeremy Atkinson, an evolutionary psychologist at the University at Albany, New York.”

    First, longer thigh bones usually means taller. Taller usually means larger feet.

    Second, women with narrow hips have more attractive faces, eh? Well, their faces may be attractive, but they’re going to have problems pushing out babies.

    Third, I don’t think that these morphs are all that strikingly different. They look like they could be cousins or sisters.

    Fourth, my hair is a bird. Your argument is invalid.


  49. Junk science. The morph on the left is simply made of prettier people, and morph on the right is simply made of uglier people.

    (The one on the left is more thin, and has a thin nose, whereas the one on the right looks a little portly and has a ball-nose. Our culture values the features on the left more.)

  50. TMI: My wife has size 10 feet. They are extremely pretty and I like them very much.

    But I don’t have a foot fetish.



    Anyway, I and most of the guys I know pretty much like any woman who smiles a lot, regardless of anything else. Smiles are where it’s at.

  51. Isn’t it really easy for a woman to get laid compared to men. Women are much more selective when it comes to choosing a mate. So, for the past tens of thousand of years, wouldn’t it be the women who are selecting which physical features get passed down to their progeny. We should be studying the sexual attractivity of men’s physical features!

  52. Isn’t it really easy for a woman to get laid compared to men.

    Not based on the complaints that I hear.

  53. I fooled around with the floozy on the left but I married the sensible one on the right.

  54. I’m hetero and I like women with big feet. Also, I think that the scientist-dudes didn’t use any black or southeast-asian girls for their morph magic, because in my experience girls from the above mentioned ethnicities generally have fairly big feet relative to their height. Purely personal observation, I could be wrong, but I think I’m not.

    As to the morphs: I’d pick both.

  55. Lefty looks like trouble. Not too bright either. Righty looks more relaxed and intelligent. I’ll take smart over high-risk any day.

  56. Have to agree with a lot of the comments, this seems like a very small sample to draw conclusions. I wonder what p-value they used, sampling bias, was it set up as double blind etc. Seems that they focussed entirely on white female college students. Is this really something that can be used as a sample for extrapolating to the whole of humanity?!

      1. Calling a spade a spade, I like it.

        Is it just me or do these sort of studies seem to be getting more and more prevalent?

  57. I absolutely believe in this. The difference is obvious to my eye, and I see the image on the left as delicate, finely-sculptured, and very feminine. The image on the right is still an attractive face, but there is a heaviness there, especially around the jaw, nose, and cheekbones.

    I remember reading a translation of an early Chinese tantric text, describing the three different kinds of women, and how you could tell which kind they were by the size of their feet.

    Estrogen slows bone growth in women during puberty while they continue to grow larger in stature. A long, swanlike neck has always been a focus of feminine beauty. An epithet for larger women is “big-boned.” Why wouldn’t slender, small feet be an indicator of overall skeletal structure? Makes perfect sense.

    What I still find amazing to this day is how everything I find attractive about women is a cold, calculating assessment of their genetic heath and fertility, even though it doesn’t feel that way at all.

    Blueelm and Anon, women *do* evaluate men in this kind of way, but it’s completely different visual criteria: tallness, wide shoulders and narrow hips (inverted triangle), large hands, facial hair/stubble, brow ridge. Ultra-masculine features can be frightening to women, and there’s a sense where there’s a trade-off between being disturbed and excited. Women vary between being attracted to more masculine and less masculine features as they move through their menstrual cycle.

    We are baby-making machines. Why would it seem strange that our natural inclinations would align with maximum fertility?

  58. The most interesting things about posts like these, for me, are the comments they always provoke. In among all of the people complaining that they don’t like evolutionary psychology or think the study bungled the statistics, there are always large contingents of people projecting personalities onto the faces (and on geeky-trending sites like this one, it’s usually that the pretty one looks mean or stupid) while attempting to reassure the total strangers on the internet that they would not be so shallow as to care about looks (personality/smiles are what’s important!). I’m not a psychologist, but boy would I like to see some studies on that phenomenon.

  59. The first thing I thought of was the traditional Chinese practice of foot binding. Odd.

  60. A couple of thoughts:

    Many MALE movie-stars have small feet. John Wayne’s feet were very small – as his prints outside Graumann’s Chines in Hollywood show.

    When we have fully-functional ‘Fembots’ (you know the porn industry will drive that line of research) does that mean that the most popular version will have the face of the morph on the left?

    And will we call female robots “Morphs”?

  61. Wow, that is weird. I’m a hetero male, and was immediately drawn to the photo on the left, even before reading the text. After I read Mark’s synopsis, I went back and looked at both young women, and the weird thing is I can’t figure out WHY I think the left photo looks prettier. I can’t tell if it’s the nose or the lips or the eyes or what, but every time I see them, the one on the left looks like an ideal sex partner and the one on the right looks more like Tonya Harding.

  62. Interestingly, I thought the right face was more attractive, before reading the test. Amusingly, I have unusually large feet and would fall into the right category.

  63. The girl on the left has bigger, almond shaped eyes, a thinner nose, fuller lips and a less prominent chin and jaw. She fulfills common beauty criteria. Maybe genetically, women who pass on the large feet sets of genes, were more likely to be peasants and such and hence the increase in male hormones and robust built to accomplish harder, physically demanding jobs. Their features would be influenced by rigorous work rather than attracting males and procreating. However, there are plenty of colored women with large feet and big jaws but who are considered extremely feminine due to large breasts, big butts, round cheeks and big eyes. Is this because their great grandmas were working the fields too ?

  64. the woman on right seems thinner that’s why she’s more attractive to men I guess, The only thing this study COULD MAYBE prove is that women with small feet are generally thinner , and women with larger feet are possibly fatter.

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