60-Second Science

Group Finds Big Feet Fine

A rural Indonesian cultural group bucks the trend and judges women with large feet to be more attractive than those with small feet. Sophie Bushwick reports

All humans evolved to find certain female traits attractive, across cultures, because they signal a potential mate's reproductive potential. Right? Actually, a new study finds that cultural norms can also play a big part. At least when it comes to big feet.

Once women give birth, their feet tend to grow larger. Which means small feet are markers for youth and fertility, and thus should be universally attractive. A previous study did find a widespread small-foot preference. But University of Washington anthropologist Geoff Kushnick tested the hypothesis again among rural Indonesians called the Karo Batak.

One hundred fifty-nine men and women looked at a series of female figures, identical except for subtly different foot sizes. Surprisingly, the Karo Batak rated the image with the largest feet the most attractive. The work is in the journal Human Nature. [Geoff Kushnick, Why Do the Karo Batak Prefer Women with Big Feet?]

Among the Karo Batak, and other rural societies with low exposure to media, large feet are signs of a woman's strength and ability to do agricultural work. This cultural big foot bias contradicts the notion of universal ideals of beauty. Attractiveness is not one size fits all.

—Sophie Bushwick

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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