Are Muscular Men More Attractive?

By Jim F

2998-muscular-men-attractive.jpgMuscles. Hot or not?

The general feeling is that men must have muscles. But why?

According to a study by UCLA professor David Frederick:

[…]  men’s physical features are related not only to women’s expressed preferences for mates but also to men’s and women’s past mate choices and sex behaviors.

NOTE: Despite the many media reports– we need to understand that the subjects of the study were male and female undergraduates (aged 18-25) living in California, USA. Extrapolating that to all men and women everywhere is foolish. One of the studies interviewed 99 male undergraduates about their sexual histories, and, to be honest – can you really believe they didn’t “talk up” their exploits?

The Research

This fascinating paper actually includes 6 studies and is difficult to summarize. Here I will focus on just one of the studies:

  1. 141 college women aged around 20 looked at 6 computer generated images of men (created with
  2. Note that only the images were shown to the women – not the labels (e.g. brawny, slender, etc).
  3. The women rated the images against four factors: sexual desirability, commitment, physical dominance (over other males), and volatility (e.g. bad temper).

The heads were deleted (by the study authors) to remove any ethnic or racial clue.

Who Came Out On Top?

Okay, deep-breath guys…

  • Attractiveness, sexual desirability? The built and toned guys came tops. The chubby guy was bottom of the heap. Brawny guy still desirable but not as much as built and toned guy.
  • Physical Dominance? Brawny and built were tops, the slender guy bottom.
  • Commitment? Chubby guy voted the best, brawny and built the worst.
  • Volatility? Slender guy the least volatile, with brawny and built the most volatile. I guess this is why skinny guys want to gain muscle.

The Alternate View: Not All Women Like Muscles

Research from Australian’s Flinders University (published in Body Image) shows that the “average” sized male body is every bit as good as the muscle-bound one.

The researchers showed “mock-up advertisements for jeans, skin-care products and cologne – featuring muscular male models and men of more average dimensions – to more than 600 students in their late teens.” (source)

Neither women or men respondents found the muscular models any more appealing than average men. Lead researcher Diedrichs suggests that participants “may have associated the muscular models with vanity, femininity and homosexuality, and dismissed them as suitable comparison targets.”

Women reported “a more positive body image state after exposure to male models, regardless of their body size or muscularity”. In other words, advertising images of ripped guys and muscle-bound hulks didn’t result in any increased pleasure or positive affect over the average-sized guys.

Average-slim (left) and Average-large (right).

In case you’re wondering what is “average-slim” and “average-large” used in the process, I’ve obtained a sample picture (from the journal article). The researchers constructed advertising imagery using Photoshop.

Diedrichs, P. C., & Lee, C. GI Joe or Average Joe? The impact of average-size and muscular male fashion models on men’s and women’s body image and advertisement effectiveness. Body Image (2010), doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2010.03.004


  1. Gary

    Becoming confident is much harder than building up muscles, so its probably better to work on the latter.
    Confidence is something that takes so long to build up (if you have zero to very low, it will take you at least 10 years to get to moderate confidence).

    • Gopi

      Spot on, Gary. Getting into the habit of working out regularly and seeing results will build a ton of confidence and faith in oneself. And what is more is that, in addition to improving one’s appearance and health, you develop healthy habits — such as the ability to stick to a fitness plan (long-term goal), to complete a workout (short-term goal) and just simply showing up at the gym several times a week — that you can then carry over and apply to other endeavors in life. This will cause confidence to now multiply and literally ooze out of one’s skin. And women find such confidence the most irresistible feature in any man regardless of race, ethnicity, facial looks and…get this…height. But, yeah, it does take several years to build up to such a level of confidence. You have to start somewhere and “working out” is accessible to everyone. “Training regularly is one of those things that men and women should just do instead of thinking about.

    • klepp0906

      You obviously have 0 background or knowledge in bodybuilding. A lifestyle which as one of its main health benefits is dramatically increased confidence.

      Course that wasn’t my point. The general masses have no conception of just how much work it is. All consuming on the majority of fronts. Sunday’s? Day off? Maybe from the gym but it’s replaced with 10 hours straight of cooking and portioning my food for the week.

  2. Adam

    I find this interesting. Those who responded made themselves sound smart, but forgot one critical item.
    I am eight teen years of age, and because of my life circumstances, look down upon those who impose on intelligence with idiocies. The lean man will beat out chubby, skinny, or ripped. The skinny will beat out the chubby and ripped, and the ripped will beat out the chubby.
    Label me a know-it-all, but this is truth. This is very sad truth. You may as well settle for the man who gives you his heart and thinks about you every day, or you’ll be as miserable as eeyore. (or how ever you spell that plush donkey’s name)

    • Hugh Wottmeigh

      what the bloody hell did you just type there mate

  3. Danielle F.

    We do like muscular guys, but there is a limit. Personally I find overly muscular men kinda scary (and gross) looking. I’m a skinny gal (not that I’m trying to brag, if fact I think I can stand to gain a few pounds,) and if one of those guys tried to hug me, I’d snap like a tooth pick!

  4. Danielle F.

    Everyone judges by looks to an extent whether we like to admit it or not (are brains are hard wire to do so.) Am I saying that looks make the man? No. A guy with a good personality with average looks trumps good looking jerk any day.

  5. Danielle F.

    I find it very interesting to see how the girls are rating then men. I personally thought that everyone would have gone for toned and built for second place but I guess I was wrong.
    Here is my order. As for me, I like my guys to be lean (or toned,) but not too muscular. I don’t want to worry about my ribs being broken when I get hugged. But I don’t want someone who is too skinny either, my knight in shining armor can’t have the physique of a toddler.


  6. bob


  7. RR

    Money and power are more appealing than muscular, toned, built, or chubby guys.

  8. byron

    From a man’s perspective, there is a strong desire to become physically fit. Sure men wish to impress the ladies, but there are other factors that contribute to the desire of building mass. I build muscle for my own benefit, I am taking care of my body and I am proud to see results and feel myself getting stronger. You feel more empowered and protected in a muscular body. Men do not want to feel weak among there counterparts. I strive to become strong enough to be able to protect myself from being jumped by a group of men, or to fend off anyone who might want to attack me in the future. I could care less about what women prefer I’m building muscle mass for me! your opinions don’t matter! plus many guys who build muscle are very self conscious about there appearance so there is no need to insult them for trying to improve themselves. That is just ignorant on your behalf.

    • Soulencrypta

      Good point. Men are assholes with big egos and want to be better and tougher than the rest. I came across a lot of men in my life (I’m a man too), and because of jealousy or other stupid small things, they want to fight and prove themselves. Big muscular bodies, but a very small brain.

  9. CoCo

    If your IQ is so high why can’t you see the big picture?

  10. CoCo

    Not necessarily…yes the skinny guy or the chubby guy may have to try harder but ultimately the “adult secure women” will ultimately chose the reliable guy…provided you can demonstrate other genetically worthy traits…which all of us have!

    I’ve looked at a guy accross a bar and told my friend I have to date him…based on physical appearance. I got what I wanted but needed a muzzle to stop the stupidity flowing from his month. At that point he became the most unatractive person I had ever met…total loss of respect. Thus he was quickly dismissed. Saddly this has happened one too many times.

    Don’t loose hope! Use your time and ennergy in becoming more interestting and above all confident…very attractive.