FRIDAY, May 31 (HealthDay News) -- Dainty, small feet have long
been presumed the ideal for females across much of the world, but a
tribe living in northern Sumatra in Indonesia beg to differ.
New research reveals that the Karo Batak people, who live in
rural villages in the northern part of the Indonesian Island of
Sumatra, consider women with big feet
The finding runs contrary to the idea that beauty is a "one-size
fits all" scenario for humans, the researchers say, and that
notions of attractiveness are somehow hard-wired into human
Instead, local "cultural and social influences play a stronger
role in mate choice than some evolutionary psychologists are
willing to accept," Geoff Kushnick, a University of Washington
anthropologist, said in a university news release.
His team believe that the Karo Batak preference for big feet is
tied to their rural, agricultural culture, as well as their
distance from Western media.
Taking part in the study, one male Karo Batak was overheard to
say: "Why would anyone like a woman with small feet? How would she
work in the rice field?"
The study involved 159 Karo Batak adults. Each was shown five
drawings of a barefoot woman with long hair pulled back and dressed
in a shirt and a skirt reaching her mid-calf. The drawings were
identical except the women in the drawing had subtle differences in
The men and women who participated in the study rated the women
with the largest feet as most attractive. The women with the
smallest feet however, were considered the least attractive.
That's in stark contrast to the general preference for smaller
feet in women, which extends across societies into Iran, Lithuania,
Brazil, the United States and India.
But the bias isn't universal -- the researchers note that people
in Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, and Tanzania also prefer women with
larger shoe sizes. This type of preference seemed more prevalent in
rural societies with less access to Western media.
The variety of preferences runs counter to the notion of
"universal" aspects of attractiveness that some say are "hard-wired
in humans and that they evolved tens of thousands of years ago,"
Kushnick said. The new research suggests that local culture "may
trump hard-wired preferences," he said.
"The study adds more evidence of the potential for culture to drive human evolution," he added. "Since mating preferences drive sexual selection, it is possible that male-female differences in relative foot size are the product of recent evolution."
The study was published on May 30 in
The American Psychological Association provides more information