February 16, 2009

Low-fat diets make women more masculine?

Here and in various comment sections, I've bemoaned the masculinization of our female sex symbols, referring to the 1960s as the last time when they oozed estrogen, a transition sometime during the 1970s, and a falling off the cliff throughout the 1980s to the present.

These days, they seem much more lantern-jawed, long-faced, and strong-browed. Look at the girls in the music videos for "Girls on Film" (NSFW) from 1983, and "I Wanna Fuck You" from 2006. Or compare The Ronettes from the early 1960s, The Go-Gos from 1981, and The Pussycat Dolls from within the past few years. Ignore attractiveness -- I'm talking only about how girly or manly their faces look. Even as recently as the early 1980s, they still looked fairly feminine.

I've always thought that this was a change in what the elite allowed us to see, and that it was probably a result of the Second Wave of hysterical feminism that erupted in the mid-1970s. But maybe the change is more general -- that not only our sex symbols are more masculine-looking, but perhaps ordinary women are too. I wasn't alive before 1980, but I've seen pictures and movies of ordinary people from before then, and my vague impression is that they looked more feminine. That seems like a better place to start: assume that the sex symbols are just part of a bigger picture. What could have caused this recent shift toward more masculine looks in women?

Americans started to cut fat out of their diet, replacing it with higher carbohydrates, sometime in the mid-to-late 1970s, when the current obesity epidemic had also just begun. (It didn't become widespread until later in the 1980s.) Boosting our routine carbohydrate consumption will raise our insulin levels chronically, and this will be even more pronounced if these are refined and easily digestible carbs like sugars and starches. So does insulin affect how much testosterone or other androgens are circulating in women?

I don't pretend to know much endocrinology, but I just read a review by Poretsky et al. (1999), "The Insulin-Related Ovarian Regulatory System in Health and Disease" (Endocrine Reviews). Free full text here. Here is part of their summary of how insulin itself affects the production of sex hormones within the ovaries:

At this time there is no convincing direct in vivo evidence that hyperinsulinemia acutely stimulates ovarian steroid production, but there is direct in vitro evidence and indirect in vivo evidence for a stimulatory effect of insulin on ovarian steroidogenesis. The in vitro evidence suggests that the stimulatory effect of insulin on steroidogenesis is mainly mediated by the insulin receptor and may involve the inositolglycan pathway. The in vivo evidence is largely derived from experiments in which a reduction in circulating insulin levels produces a decline of circulating androgens and from clinical observations in women with both insulin deficiency and insulin excess.

If you give women a boost of insulin, their testosterone levels don't appear to change, but this is only during the short-term. When women with high insulin are given insulin-lowering drugs and followed up over the long-term, their testosterone levels decline. That's the indirect evidence the authors refer to. And here is their diagram of insulin-regulated ovarian function:

Just as one example of how higher insulin could masculinze a woman's appearance, insulin secretion leads to down-regulating sex hormone binding globulin (SHBG). Having low SHBG allows more testosterone to be converted to dihydrotestosterone, and high levels of this are associated with male pattern baldness. In an extreme case, women with polycystic ovary syndrome have hyperinsulemia, as well as a tendency toward more body hair and male pattern baldness.

A similar mechanism could affect the shape of their skulls -- we know what women with high androgen levels look like in the face.

So, maybe the feminist movement of the mid-1970s had nothing to do with masculinizing our sex symbols -- maybe this reflected a larger shift toward more manly looking women, due to a profoundly higher consumption of carbs (especially the refined ones) that would chronically elevate insulin levels.

Before I suggested the role of dietary differences in accounting for differences in attractiveness between the French, Spanish, and Italians vs. the English and Americans, focusing on high-carb diets driving glycation-related aging of the skin. Here we see that it's likely that French, Spanish, and Italian women just have a more feminine appearance in general, as they consume fairly low-carb, high-fat diets. Probably more womanly in demeanor too, for the same reason.

Femininity -- another casualty of the high-carb crusade.


  1. We were sold "carbs man!" by bodybuilding mags back in the eighties because carbs "pumped you up" and gave you a lot of energy in the gym. As we moved into the nineties, the emphasis got to be on high protien, correctly recognizing that protien is what muscle is made out of, not carbs. Fats were still decried as bad during this time, but by the late nineties the Omega 3 fats effects were being noted and the "all fats aren't bad for you" info started to leak out in the media.

    The effect of these high carb diets in the field is that they make both men and women a little less attractive than they would be to each other.

  2. I have heard that the masculinization of women, at least how they are portrayed by the fashion industry, has to do, in part, with the influence gay men have had. Specifically, since the 1960s, gay influence has risen, some say even dominated, and thus the model of beauty has changed. What we see is the idolization of the young boy as manifest through the feminized (i.e. female form) versus the actual female form, which to the average man is far more important, which is wherein lies the issue (problem?): who pays attention to and cares about fashion (generally speaking) - women and gay men.

  3. I think the second Anonymous has a point. One thing I've noticed is that these masculine American woman seem to be prevalent in Hollywood, yet I don't notice nearly as many among every-day American women. Women's magazines idealize these stronger, "bolder" features, but most average ladies I see have weaker, softer, more feminine characteristics. Megan Fox and Jolie may be considered Hollywood "beauties," but how often do you see everyday girls and women who share these sharp characteristics?

  4. Well the average woman's body is more doughy, sure, but the face being more feminine? Not so far as I can tell. And their behavior too -- much less feminine.

  5. Agnostic,

    Remember this sentence for the end of this: "Ever notice how plain or even homely some supermodels and actresses parents are?" Have you ever seen Helena Bonham Carters dad and mom? Look up a picture of Carter from when she was about 20, to remind yourself of how feminine she was back then.

    There may be one more elephant in the room.

    First, take a look at Bruce Willis and Demi Moore's offspring,

    Do you notice anything? Remember how fresh the 1982 Demi Moore used to look? Here is a refresher,

    Now let me tie this proposition up for you Agnostic. I have many old very macho pals that I used to run around with back in my 80's heyday. Lots of these guys were gym pals who were physically clasically "alpha" males. Big chins and large mandible jawlines, wide skulls, bigger than average bone structures and size.

    As women have selected these types of men over "prettier" more lithe men, who are oft-the more educated/erudite types, they have passed on the "alpha" genes to their offspring.
    In many cases these men's sons are masculine and good looking (**but not always, sometimes the offspring have taken after their mothers and are gothic-skinny-weenies to their dad's disgust). However with about four of these guys I can think of in particular, their daughters are well................masculine. These girls are struggling with popularity issues in high school in a couple of cases and one of my pals has told me of some of the girls "picking" on his daughter in a "mean girls" fashion. His daughter looks like your conception of a female-basketball player. Her mandible is large and masculine, her gait is a masculine one. She "looks" tomboy. Her digit ratio is probably masculine. She was a soccer/softball star, but now in middle school.............................she's not considered very pretty. The pretty girl-set apparently has been kinda hard on her.

    When I think of why black women like Beyonce stand out so much, its because they look feminine to -OUR-conception of femininity. Well, so many black women mate with the absolutely most masculine black men they can have, is it any wonder that many black girls come off as "masculine"? Will this happen to the feminine white girls as the decades go on if white girls seek the absolutely most masculine men to breed with also?

    Ive dealt with a couple of "effiminate" men throughout the years that I thought might be gay who turned out to have families. I couldn't get over how "cutesy" their daughters were. Really pretty little blonde things. To wrap this up..................................Does beta male dad with jock alpha girl who is a "6" produce the next generation's "honeys"?

    Ever notice how utterly PLAIN many supermodels and actresses parents are?

  6. you do know the first woman had a meth addiction.

  7. Agnostic, it's good to see someone else noticing the masculinization of female sex symbols. Btw, what do you think about this hypothesis in explaining it?


  8. I walk around Manhattan a lot, which gives me lots of time to watch women's backsides. You see all kinds of things reflected in backsides and walking styles: personality, sex, sex roles, health, etc.

    Somewhere around the early '90s I noticed that something changed. Many of the young women who were new to the city -- and who were clearly straight -- were walking (ie., using their hips) like lesbians. A cross between swagger, hurrying-to-an-appointment, and bullying-get-outta-my-way.

    Very bewildering to me at first. I hadn't realized how much I took it for granted that straight women would walk like straight women, and that lesbians (or at least some lesbians) walk differently than that. But once the straight young women started walking like lesbians it certainly hit home.

    A function of feminist indoctrinations and upbringings? Or maybe of what you're wondering about, just too damn many carbs?

  9. Hollywood women are more masculine looking because they use actual anabolic steroids, dude. Mostly oxandrolone, but also crap as androgenic as winstrol and stanozol. It works super great for losing body fat; better than anything else. It also makes women sexually voracious. They fool themselves into thinking nobody notices the masculinizing effects, and maybe it even helps their careers, but I've certainly noticed.

    They also use growth hormone, which, while it has less masculinizing effects, does weird shit like grow your brow and jawbone.

    Low carb doesn't produce the profound effects this does, though being fat and then losing weight is also masculinizing.

  10. Erm, somehow I parsed the previous as "low carb." Mea culpa. I agree with the low fat comment, but still insist they're on the juice.

  11. I love this topic. I've noticed this, but nobody else seems to. Check out photos of female actresses from the 20's and they're downright girlie. I think all the toxins in plastic and milk and food really does mess with sex hormones, but I also think American men are getting more effeminate not only in appearance but behavior. They seem more maternal and caring and emotional.

    Two small caveats though. First, we see more older women in media, and when women age, they do look more masculine as their estrogen falls, body fat falls making them look more boney in the face. Cosmetic surgery makes us think they're younger. If you look at old women in the 20's they're all wrinkled but if they had cosmetic surgery, they would look masculine and young.

    Also, since we live in a fatherless society, there's a need for women to be more masculine and maybe nature responds by boosting their testosterone to serve as both father and mother when they have kids. Meanwhile, boys are raised by mothers with no male role-models making them effeminate, and their high-carb diet makes them fat faced and appear effeminate.

  12. men like you are all high strung now cause it's THE END OF YOUR DOMINATION IN THE WORLD. NO MORE PUTTING WOMEN DOWN AND MAKING THEM WEAK. i have upper body strength to seriously kick the ass of most males, because i train. women should work out more to be stronger. there would be less rapist and domestic abusers and bullies, who happen to be mostly males. people like you complain cause you can't be an alpha ape anymore.

  13. What anonymous above said. Agreed.
    Ugly is ugly it's genetic in both men and women whether it be from a stereotypical alpha male (usually not tho because they are hot- think 80s frat movies) or a beta weakling. It's genetic. Pretty people make pretty kids. simple. (Unless they take after someone other than their parents who wasn't.) your useless comparisons of an ugly person and pretty one are exactly that, useless.


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