If I surf the internet, I see many different standards for how a healthy human should look depending on the diet a particular site espouses.
Are we meant to have a very low body fat composition?
As a woman, should I have a "six pack?" Or should I aim to have more curves? Years ago, during the height of the low-low-fat craze, I had dieted down to what I then thought was ideal - and my breasts and butt pretty much disappeared. Now, on a paleo diet, I have curves and am slowly getting more muscular.
I see some groups who say that humans should be quite thin and wiry, that it leads to longer life and better health, and that we have been programmed over the years to accept a fuller, more muscular look as ideal, even though it is not. Added to this is a strange media compulsion with super-thin celebrity women. Are we meant to look like Twiggy? Or Marilyn Monroe? Or something quite different?
It's so confusing! What's healthy? What's sexy? What the heck should I look like, if I am a healthy woman, and what should a healthy man look like?
Thanks for your thoughts!
The Greeks spent a lot of time thinking on this question. I think the Greek ideal, depicted for men and women in their sculptures is a pretty good answer.
I think some of these people are good examples: http://paleohacks.com/questions/7058/share-your-paleo-before-and-after
Great question! Here's my ramble of a ponderance...
When I started low-carbing (high-fatting), I noticed that my E-cups soon pushed out of their restraints - even now, an F-cup bra barely contains me.
I couldn't figure out why until I saw other bloggers reporting that they had 'boobs for the first time ever' after upping their saturated fat intake.
Those results tell me that, if we're meant to consume saturated fats (yes) then we're meant to be buxom creatures.
And the bonus is that is you're fit and not holding onto excessive body fat (whatever that means for your particular body), then you can certainly still have flat abs. A six-pack, I'm not so sure about, but if you can lower your body fat percentage far enough whilst still consuming decent amounts of sat fats, then in theory I could imagine it. And I have seen it before (including on people whose lifestyles shouldn't bless them with such physiques!); I'm more considering the possibility of my own curvy body ever getting that slim without possibly sacrificing fat intake levels... My body is muscular and curvy, a large-scale hourglass, so I don't think I'm the right type to end up scrawny and ripped without doing some serious starvation & over-exertion... Even then, I'd probably end up all jutting giant hipbone and ribcage, with a scary small waist!
Personally, I imagine Angelina Jolie as a current healthy woman ideal - she's not scrawny (often), she has muscles and some deadly curves. She seems quite effectively yet naturally proportioned to me.
In terms of what a healthy man looks like, I imagine Michelangelo's David: not too skinny, not too muscled, resulting in an attractive body without losing a softness in the face. It might be a hormonal/maternal thing, but I've always been attracted to otherwise-lean guys with baby faces. Once they get that hard, jutting jawline thing going on, I'm repulsed. And once they get a saggy gut and moobs, I'm gone! Given that so many of the "heart-throb" celebs out there are all tough-jaw hunks (of gristle) I tend to assume my preference is not a sign of acculturation... Am I wrong?
For men, I've always thought of this picture as a good example (besides being a very beautifull photograph). It is taken by George Rodger and the subject is the winner of a traditional wrestling match. Nuba are not hunter-gatherers though...
I can't think of a female example (although the words scarlett and johanssen come to mind ;-)
[UPDATE] I found a few pictures for female healthy bodies, from Leni Riefenstahl (famous but controversial German filmmaker and photographer). Again this is not from a hunter-gatherer society. And these girls are relatively young.
And I also like the idea touched in a previous answer: eat like a H-G and move like a H-G and you will know what a healthy body looks like. For a man, I think you will end up something like the fantastic Erwan LeCorre (from MovNat). Ofcourse, the would be no evolution without variation, so some will be bulkier, some will be more slender.
I think it will depend on genetics and environment which originally developed together. Innuit are typically shorter and more stout. This is useful in cold environments. For the tropics, I think you will see more of the tall and willowy looking people. When food is scarce in an environment, smaller, shorter, more petite tends to be beneficial. When food is plentiful, then the environment better supports bigger humans with more muscles. Muscles come at a price. They require larger amounts of calories to support them on a daily basis. If you ever watch 'Survivor' on TV (reality TV show in which people try to compete and survive in nature with minimal food supplies), you will notice that big muscular guys seem to suffer quite a bit from exhuastion once the food supplies run out. It's often the trim but fit smaller people that handle the lack of food much better. In the same vein, big boobs are also body material that requires calories but serves less of an immediately useful purpose during times other than breast feeding. It's more efficient caloriewise to grow boobs for the baby and then have them shrink again. Boobs are also not efficient for running. I think they exist mostly as a sexual dimorphism that attracts the opposite sex than as a useful functional item on a day to day basis and they come at a caloric price that may or may not be worth if depending on the situation.
So personally I think determining healthy must be done more on the basis of other factors than just appearance. Obviously, you don't want to be hugely fat so that you cannot move quickly and you should not be a thin stick with ribs poking out. But I think for women, determining health would also be on the basis of fertility and lack of illness and generally feeling healthy and spry. The weight that yields this effect will depend on genetics as well as current condition of metabolic state after a lifetime in current environment. If metabolism has been damaged, that may effect what can best be achieved currently. And I also think that a naturally female curved body with a pronounced thinner waist is also a sign of health. Studies show that regardless of weight, a certain hour glass figure naturally attracts men more than any other female body shape. If you remember back 40 years ago, this is the shape that almost every woman had. Fat or thin, they had a waist and an hour glass shape. Evidence that something very wrong has happened is that women these days are looking more like men, with skinny legs and a big stomach. Weird! Fructose probably has something to do with that..
For men, I think the answer may be a bit more clearcut though. I think healthy men do not naturally have much bouncing body fat. They may be more trim and wiry or they may be more muscular and bulky, but I do not think it's natural for them to be flabby. I also do not think it's natural for them to look like a huge puffed out bodybuilder. THis kind of huge musculature is not seen in nature and is inefficient. If you are super bulky, you get tired just carrying your own bulk around and it slows you down and demands a lot of calories and special treatment to maintain. You don't see that in any natural culture. -Eva
I love that this is coming up, because we are beginning to question what healthy looks like for humans overall.
There will always be individual variation, but until we have a large (heh, or not so large) population by healthy humans who have been eating Paleo-Primal for at least 5-10 years, we shall just have to eat and act as healthily as we can manage and discover what healthy looks like for each of us.
I know that healthy for me can be be summed up as Fit-and-Fatal.
I want to look ready for action, and capable of fun, frolic, or combat as needed.
I think the Anthrophoto gallery is a good place to look. You'll notice that it varies based on cultures, but no woman has six-pack abs. I think the most attractive culture is probably that of the Troibriands, an Island chain that includes Kitava.
Interestingly, if dairy makes people fat, why are the leanest people in those galleries the Masai?
As a male I can only offer an opinion but I think women can suffer varying degrees of reproductive problems when they reach very low body fat levels. Abs on a woman requires 11-12% BF and I understand this level can cause loss of the menstrual period and infertility, reversible of course. For this reason very low body fat levels, at least in women, don't seem like a feasible evolutionary direction. I find a lean toned curvy slightly muscular body on a woman very sexy. Although shite ads, I like the look of the models on those late night commercials for the ab machines.
Whatever body allows you to be fully active, healthy, fit, springy and do the job - whatever the "job" might be - running fast to reach bus, lifting boxes and furniture during your move, lifting and carrying children, thinking clearly... As well as support child bearing and feeding. Which also means - no skinny, deprived of body fat physique.
Recently I've been listening to Cro-Magnon book by Brian Fagan (I recommend it!) where he was speculating that for a woman the ideal was heavy buttocks and tights as that meant she was able to have children and breastfeed them for months and months. Healthy cushion around the mid-section was also a sign of bigger chances to survive winters.
We are living now in a very unique times - we have food all year round, in good supply. That was not the case for our ancestors, so it was natural they had to get on some fat during good times in order to survive winter/dry season. Which means that the looks fluctuated depending on season, age, needs...
Personally when I think of ideals in the world we live now, for women I see Jessica Biel, Tomb Rider Jolie (or when she's pregnant), Serena Williams or just any beach volleyball tournament participant :) For man? from the slim, wiry types to more bulky.. but never over done bodybuilder-style. it's impossible to achieve this kind of muscle growth through natural movements.