Ideal Breast Size Study

By Stacey Tantleff-Dunn (1)


This study investigated differences in ideals and stereotypes associated with breast and chest size. They polled 1,000 Americans and 1,000 Europeans to discover women’s (and men’s) ideal breast size and then compared this to average breast sizes in Europe and the U.S.

Earlier studies have focused on five cohorts of primarily Caucasian participants between 1990 and 1998 completed the Breast/Chest Rating Scale that consists of figures of men and women of varying upper torso sizes and a series of questions related to ideal size, perceptions of others’ ideals, and characteristics associated with different sizes. Although the breast size women perceive as preferred by others has increased, the ideal breast size has remained stable for men and women. Men’s ideal breast size was consistently larger than the breast size women prefer, and men also preferred a significantly larger chest size. Despite an increasing cultural emphasis on large chest size, there was a significant decrease in the chest size preferred by women across cohort groups. The chest size men think women prefer, however, has increased. Although there was little evidence of changes in stereotypes associated with chest size, the breast size associated with a variety of positive characteristics was significantly larger in 1998 than in 1992. These results are discussed in relation to body image and social implications.

Body image dissatisfaction in not limited to concerns about being overweight; dissatisfaction with shape can be a source of distress (Furnham, Hester, & Weir, 1990). Clearly, breast and chest sizes have a significant impact on individuals’ shapes, and may therefore play an important role in body image. The popularity of breast augmentation, reduction, and enhancement procedures suggests that American women have been experiencing dissatisfaction with their breast size and shape in addition to the more general body image dissatisfaction that has been well-documented in the past few decades (e.g., Fallon & Rozin, 1985; Thompson, 1992, 1996). The availability of pectoral implants may indicate that men are also experiencing dissatisfaction with their upper torsos (Thomspson, Heinberg, Altabe, & Tantleff-Dunn, 1999). It is unclear, however, whether men and women are reacting to cultural shifts toward increasingly larger ideals.

Previous findings suggest that women tend to perceive their breasts as smaller than their ideal breast size and a great deal smaller than the size they perceive as preferred by men (Thompson & Tantleff, 1992). Although men do prefer a relatively large breast size that is larger than women’s ideal (Singh & Young, 1995; Thompson & Tantleff, 1992), women overestimate the breast size preferred by men (Thompson & Tantleff, 1992). Women are accurate, however, in their prediction of men’s preference for a figure consisting of large breasts with a small waist and narrow hips (Furnham et al., 1990; Singh & Young, 1995). Although this shape is idealized, men’s preference for a larger breast size appears to be independent of waist and hip size, thus validating the notion that men selectively attend to this body site (Furnham et al., 1990). Nonetheless, the preferred shape of large breasts with a very thin physique creates a dilemma for many women since tall, thin frames are less likely to naturally co-occur with large breasts. Women whose breasts are naturally larger than their ideal size are also prone to experiencing body and physical appearance dissatisfaction (Koff & Benavage, 1998). Therefore, dissatisfaction with breast size may lead women to seek potentially dangerous means for changing it, including extreme dieting, over-exercising, or obtaining surgery that is associated with a variety of risks and is an expensive option with relatively permanent consequences.

However, other options that are safer and far less expensive have become available to women in recent years, for acquiring larger breast sizes by breast augmentation. Options involving herbal extracts in the form of pills or creams or both are becoming popular amongst women seeking to change to larger breast sizes. One such option, combining both pills and cream, that has seen a spurt in popularity and demand is Breast Actives, described in some detail at

Research has shown that larger breasts are associated with a number of positive attributes, such as popularity and confidence (Thompson & Tantleff, 1992). The increasing number of women who obtain breast implants (American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons, 1994) may reflect this association between positive characteristics and a large breast size. Amidst the growing popularity of surgical breast augmentation, however, have been complaints of medical complications and resulting controversy regarding the safety of breast implants. Many women, whose main source of information is media coverage, have become very anxious and concerned about capsular contracture, leakage, autoimmune disease, and ineffective mammograms (Anderson & Larson, 1995). The impact of the breast implant controversy on cultural ideals and stereotypical conceptions associated with breast size is unclear. With some popular television personalities like Jenny Jones and Pamela Anderson receiving much publicity for electing to remove their implants, it is conceivable that attitudes about breast size have fluctuated over recent years. Or, what seems more likely, small-breasted women are increasingly turning to non-surgical techniques for enlarging their breasts.