body fat terms|men|Women
Fortunately, body fat percentage is gaining popularity as an effective marker of overall health and fitness in lieu of BMI index.
While I have written extensively about body fat percentage in numerous articles includingIdeal body fat percentage chart,5 ways to measure body fat percentage, andFormula for the ideal body weightAmong many others, I hope this article will help tie it all together by creating visual representations of what a given amount of body fat looks like for both men and women.
I went through thousands of images to create this article. Most of the images I bought from stock photography websites, others are in the public domain (at least I hope so). If any of these images are copyrighted please let me know and I will list the correct attributions or replace it if necessary.
Body Fat Percentage Basics
To best understand the descriptions in this article and the selection of images, here are some basic body fat percentage terms and concepts to learn:
body fat percentage– is the amount of body fat (lb or kg) divided by the total body weight percentage. For example, a 180-pound man with 30 pounds of body fat has a body fat percentage of 16% (30/180).
body fat distribution– We all have different body fat distributions, or how fat is distributed across our bodies. For example, some women have very little body fat on their abs but a lot on their thighs and triceps, while others will have the opposite. The same goes for men, but most men carry fat in their stomachs. I have tried my best to show images that highlight the abdominal region for men and the hips/thighs/abdominal region for women.
body shape- Similar to body fat distribution, we all have different body shapes, so two different body shapes can have the same body fat percentage even if they don't look like it. A classic example is that a skinny runway model can have the same body fat percentage as a fit, athletic woman.
Age– The pictures in this post are based on an age of around 25-35 years. Most body fat meters show higher body fat values with age. For example, a 20-year-old and a 50-year-old man may have the same subcutaneous body fat measurement (fat under the skin), but the 20-year-old may be 15% and the 50-year-old 20%. With age, fat tends to increase around organs (visceral) and within muscles (intramuscular), and most formulas take this into account.
muscle strips– As a person becomes more defined, the actual muscle, which looks like thin rods called streaks, can be seen more clearly.
vascularity– This is the appearance of veins in different areas of the body when body fat decreases.
Male body fat images
Body fat descriptions for men
Body fat percentage men 3-4%
Bodybuilders can only lose 3-4% body fat when preparing for bodybuilding competitions. This body fat percentage is characterized by extreme vascularity, so that veins are visible over almost every muscle in the body. There is a clear division between the muscles and stripes that are visible on almost every muscle. The buttocks (I'll spare you a picture from behind) even have stripes, some vascularity, with little fat. If your buttocks have no body fat, you have VERY little body fat! The essential fat for a man is around 2%, which is the basic amount of fat a man needs for the body to function (fat protects the internal organs in the chest and abdomen).
Body fat percentage men 6-7%
About 6-7% body fat for a man is a little less extreme than competitive bodybuilders, but it's still at levels that most men can't handle. At around this point or slightly below, your face will become gaunt and your family will begin to worry about you. This 6-7% body fat percentage, achieved by many male fitness models in photo shoots, is characterized by muscular definition in all muscles and clear vascularity in most muscles including arms, legs and even abs. Vascularity over the abdominal muscle is a sign of very low body fat percentage. Clear muscle separation too.
Body fat percentage men 10-12%
This is a sustainable level for most men to see your abs at, but they probably won't be as defined as a man in the 6-7% body fat range. This Body Fat range is the classic beach body look that most men want and many women love. Although not very defined, there is separation between the muscles, some muscle stripes may be in the shoulders or arms, but stripes don't show up on every muscle. The vascularity is typically limited to the arms, possibly somewhat to the legs.
Body fat percentage men 15%
The 15% body fat percentage is usually in the “lean and fit” category on most body fat percentage charts. The outlines of the muscles can be seen, but there is no clear separation between them. Circulation is usually somewhat more restricted, as are muscle striations, which are typically covered by a thin layer of fat. The overall shape is still there, which can create an aesthetic appearance despite less muscle definition.
Body fat percentage men 20%
Separation between muscles begins to blur, almost no vascularity or streaks are seen, typically there is a small belly pocket of fat, appearance is “soft” but not very round. Most guys I meet in NYC are 20-25% body fat. In other parts of the country or world, this range may be higher or lower. A 5'11" male who weighs 180 pounds and has 145 pounds of lean body mass (the average) has 20% body fat.
Body fat percentage men 25%
There is little to no separation of muscles, no vascularity or muscle streaks, the waist starts to increase quite significantly with a waist to hip ratio of up to 0.9 (waist circumference/hip circumference). So a 5ft 10in man can have a waist over 36in. This man might have a little neck fat, but might not look like he has 25% body fat in regular clothes. Over 25% body fat in a man is considered obese, and over 40 inches waist is considered abdominal obesity.
Body fat percentage men 30%
There is more fat all over the body at the 30% level, including the waist, back, thighs and calves. The waist will look larger relative to the hips and the stomach will likely protrude noticeably past the waist. There is no muscle separation.
Body fat percentage men 35%
As men get heavier and gain more fat, most of the fat is sent straight to the stomach. The 35% level is characterized by a more pronounced protrusion of abdominal fat above the waist. That's the kind of beer gut look. The waist measurement for a man with 35% body fat can be more than 40 inches.
Body fat percentage men 40%
Similar to 35%, even more fat accumulates in the abdomen and waist area, so the waist size can reach 45 inches or more. At this level, basic everyday activities such as climbing stairs or bending down to pick up something become increasingly difficult. This body fat value approaches morbidly obese, which is characterized by a BMI over 35lean body masshas 40% body fat.
Descriptions of women's body fat
Body fat image descriptions of women
Body fat percentage women 10-12%
This is an extremely low body fat percentage typically achieved by female bodybuilders. Essential fat is around 8-10% in women compared to 2% in men. Why the difference? Women have more fat in the breast tissue and around the uterus. This amount of body fat is not considered safe or healthy for women who cannot menstruate. At this level, muscle striations, separations between muscles, and significant vascularity are evident. The woman in the photo is probably on the high end of the scale at 12% body fat because she's not too vascular.
Body fat percentage women 15-17%
This is still considered a very low body fat percentage for women, which is similar to the 6-7% body fat percentage for men in the range. Many bikini and fitness models achieve this body fat percentage and some may not be able to menstruate. Muscle definition in the abs, legs, arms and shoulders is evident, there is some vascularity and some separation between the muscles. Hips, buttocks and thighs are generally slightly less shaped due to low body fat.
Body fat percentage women 20-22%
This body fat percentage is typically in the "fit" category of most body fat charts and is typical of many female athletes. Some definition in the abs is evident, there's body fat on the arms and legs, but it's not overly so. There is minimal but some separation between the muscles.
Body fat percentage women 25%
This is on the lower end of most women's average and is characterized by a figure that is neither too slim nor too fat. Curves in the hips are usually more pronounced, along with more fat in the buttocks and thighs. A 5'4" woman who weighs 130 pounds and has 97 poundslean body masshas 25% body fat.
Body fat percentage women 30%
While most men have a funnel of fat in their abdomen, most women (but certainly not all) have their body fat accumulated in the hips, buttocks, and thighs. At 30% body fat, the hips, thighs, and buttocks are more defined and rounded. This is considered by many to be the higher end of average for womenbody fat charts.
Body fat percentage women 35%
With this body fat percentage, the hips become even wider and the face and neck appear rounder and fuller. Hips can begin to approach 40+ inches and waist 32+ inches. Some belly fat may also protrude past the waist.
Body fat percentage women 40%
The hips and thighs get bigger, so hips can reach 42+ inches, waist 35 inches, and thighs over 25 inches.
Body fat percentage women 45%
The skin can begin to lose its smooth appearance as more and more fat accumulates. The hips can reach over 45 inches and the waist over 35 inches. The hips can become noticeably wider than the shoulders.
Body fat percentage women 50%
This will likely look like it has accumulated more fat. Hips can reach over 45 inches and waist over 40 inches and thighs over 30 inches. The hips will likely be noticeably wider than the shoulders. To put it in better perspective, a 5'4" woman who weighs 200 pounds and has 100 poundslean body masshas 50% body fat.
Given how confusing measuring body fat percentage can be, I hope seeing these body fat percentage photos was helpful!