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A lot of media tends to depict elves as rather feminine-looking in appearance, even the male elves, not sure why. Anyways, besides cultural selection, which would explain why the trait stayed prominent, what factors might lead to that developing in the elven evolutionary history, thus producing elves where even the males tend to look feminine by human standards? Also, on a semi-related note, since such a body type would aid in male elves having androgynous/feminine appearances, what factors would lead to them tending to have body types with little excess body fat and lithe appearances with a lack of obvious muscle mass?

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    $\begingroup$ I feel like this is a bit too broad. You're asking three questions here, and the first one (why elves tend to be depicted this way) doesn't sound like a world-building question. $\endgroup$ – F1Krazy Jan 24 '18 at 11:40
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    $\begingroup$ This is too opinion based. There is no good definition of 'feminime,' and no reference to which elves we are talking about (pick an artist or movie or something). $\endgroup$ – kingledion Jan 24 '18 at 12:02
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    $\begingroup$ The word "effeminate" does not mean what you think it means. It's not a good word. It's not a neutral word. Please get rid of it. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Jan 24 '18 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ Perhaps edit the title to "Androgynous" rather than "Effeminate". $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jan 24 '18 at 13:58
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    $\begingroup$ Unless you want elves to be seen as worse etc, please consider what @AlexP and Michael suggested. By the way, have you considered that from the perspective of many monkeys & apes human males are more androgynous looking? Maybe similar mechanisms are in play, and for elves we're but bald monkeys? $\endgroup$ – Mołot Jan 24 '18 at 15:10
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I have to question the premise of your question a little, male elves don't look feminine, neither do female elves. In fact both look very similar, androgynous.

So there is little in the way of sexual dimorphism in elves, males and females look very similar. You could explain away some of it by saying that because of elves long lives and low birth rates evolution takes a lot longer. So if you say that a lot of human sexual characteristics (like breasts) came about through selective evolution due to attraction then these features haven't had a chance to become as accentuated in elves.

You can also say that elves have much smaller babies (longer childhoods mean they don't need to start as big) so females never needed to evolve wider hips, another feature of typical human females.

You could explain away a lack of body fat through a very efficient metabolism, they don't put on weight easily. You could say the same for their muscle if you just want them to be weak, or perhaps say they have more efficient muscle if you want them to be strong but with low muscle mass.

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  • $\begingroup$ What would be the consequences of them having smaller babies? What would be the advantage that let the smaller babies trait persist? $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 24 '18 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ @TheLiteraryLord Less complications with giving birth for one. If elves have low fertility (as is often the case in fantasy worlds) then they can't afford to lose mothers or babies through difficult childbirths. Humans have some of the most complicated childbirths of any animals due to the size of human babies heads. If the babies could start smaller and have a longer development time then that could be avoided. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Jan 25 '18 at 13:12
  • $\begingroup$ Alright, how much longer do you think the development time would be? How might lowered levels of testosterone in the males effect things? $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 25 '18 at 13:23
  • $\begingroup$ @TheLiteraryLord Well a human child's neurocranium (the important bit where the brain is) stops growing at about three years old. So if you wanted to say elven children are born half the size of human children you could say they might take six years to reach the same size... but really it would be entirely down to you. A species that typically lives hundreds of years could have a childhood spanning decades. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Jan 25 '18 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ @TheLiteraryLord As for testosterone... a lower level of that would decrease fertility, so you could say that came first and became widespread for whatever reason which led to lower fertility, which meant that elves with easier childbirths had higher survival rates and became dominant in the gene pool. In fact lower estrogen would decrease fertility and make females less feminine too, so the elves androgyny and low fertility are caused by the same thing. $\endgroup$ – adaliabooks Jan 25 '18 at 16:25
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They can't store too much excess fat

The easiest explanation for why a species does not have a lot of excess body fat is that there is just not enough food. When you can barely afford to live you won't be able to get a big belly.

This might have at one point or another lead to a change in their physiology where they literally couldn't store too much excess fat anymore. It was never necessary to have this ability, so it slowly started to disappear, or never appeared in the first place. There is no advantage and the resources used by the body to have this ability might be better used somewhere else.

Elves can't get fat - their bodies are just not able to store any excess fat.

This change persisted and was viewed as a good thing, so later elven generations kept it and now it became a cultural thing. Elves have to be really careful about their eating habits and their eating schedule. If they don't eat small portions on a very regular basis they might starve. In times past this was an adaptation to running around and collecting for example fruits in small batches. Nowadays it's just the way elves are.

For their androgynous look: they try to keep their females safe from predators by making the males easier prey. They are not hunters in their world, monsters are just too strong, so they don't need especially muscular males - their focus is on protecting the females by sacrificing the very-similar looking males.

Maybe they needed to make sure that predators would not attack their females. One male can impregnate multiple females and females need more time to give birth to offspring, so females are more important. As they were mainly on-the-run, living off berries and stuff like that, male strength was not so important. Therefore their males adapted to look more like their females, so that predators might choose the males instead of the (maybe more yummy) females.

The females could, for example, emit some pheromones while they are pregnant and those are easier for predators to detect. That's why they are the preferred target - pregnant targets that unvoluntarily tell you where they are and that they are vulnerable.

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  • $\begingroup$ Nice! But what might cause male elves to tend to look more feminine outside of cultural selection? Any thoughts? $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 24 '18 at 13:58
  • $\begingroup$ Maybe they needed to make sure that predators would not attack their females. One male can impregnate multiple females and females need more time to give birth to offspring, so females are more important. As they were mainly on-the-run, living off berries and stuff like that, male strength was not so important. Therefore their males adapted to look more like their females, so that predators might choose the males instead of the (maybe more yummy) females. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jan 24 '18 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ Not sure how plausible it is that the monsters would prefer the females over the males, though if you provide a feasible explanation for that I'd say that it makes good enough sense. $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 24 '18 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @TheLiteraryLord I added a point that might explain this. Or you could go a different route and say that there are other humanoid races that are searching for females if you know what I mean, but that is a direction I don't really want to explore any further... $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jan 24 '18 at 16:30
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One straightforward method of reducing the sexual dimorphism of elves, would be a reduced level in Testosterone in male elves. Hypogonadism is a real condition in which a lack of sufficient testosterone during puberty prevents, or delays, a human male from developing secondary sexual characteristics.

These missing characteristics include:

  • Muscle development
  • Deepening voice
  • Body hair
  • Height

Boys who do not have these traits have a less stereotypical masculine appearance and thus are generally perceived as more feminine.

This does not create a reason for a lack of body fat, but the stereotypical elf lifestyle of living off the forest (or, perhaps on magically created feasts) simply isn't consuming foods that are converted to excessive fat.

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  • $\begingroup$ What could cause a near species-wide lack of testosterone in elves? $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 24 '18 at 22:50
  • $\begingroup$ What side effects would a lack of testosterone cause? $\endgroup$ – The Literary Lord Jan 25 '18 at 8:11
  • $\begingroup$ @TheLiteraryLord It doesn't have to be a total lack of testosterone. There are plenty of human males in the real world who are considered to appear feminine or androgynous without having any negative health effects. As for cause, simply a slightly different genetic predisposition. Studies have shown that males of Asian descent tend to have a lower level of testosterone than those of European descent. People growing up primarily around those of European descent may perceive an Asian male as being more feminine than a European male. Exaggerate this effect for your elves. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jan 25 '18 at 14:44

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