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What the female body looks like at different body fat percentages

Wow take a look at that! Where do you stand? As you can see, as the levels of body fat begin to increase, loss of definition becomes more and more apparent. Don’t take this too close to heart though, because 2 people with the same body fat percent can actually look totally different. See below:

Will 2 people with the same body fat % look the same?

No. It isn’t all about body fat percent, it’s about lean muscle mass too. If these 2 women were the same height, let’s say 5’ 5”, I bet the girl on the left weighs around 118 and the one on the right, 95 lbs. How you build muscle (or not) will determine the your physique. Left girl obviously lifts weights and right girl does not, but the layer of fat from their muscle to skin is the same. Does this make sense? Body fat is just the thickness of the fat you have. Your overall shape is determined by your musculature.

What’s your body fat %?

2013-01-16-Body-Fat-Percentage_large-2

 

Above is a great chart that matches up your body fat % with fitness level. The people in “essential fat” are usually Olympic athletes or serious fitness competitors. At this low of a body fat % women will lose their periods completely!

How to find your body fat percent?

1. Skinfold Measurement (Skin Pinch)
2. Bioelectrical impedance analysis (Handheld/Scale Deviced)
3. Dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (Dexa Scan)
4. Height and circumference methods (Measurement Collections)
5. Hydrostatic Testing (Underwater Density Test)

The skin fold test is what I used to determine by body fat percent. You will need a personal trainer or someone who knows how to use calipers to do that for you because he or she will have to pinch your fat and measure the mm of fat thickness in 7 different areas, some of which you will not be able to reach for yourself, like your back.

I know a lot of you may not have access to calipers, a personal trainer, or a gym, so here’s a quick and semi accurate way to see where you stand. This is #4, the height and circumference method – use this online calculator, a scale, and a measuring tape to see where you fall:

http://www.active.com/fitness/calculators/bodyfat/

[Edit 7/20/2011: A lot of girls were telling me that they got bf%’s in the low 30s when they knew they were around the 20s. Thanks for the call out. For whatever reason that calc seems to be very off. Try this one instead? Although, this is not as accurate as a caliper measurement by a fitness professional!]

http://www.bmi-calculator.net/body-fat-calculator/

Remember, this will not be completely accurate so proceed with caution!

 

Finding a balance…

Don’t get too sucked in by the numbers. What matters is how you look and feel at the end of the day. I know a lot of young girls just want to be 105 lbs and will do anything to get there. (I get so many emails about this…) But remember, if you want to get thin, take into consideration your health as a whole. Think of it as getting FIT not as getting skinny. I love that through my workouts, not only have I achieved a more toned body, but I also have gotten so much stronger!

Some of us want the skinny actress look, others want bigger butts or bigger boobs, while a select few fancy looking like body builders on steroids (see 1st photo). Whatever it is you want, I encourage you to follow through with you goals as long as you feel strong and healthy doing it. Okay? Also, remember to be happy with the journey too. Because what happens when you get to your goal weight and you don’t experience an instant burst of joy like you had always dreamed? Well, that’s why you gotta embrace your healthy lifestyle. Keyword: lifestyle. It doesn’t end when you reach your goal…it becomes your life. So love it now.

The Conversation (70)

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  • Jennifer says:

    I bought a new scale “weight guru.” It says I am 108 lbs and that is accurate. 16.9 BMI I am 5’7 .it says I am 35.6 percent muscle, 16.7 percent fat. Bone mass 5 percent. Water slightly over 60 percent. My question is – should I return this scale. I do not look muscular at all and that percentage of muscle is found in body builders. Could some one with out really visible muscles except in my upper arms – have that much muscle.

  • Susan Hargrave says:

    I’m female with 14.5% body fat, age 68, 5ft 6in, 107 lbs, and compete as a Masters Sprinter, 60m, 109m and 200m. I am small boned, so look normal. I do not look underweight even though by USA standards, on paper, I may be deemed that.

  • Hanne says:

    I test mine last week and I’m 7.6 I am a girl 5.5 tall, and diagnosed with anorexia..

  • Hailey says:

    I’ve always had a problem assessing my body fat using online calculators and charts, because my measurements are always below their minimum. I’m 4’11, barely 101 pounds,with a 22.5 inch waist and 33 inch hips. I finally went and had it professionally done, and they told me I was 17 or 18%. Does that sound about right for someone as small as I am?

    • Karena Ware says:

      I’m 4”10 have went through multiple cuts, and I think that sound right for you. I start seeing abs definition around 92-95lbs which usually is 11-14% body fat give or take 2 %

  • izzy says:

    I’m laughing, because I’m active. I’ve been boxing for over 3 years now, doing 3 sessions a week plus I walk or cycle to work 2-3miles/day. However, last week got my BF measured by a wellbeing advisor who used TANITA body composition analyser and told me my BF is 33 percent. No way I’m obese or even overweight.

    • BB says:

      Same!!! Had mine done yesterday with DEXA and even the guy who measured me said your BF is showing 35% but you don’t look overweight at all.

      • Brie says:

        It’s called being skinny fat even though you look healthy you actually have a higher body fat mass than you think. If you don’t eat correctly then you’ll always have this skinny fat effect. Either add more or harder weight training to maintain the body you have (weight wise) because it will replace fat cells with muscles without needing to change your calorie intake

    • Miko says:

      It’s probably because you don’t lift weights, boxing builds strength and fitness but it doesn’t grow your muscle mass, and you walk ad cycle which is cardio, and too much cardio burns fat and muscle, so while you might be fit, you probably have very little muscle, thus making your bf higher

  • B says:

    Both of the calculators said the same thing for me and I crossed them with many others on the internet.

  • Sue says:

    The tape measurements and scales are highly inaccurate, it’s best to stick with fat caliper or skin fold method for a more accurate reading. My body fat is between 18% to 20% with some definition of abs yet it showed a reading of 26% body fat with the tape measurements and 24% with the scale.

  • Cassie says:

    I am currently at about 30% body fat after having a baby. I’m trying to get down to 28% or less so I can enter the Air Guard. I’m doing the Keto diet and have lost about 10 pounds and about 1.5 inches on my waist. I’ll gladly take workout recommendations or tips on how to lose weight and lower my body fat percentage! Thanks in advance!

  • Jessica says:

    I am currently at a 24% body mass fat, at 128lbs. I workout 5x a week, taking a variety of classes (TCX, HIT) . My goal is to lower my weight, along with body fat, what are some things I can do? Thanks!

    • Natalia says:

      I’d try a diet change based on the macronutrients that are best for your body type (endomorph, mesomorfo, and endomorph).
      Good luck!

  • Sara says:

    Women in the essential body fat range do not necessarily lose their periods. Some of us not only have periods, but have 24-day cycles that ALWAYS coincide with finals week.

  • Crystal says:

    I recently went to the nutritionist two months ago and had 37% fat. Now I have 34% fat but don’t see much change in my body. Am I not being patient enough? How much longer will I start seeing changes in my body. It’s been two months.

    • Astrid says:

      You need to give it more time. It took me (5’4′, 33, F) a year to get from 34% to 25% body fat by lifting heavy and consistently staying in a moderate calorie deficit. Just keep working at it and you’ll get there :)

      • Ealaniz says:

        Congratulations! I am 5’3”, 40, F. How did you do it? I currently have a 42% BF and I definitely want to bring it down to at most 35%. I am eating every three hours. I eat protein in every meal and I am doing 25 minutes of cardio and 40 minutes of strengthening every day. I measure the fat every week and sometimes instead of going down it goes up. Do you have any advice. I am lifting light, doing deadlifts.. squats with weights, and the blogilates 30 day challenges for abs, butt, and arms.

  • Anna says:

    That happened to me, I train crossfit and conditioning 4 times a week and I’m even toned, when I went to the nutricionist, she used a bathroom scale and it said I had 27%. Guess I’ll have to go with DEXA too

  • Cambryn says:

    I have a body fat of about 20 and i really want to get it closer to 15 but I’m not sure what to do

  • Nicole says:

    Bathrooms scales are really bad at calculating body fat percentage! Get a DEXA bodyscan or use calipers if you need to know but don’t let that mess your head up. The bathroom scale said mid 30’s for me too, but more accurate tests put me in the mid 20’s range

  • Fat or just big boned? says:

    My bathroom scales said I have a body fat of 33 % and that I’m obese?! I don’t look obese, a bit overweight yes but not even enough to be called “fat” imo. I still have a defined waist and no “rolls” of fat – just padding all over rather than all in one place. I have thick bones and a LOT of muscle mass – can even see some definition of my abs under the fat, I have large biceps and the calves of a bodybuilder (defined muscle) despite doing no exercise other than walking to and from work and walking the dog! I’ve always been very strong and surprised people on the amount of weight I can lift despite no training. Is this because I have a “heavyset” physique ? All my family on my dad’s side are like this with broad shoulders and a lot of muscle mass. Genetics?

    It’s worrying to me now – if I’m really that fat I need to lose weight!

    • K says:

      There’s no such thing as “thick boned” And people carry weight differently than others. Don’t go by how you look , numbers don’t lie. 33% is on the larger side, I would def incorporate some exercise into your routine.

    • Nicole says:

      Bathrooms scales are really bad at calculating body fat percentage! Get a DEXA bodyscan or use calipers if you need to know but don’t let that mess your head up. The bathroom scale said mid 30’s for me too, but more accurate tests put me in the mid 20’s range

    • Natalia says:

      It’s called endomorph, and yes! :)

  • kristen leach says:

    I once was scanned by a doctor and told I have 6% body fat and I didn’t look anything like these women.

  • Janet says:

    I am glad that body fat % is now considered important to judging the health of a person. Weight, muscle mass, body fat, what you eat, exercise level are all important factors.not just the number on a scale. I am thin and people and doctors were so disregarding for years just telling me to eat more not caring about body fat. I feel validated now knowing that there is a way to get and maintain that healthy body. I gave up gluten 4 years ago, processed foods, most dairy, eat good sources of fats but not too much. I eat Nuts, seeds, high protein diet, lots of greens,other veggies and moderation of fruit. This is delicious and I love eating this way. The world is finally focused on health is beauty. I am at 26-7% body fat and have heart murmur. A person could be thin with a 31% body fat which would mean they are obese. Maybe that’s why older people die. Lack of exercise, gaining fat stressing theright hearts and organs. Could that really be died of high % of body fat when we say died of old age? We can pass for healthy because we look good in a pair of skinny jeans. That is not an indicator of healthy. So I am working to lower that body fat eating Well and exercising. I’m not enjoying it but feel the benefits. Life. if I gain muscle great! I don’t care what I weigh. I care about being at my optimum health. Anyone else feel body shamed in their lives?

    • Maria says:

      I also believe that. I was told I have 19% of fat percentage that I have to lower a bit but my body does not resemble even close to an athlete or fitness type in anything. So how can I have 19% if my body does not look I have 19%. I have my flabby a bit of hanging belly and I do exercise although not often but I do. So any response to that?

      • Sandra says:

        Of course! There are a LOT of different places in your body that fat likes to be stored. Your bones, the greater and lesser omentum (these are part of the mesentary in your abdomin) but you body will choose where it hangs out. Yours just chose the belly. Men often can look REALLY fit and Dexa scans will tell them they have an extra 10% body fat sometimes because it gets stored more internally. Ultimately there is no guaranteed way to measure a person’s body fat just yet other than scooping it all out of you body and comparing it to whats left… and lets be realistic. That info is no good to you dead. Aim for fit so you can enjoy life to its fullest and have fun! Even if there’s a fat pad that doesn’t want to go away. Tell anyone who judges it to f*** off. You’re beautiful.

  • Carol says:

    Those visual scales never show women with an android/apple body type, i.e. short waist/torso, muscular, shoulders wider than hips, flat butt. I’m close to 27-30% (Navy method or Skulpt) but I don’t look like the example as I hardly have any fat in the hips, butt, thighs/legs. I look pretty cut except the midsection/torso. Would be nice to see a visual scale for other body types. Guess I will have to go with a DEXA.

  • Ivy says:

    This is a very good thing to keep in mind. I was so hard on myself when I didn’t lose any weight after a few weeks. But I do know that I’m strong, because I do aerial silks and pole dance. According to the calculator, my body fat is at about 26% when I’m 5’2 and 138 lb,which is in the acceptable range. I think a part of the reason why I was so hard on myself is because my mom always criticizes the size of my thighs whenever I visit her and tells me I should lose weight. Anyway my point is this blog has been a gentle reminder that I don’t need to be skinny to be fit and the number on the scale does not define me.

  • Clare says:

    I’m 23% and 130 lbs after losing about 10lbs. I’m not going to lose more as I’ve got a Latino shape- flat stomach, curvy hips and after I reached about 135lbs people started staring again- like they did when I was young (just being honest). I’m 36 and if I lose any more my face and ass will drop … So I’m very happy at 23%! It’s all about shape and how you carry it. Juicy fat is youth in many ways and men love it after all. I put some muscle on my shoulders for a more cut and toned look and this really made a difference to how fit you look. Toning up the bingo wings is also really good if you want to retain some curves but still look fit and hot.

  • Bhargavi says:

    This so true. At 29 percent body weight, I do not look fat/obese because of the muscle definition.

  • Kypie says:

    I’m classed as Obese, I don’t think I look that bad.

  • Minni says:

    I got weighed and measured today and I am underweight now and my Body fat percentage came out at 12.7%, I’m not a serious athletic competitor but I go to gym very regularly, I don’t feel like I’m underweight or look it, so I’m a little concerned.

  • Burrito says:

    I was measured at the gym today and turned up at 27% body fat. The trainer who did the measurement for me said that a normal percentage for women is 20%, so I was really upset that I’ve been working out a lot and trying so hard with my diet and I’m still apparently obese. But this article in combination with others that confirmed that my 27% doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m in the obese range made me feel better and more positive about my goals :)

  • Norah says:

    I was surprised about my results it said I was 26.96% while doing this i was really afraid I would be higher in obese. It made me think maybe I’m not as big as I though I was. This really motivates me more to keep going and try to get it lower!

  • Chloe says:

    These calculators put me at 27% but I’m nowhere near the girl in the 25% picture. I’m nowhere near that fat, I look closer to the 20% girl. I have DDs and a big butt but IDK if thats contributing to why its so high. I thought I was fine but now I’m worried, should I be worried????

  • Tatiana says:

    Trippy pics! My body fat percentage is 7 percent and I look like the 20% girl. My stomach is flat but I don’t have abs whatsoever. No “guns” either. Guess it really doesn’t have anything to do with your looks. Therefore, people shouldn’t worry so much. I have body goals, but I assess myself with the mirror.

  • Zenith says:

    I had my body fat percentage measured 6 weeks ago and was at 23%. I changed my diet and exercise routines a bit and am now at 18%. I lost fat and gained some lean body mass in the process, which is exactly what I asked my trainer to help me do. I am a 48yr old woman, so I am very pleased with being able to accomplish this feat. Basically, my trainer calculated my lean body mass and bf% to start. I told him that I wanted to lose fat, but not muscle and that I did not want my age to start showing in my face, as a result of the changes I was seeking to make. Lol!
    Well, he consulted with a nutritionist and together, they determined what my daily caloric load and makeup should be . So, I recommend that anyone who is trying to lose body fat, consult with people who are knowledgeable about this and can offer an individualized diet and exercise plan to help you reach your goal. Good luck!

  • Giggly says:

    I think it’s very hard to measure this. I’m 5 ft 6 and my body fat calculation is 31% normal but I don’t look like that girl on the picture, I look more like the girl with 20% body fat.

    I’m in the UK and I have a hard time with the BMI system! According to doctors on their screens I’m in the overweight category with a chance of heart disease etc. I’m only a size 8-10 UK measurement, I think that’s about a size 6 in US sizes. I do pilates and aerobic 4 or 5 times a week. I’m eating a vegetarian and organic diet around 1200 to 1500 a day.

    I went for a check-up and the nurse was waiting to give me the ‘overweight’ health impact speech. When she saw me she thought she had called the wrong patient. When I was sitting in the waiting room she had me down as around 19 years old and between 9 and 10 stone. I’m actually 31, very slim for my BMI and take great care of myself. She couldn’t believe it. On her screen there was only a marked system of putting a patients BMI and it automatically say overweight, but I’m actually lean and have good proportions.

    I think the BMI system etc. is based on average and not individual – what woman is average? Everyone is so unique! I wish they would remove this system. I find doctors basing their medication or practice on it, its simply not accurate enough. It is infused with stereotypes and I think its too generic!

    They need a ‘Peter-pan, looks overweight on paper but in reality is slim, fit and healthy’ category! Maybe I will pencil it in the BMI chart next time I go for a check-up! haha

    Kind Regards!
    :-) x

  • Andreanne says:

    Thanks for those explanations.

    Do you think I can ask my doctor to calculate it? Since I don’t have these instruments at home.

    Thx again!

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  • Erica says:

    What? Im 5’9, 118 pounds, a distance runner, and I work with a trainer. No way my bf % is 26%.

  • […] think he's basically talking about this What the female body looks like at different body fat percentages 15% vs 15% picture particularly. Really I encourage my wife to lift some weights cause lean mass […]

  • Kaitlyn says:

    That calculator is bullshit actually, nvm.

  • Kaitlyn says:

    I’m fat my body fat percentage is 24.7% Most other calculators say 19-21% wtf is going on

    • Eva Lartigue says:

      i dont get this too! a nutricionist took my body fat today and she said i am 20%. But i’m fat! i know i have a lot of lean muscle mass under the fat, nevertheless i still dont believe i’m 20%…

      • Maria says:

        The same happened to me a nutritonist told me I have 19% fat and I believe I have more becaue my body is not lean and Ihave a flabby belly I dont understand either. Im 47. She measured me with a special scale and told me that. What is going on?

  • […] estimate your lean body mass, maybe 80% if you are a pretty lean woman but not ripped exactly. See these photos for a quick visual guide to body fat percentages. Google for more photos because people love […]

  • Anne says:

    wow! i am actually pretty surprised, because i am 13 and i have 17.5% fat, is that bad because i look nothing like the 18%. :D

  • UHM says:

    One thing I don’t understand is why do women that have children think it’s not normal to achieve fitness and a lean body? I didn’t know giving birth and having children means you do not exercise or eat right. I think mother’s in general feel that having children reduces them as a person. It doesn’t. it’s natural and normal to have children. There are tons of father’s out there that don’t have this sort of issue. They don’t create this sort of stress for themselves. You can have children and still enjoy your life and you can still be considered fit and healthy.

    I enjoyed this article. Thanks for sharing cassie.

    • Briz says:

      Many of the mothers I know have stressful lives and no matter how hard they try they simply do not have time for themselves. Children plus lack of a support network can make a dedicated program difficult for these women. Add a dysfunctional partner, (sometimes the most difficult ‘child’ of them all), minimal funds which means every cent counts and daily micromanagement of the budget. On a daily basis there may be several crises to manage. These women are often depressed yet high functioning individuals. If they are reasonably healthy and in reasonable shape then they are doing well.

      That’s not to say there aren’t examples of women who overcame adversity and have achieved their fitness goals under these circumstances but we cannot judge those who didn’t. If you spent time with people in this category you would see the stress they must endure.

      The reason the tons of fathers out there don’t have this issue is usually because the women are supporting them to do so.

      I repeat I am not saying there aren’t many examples where they manage to overcome adversity to achieve their goal. I am saying do not underestimate the part stress plays in these women’s lives as does making health and fitness a priority in your life. Encouragement for these mothers (not judgement or put-down) is always best. They need to make themselves a priority and get the support they need.

  • Audie says:

    I just had my body fat measured in the Bod Pod- I was surprised to find out I was at 10%. I’m 35, have to kids ages 6 and 3, I weigh 136 and I’m 5’7″. I run and dance and eat very healthy, unprocessed food, and I don’t eat sugar. I still menstruate. But the 10% puts me in the “risky” category. I have a lot of muscle mass and not a lot of fat, but I’m still healthy. I think body type has to be taken into consideration. My midsection is definitely not “ripped” as some of the pictures of women in this body fat category suggest.

  • […] think the pictures on this site show it better https://www.blogilates.com/best-of/5427378002 it shows that you can have the same body fat % as someone else but look different because of lean […]

  • Amy Barnhart says:

    We have a scale that measures body fat % (not sure how accurate it is) and it says I’m 21%. I am 42 (with 4 kids) so that puts me at the “lean” mark for women which I’m happy with. Here is a body fat chart to see where you stand (I notice some charts vary a few percent).
    http://www.builtlean.com/2010/08/03/ideal-body-fat-percentage-chart/

  • Tina says:

    I’m about 18 to 20%

  • Amber says:

    Cassie, I like that you always focus on the healthy & happiness part in conjunction with the specifics of weight and fitness. Most people don’t get that if they are unhappy with their life & body no matter what their weight is, they will not instantly become happy even if their body changes. The happiness is on the inside! Appreciate your body and then appreciate it more and more and more as you get close to the fitness and weight you want :)

  • Jayde says:

    I tried the second BMI calculator and it said i was 23.76%. which is weird because that means I’m larger than the girl in the pic who is 20%. I workout everyday and I do a lot of weight lifting so it seems a bit off but who knows. Like you said it’s different depending on the person. It’s funny because I weigh 107 lbs, but no one believes me when I tell them that! They think I’m like 90 lbs. I’m also only 5″2. But anways that is very interesting..gonna probably check out more calculators and compare. Thanks for the post!

  • Catie says:

    Cassie, I wish you didn’t post that online calculator. Those calculators do not take your natural built and height into consideration. It measured me at 31%. Now, I am 5’4″, barely a 100 lbs, active, and a competitive runner and actually around 12-14% at the moment. During my college running years at one point I dropped down to 94-95 lbs and about 10% body fat. (It wasn’t an eating disorder, just the 80+ miles training, I have to eat a LOT to keep it at least at 100 lbs, 12% and have my period.) Anyways, even when I was at 10%, similar online calculators would put me around 28-30%. I think it is because I have a boyish figure, not much difference between my hips and waist for example… One online calculator at one point actually suggested I was overweight based on the ratio between my hips & waist. Hm, yea…. So, girls, do not necessary trust these online calculators. Even a scale calculating bf% is more accurate.

  • marina says:

    Hey Casey, great post! Just to let you know that the picture of you with your body fat percentage and weight isn’t showing up.

    Good luck with your competition, you are such an inspiration to all of us!

  • Akshi says:

    I fall around 25 % and I’m trying to be in at least 20 % :)

  • I got really bummed out when I had the Bod Pod test to find out my body fat was 21%. But then I remembered that we have fat in all of our cells – even our brain!! I’m about to compete in a bikini competition tomorrow so I’m probably around 18% right now but I’d like to see 15% on me, but that’s just not realistic for me to be happy and well balanced.

    at this point my goal is to keep growing muscle so I can look leaner while also enjoying food and life!

    great blog!

  • Grati says:

    I´m somewhere between 25 % and 30% Wow,that´s a lot,i don´t like it:))) I hope to drop the fat percentage soon,i´m working on it. Really interesting this post Cassey,thanks.
    But…is eathing healthy and working out enought or should i consider something more specifically for losing fat?

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