what's the derivation of the term buff for a physically well built, attractive male? Is it simply it simply shorthand, since buff means polished and therefore a man's torso that resembles a marble statue (think Michelangelo or the ancient Greeks) resembles this fantastical image of a man's torso? Is it now becoming popular to describe women also?
According to freeonlinedictionary.com
a relevant definition of buff is:
buff 1 (bf) n. 1. A soft, thick, undyed leather made chiefly from the skins of buffalo, elk, or oxen. 2. A military uniform coat made of such leather.
Here are two possible explanations of buff referring to a handsome man:
1.The well formed body of a man could be an allusion to the strength and masculinity that these animals represent.
2.A buff-coat was a light leather tunic which was worn by English soldiers up until the 17th century. The original meaning of 'in the buff' was simply to be wearing such a coat.
Since soldiers are considered well built, the allusion could have been to a soldier and later gone on to apply to any well built man.
These are just educated guesses by me.
I think you are correct with your surmise:
From Online Etymology Dictionary - Buff (noun), derives from the verb buff, meaning to polish,or make attractive.