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.
According to the dictionary, one meaning of buff is physically attractive or muscular. It did not say that it is particular only to male. That usage of buff is slang.
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.