January 27, 2008 at 4:07 pm #27203
note: this is a bit superficial, but fun. It can get us thinking about how we progam or are programmed in our likes/dislikes by culture, and mentions some interesting research about body size and symmetry, ascribing the usual evolutionary theory to it. -michael
WHY DO UGLY BOYS GET GORGEOUS GIRLS?
THE SECRETS OF PHYSICAL ATTRACTION ARE REVEALED
By Esther Walker
January 22, 2008
What makes a person desirable? Is it her ample cleavage? Or his manly jaw?
In their new book, psychologists Viren Swami and Adrian Furnham claim to
have unlocked the secrets of attraction.
Here, ESTHER WALKER explains what they discovered — and what it can teach
Does body size matter?
Pick up any fashion magazine today and you could be forgiven for thinking
that the ideal female body shape is that of an adolescent boy.
But although the most fashionable silhouette in recent years has been an
extremely slender one, its not one we necessarily find attractive.
Studies have shown that people favour those who are of normal weight, and
that people caught up in an accident are far more likely to be rescued if
they are of a normal weight than their underweight — or overweight —
Slenderness (as exemplified by Audrey Hepburn) is regarded as a cultural
Slender stars such as Breakfast At Tiffany’s Audrey Hepburn are only found
alluring by certain cultures. In poorer nations, portliness — a sign of
wealth — is preferred
In poorer cultures, being portly can be a sign of wealth, and therefore
People value thinness more “as you move up the social and economic scale”,
Adrian Furnham says.
“As you get richer, you get thinner. Where food is scarce, tubbier women are
thought of as more attractive.”
That aside, Furnham and his co-author Viren Swami found that body size
matters very little in the grand scheme of things.
Being a fairly superficial lot, what we really care about are people’s faces
and how attractive they are.
Are bigger breasts better?
When it comes to bosoms, it is often taken for granted that more is more —
how else can you explain the popularity of models like Jordan or the sultry
appeal of the cartoon figure Jessica Rabbit?
In fact, most studies contradict this. There is little evolutionary evidence
to suggest that breast size has anything to do with fertility or health.
Studies into the ideal breast size are inconclusive, and the results vary
according to personal taste and culture.
In terms of how it contributes to overall attractiveness, studies have
repeatedly shown that breast size comes below both body weight and shape.
So, you have been told.
Is there such a thing as the perfect human body?
Marilyn Monroe, the Venus de Milo, Sophia Loren, Scarlett Johansson — at
different times, these women have all been considered among the most
desirable on Earth.
Quite apart from their beautiful faces, they all boast, or boasted, a low
waist/hip ratio (WHR).
Used by our hunter-gatherer forefathers to judge the health and fecundity of
women, the WHR explains why men find more curvy (but not necessarily
overweight) figures such as Scarlett Johansson attractive.
To work out WHR, divide the waist measurement by the hip measurement.
Most women’s WHR falls between 0.7 and 1.0. WHRs of 0.7 or 0.8 are most
attractive, with attraction decreasing as the WHR increases.
Unlike breasts, where bigger doesn’t mean better, attraction increases as
WHR decreases, even if the waist is artificially cinched in with a belt or
But a woman’s WHR isn’t necessarily lower the thinner she is; it’s about how
small her waist is compared with the hips.
“Young women can be chubby, but still have a low WHR,” say the authors of
The Psychology Of Physical Attraction.
“As women get older, their waists thicken and their fertility goes down in
proportion to their age — that explains why a slim waist, a signal of
fertility, is attractive.”
A low WHR doesn’t have universal appeal, though. A Tanzanian tribe, the
Hadza, who subsist by foraging for wild foods, are unaffected by the female
Another isolated tribe, the Matsigenka of southern Peru, simply prefer the
It’s all because of what we perceive as healthy. When resources were scarce,
being overweight — and thus well fed — was good.
Today, being overweight is associated with health problems.
Can a man be too tall?
Women are always looking for someone tall, dark and handsome, right? No one
specifies “short, mousy and ugly” in a personal ad.
But how much does a man’s height matter? Taller men have more children than
their averagely tall counterparts, and receive more replies to personal ads.
At 6ft 3in, Sacha Baron Cohen is a full foot taller than his fiancee Isla
But don’t worry, Mr Five Foot Nine (the average height of the UK male): many
studies show that men of average height are more attractive and likeable
than very tall men.
Above-average height may even indicate poor health.
Why are gay men always at the gym?
While lesbians reject body fascism, gay men embrace it with zeal.
Gay men are more likely to be unhappy with their bodies than straight men
and are more likely to have an eating disorder. They also idealise slightly
Gay men also tend to idealise upperbody strength — particularly
well-defined biceps and abdominal muscles — over and above other physical
One theory is that having an overdeveloped musculature is a way for gay men
(otherwise thought of as effeminate) to assert their masculinity and to
distance themselves from being thought of as girly.
Should you wax?
Hairlessness on women is perceived as good because it indicates youth and
However, total hairlessness on women and men (eyebrows aside) is not as
attractive, as it is a sign of pre-pubescence and, therefore, the inability
to have children.
Male waxing makes little evolutionary sense, as chest hair shows
masculinity, but such depilation is common in Western societies; a 2005
study found that 60 per cent of men regularly removed body hair.
Of course, if like David Beckham you are naturally hairless, it’s not an
Whether a man waxes is down to personal choice and is largely affected by
The current obsession with female bikini waxes can be blamed on fashion —
there’s no reason we should find it attractive, and some would say they
Are ‘beer-goggles’ a myth?
You know how it is; that man who, at midnight, looked like the dreamiest
hunk in the world turns out the next day to look more like actor Steve
Buscemi’s ugly cousin.
Most people blame too much alcohol but, while being drunk doesn’t help, it’s
not just hops that make you hop into bed with a monster.
A study of singles bars in 1979 found that as the evening wore on, people
rated members of the opposite sex as more attractive.
The author of the study argued that as time went by and the risk of going
home alone increased, the singles downgraded their criteria for
How interesting is pale?
In most pre-industrial societies, a tan indicated that the person in
question worked outdoors, probably as a manual labourer, and had a low
social status and income.
Historically, pale skin like Nicole Kidman’s — an indication that you were
rich enough to sit indoors all day — has been revered as beautiful.
In the 20th century, having a tan (especially when the weather in your
country is cold) became a sign that you were rich enough to fly off to
Jamaica in the winter, and became desirable.
This has been complicated recently by the rise of budget airlines and
tanning booths; an all-year tan no longer equals wealth.
When a skin tone (light or dark) becomes associated with low economic or
social status, it ceases to be attractive.
Is beauty colour-blind?
Physical attraction is, pleasingly, not racist. Not taking into account
personal prejudices and cultural pressures, all races can appeal to all
other races — because what’s more important than skin colour is the
symmetry of a person’s facial features and body.
Evolutionary psychologists argue that only the healthiest people are able to
develop symmetry in their faces and bodies, which is why people find Will
Smith or Brad Pitt attractive.
How do ugly boys get gorgeous girlfriends?
In lonely hearts adverts, men usually emphasise what they are looking for in
a woman physically, whereas women look for wealth and status.
The difference in priorities might explain why the Formula One supremo
Bernie Ecclestone is married to a stunningly tall wife, Slavica.
Women often find feminine features attractive on a man. Brad Pitt has plump
lips and large eyes.
This is because women look for a trade-off between good mates and good
fathers, and feminine features hint at better parenting skills.
Male facial hair — hot or not?
Studies in the 1970s and 1980s often came to opposite conclusions.
Bearded men are usually regarded as looking older and more masculine,
dominant, courageous and confident, but that doesn’t mean that women want to
go to bed with them.
Some find beards a turn-off and associate them with being dirty. Beards have
no basis in evolutionary history, so whether you like them depends on
fashion and individual taste.
Here’s a handy guide: Johnny Depp, hot; Alan Sugar, not.
The Psychology Of Physical Attraction by Viren Swami and Adrian Furnham is
published by Routledge (£9.99).January 29, 2008 at 3:33 pm #27204
It is intersting to see guys(white males mainly) around town that are the classic academia type(nice way to say nerd) with atractive asian girls. Well what westerners might concider attractive. It is also intersting how people of the same sex can identify a person of low virtues way before the oppisite sex can, same goes for race I have found.January 30, 2008 at 8:42 pm #27206
“the classic academia type(nice way to say nerd) with atractive asian girls.”
Funny you should say that. Here in China i see all kinds of hot, young asian chicks with ugly old men (is this why Michael comes every year? ;-P). Obviously this supports the articles assertion that they favor wealth and status over looks.
There was a guy who lived here, an expat, not a bad looking guy, who in over 2 years could not get a girl friend. He achieved the impossible. I’d be more interested in finding out why he couldn’t than why others can. What was his “problem”? I dunno.January 31, 2008 at 3:06 am #27208
the question is not why I visit China, but why you moved there in the first place. As i recall from your introduction on my china dream trip, you had fallen in love with at least a half dozen waitresses before one realized this foreign devil might have more money than her…..:)January 31, 2008 at 9:41 pm #27210
HAHAHA! It works both ways!
You must be logged in to reply to this topic.