Many question concerning whether or not one is considered attractive have passed the revue on this site. We even have a whole category dedicated called ‘how do I look’ where people are seeking for validation. So most people, even I am guilty of it, are in search for what it means to be attractive. Beauty is influenced by culture, but a lot of reasoning as to why someone is attractive can be explained with biological an evolutionary facts. I tried to look at it from this biological perspective and tried to give as thorough as possible an explanation as to why it’s considered attractive. Of course it’s so much more than just this, being attractive is something very difficult in general to define, but anyways here we go! I hope you’ll enjoy it and learn something from it :)
The Golden ratio, the Golden mean, the Golden section, divine proportion
Through the ages artists have used the golden ratio in order to create the perfect and visually most appealing art to the human eye. Mathematically the golden ratio is a special number found by dividing a line into two parts so that the longer part divided by the smaller part is also equal to the whole length divided by the longer part or (a+b)/a . This number is 1.6180339887498948420… and goes on into infinity. The golden ratio can be found in most artwork such as the Parthenon, pyramids, and of course the legendary art of Salvador Dali and Leonardo Da Vinci.
Not just in art and science the golden ratio is prominent, also in nature it has been found. For example shells, hurricanes, tree branches, flower petals and even our own DNA molecules.
What does the golden ratio have to do with being attractive?
By comparing facial and physical measurements and using them into the formula (a+b)/a, the founded number can indicate how close your features are to the golden ratio. The closer the more attractive a person is universally perceived.
Note: As the golden ratio is an infinite number, it cannot strictly be applied to any real world object. It's always going to be a little off.
It has been proven people tend to find others with symmetrical features more attractive and healthier than those who have little symmetry. Symmetrical features are indicators of good, fertile and healthy genetics, therefore it makes one a better mating prospect.
A study in 1995 conducted by Tornhill, came to the conclusion that women tend to orgasm better and faster when having intercourse with a man that has good symmetry, regardless of their level of romantic attachment or the guys' sexual experience. Other research appears to show that female orgasm could be a way of selecting the best genes for procreation.
Symmetry and the golden ratio tend to be connected to each other. People with good symmetry tend to score good on the golden ratio.
Now this one is a tricky one, I’ve seen documentary’s on sexual pheromones and read some interesting study’s but nothing really conclusive. It’s not proven pheromones really influence how attractive someone is (yet), but some scientist believe it does. These hormones are chemical indicators a human emits and they cannot be consciously detected, it’s something primal and subtle.
Peter Karlson and Martin Lüscher were the discoverers of the pheromones in 1959 , and have defined it as a chemical cocktail emitted by an animal and detected and responded to by other creatures of the same species. However even now scientists haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly what sexual pheromone it is we humans produce. There is a blooming market selling pheromones with the promise of making a person sexually irresistible.
It’s all a scam, as they haven’t figured out the pheromones making such possible. However pheromones do play a role in our non-verbal communication for example: nursing infants have been found to turn toward a lactating mother's breast, suggesting some scent molecules drive the response. Or even the fact women emit a certain extract in their armpits that can cause menstrual cycles of nearby women to sync up.
Another study conducted in 2005, samples of sweat from male (straight and homosexual) and females were collected and given to straight and gay men, without knowing which was which. It was found gay men preferred the samples of other gay males. And straight males picked the samples of women.
Other animals such as dogs, wolfs, cats, etc. tend to spread their pheromones by peeing or releasing it in the air, and so non-verbally give off messages for others within their species. The purpose of these pheromones are primarily for defence, matting or territory.
- Skin colour
The colour of our skin is an important indicator of health. Universally women are usually lighter coloured than their male counterpart. Sociologist Dr. Shyon Baumann lead a research at the university of Toronto on this matter. They found that the skin of white women was 15.2% lighter than the skin of white males. The skin of black women was 11.1% lighter as the skin of black men.
Dr. Shyon Baumann said that the lightness of the skin was morally associated with purity, innocence, modesty and goodness. The darker skin was associated with sex, virility and danger.
But not just from a sociological point of view, having a lighter skin has certain biological advantages. One of them being that dark skinned people have more pigmentation (melanin) that blocks UV and prohibits the intake of vitamin D3. Light skinned people have higher rates of those vitamins. Severe vitamin D deficiency leads to rickets, with its deformities and accompanying weakness and so forth, and less severe but chronic low vitamin D3 levels in people with light skin are a risk factor for osteoporosis, bone fractures, and perhaps chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, and so forth.
Black or darker skinned people however are less prone to osteoporosis, fractures, sunburns and skin cancer.
- Hair colour
When it comes to hair colour for women, lighter hair once again is preferred in western civilization. It is believed light hair represents youth as most women tend to be born with light hair that becomes darker the older the woman gets. Blond hair is lusted after, but brown is perceived the most attractive for both genders. Probably as it is most common.
A survey under British men concluded that 61.7% preferred women with brown hair.
- Eye colour
The same study, I talked about above, also found that 57.7% of the men liked women with light coloured eyes over darker ones. In other country’s such as Spain, Italy, Brazil, etc. darker coloured eyes were preferred by most men. Which is quite obvious when you think about it, our culture influences our perception of beauty. What is most common or average is often thought of as the most attractive.
Note: Some researchers believe lighter coloured eyes have an advantage in our non-verbal communication. As the dilation of the pupil is better visible, it is easier interpreted by another whether or not this person is attracted and receptive of sexual/romantic advances.
Interesting fact: In a lot of magazines aimed for males, women’s pupils are photo shopped to look bigger. Unconsciously males are attracted as, like I already explained, it’s a sign of being attracted and being receptive of sexual/romantic advances.
Sexual dimorphism is prominent in many species, just like in the human race. A long time it was believed humans had evolved dimorph from a nondimorphic ancestor. However paleontological evidence proved humans descended from dimorphic apes and that the modern day human is in fact less dimorph than his ancestors were. Other research suggest the future human will look more and more androgynous.
“The physical differences in size, shape, and stature that occur between two individuals of the same sex are often far greater than the degree of difference between two individuals of opposite sexes. Not too many people actually possess the cultural ideal of the typical male or the typical female form, and even that ideal changes from generation to generation.” - Biology of women, Ethel Sloane.
On average males are 4-9% taller than their female counterpart and the average male in the US weights around 87 kg while a woman from the US weights on average around 74.4 kg. Males are taller due to hormonal differences: females stop growing around 18, while males continue to grow to the age of 20.
Most women would prefer taller men as it makes them feel more protected and feminine, but there is no proof or no correlation between being taller and being a better protector. Culture amplifies minor gender differences! Even when these differences do not serve any evolutionary benefit, our culture keeps it manifested in our beauty ideal. Once the genetic heritage is established, traits will not change unless the overall systemic pressure favored significantly different traits.
It has no evolutionary advantage. There are exceptions though where height does play an important role for example:
-->Males are, from a purely biological point of view, the expendable sex. Therefore it is believed males can take more risks. Being big can be an advantage as it comes off as imposing and threatening, also hormonally males are on the average more aggressive and impulsive than females. But it is a disadvantage when food is scarce. Dwarfism for example occurs more often when a species is living in a territory that holds a shortage of food. An example are the Homo floresiensis and African pygmies.
Males tend to weight more due to differences in length rather than it is believed to be because of gender. However the distribution of fat is differently for the sexes, females have a higher amount of body fat than males.
Most men all over the world prefer women that have curves, it makes them more feminine and it is once again a great example of sexual dimorphism. Everything that makes a woman different from a men is mostly considered attractive. Wide hips, breasts, soft and rounded features, long hair, …
The smaller the waist to hip ratio the more attractive a women is, the ideal ratio would be between 0.67 and 0.8 . It has been proven that these women are healthier and more fertile, the reasoning is because a large amount of abdominal fat isn’t healthy especially for women. Estrogen causes the distribution of most fats to go to the hips and buttocks, the fat being stored there are good fats. They are of importance for the growth of the possible infant. An exception on this rule however are apple shaped women who tend to distribute their fat mostly on their upper body. Also increased testosterone values, and thus lowered estrogen value’s, in a woman could be the cause of a bigger waist and like I have mentioned before heterosexual males tend to like womanly curves and everything that sets a woman apart from a men’s body.
When it comes to men masculine features are preferred, however most women aren’t looking for excessive and overly masculine traits. It can be explained by the phenotype-linked fertility hypothesis or PLFH. This theory predicts that male secondary sexual traits reveal information about the male fertilization ability.
Men that are extremely muscular and masculine built, have heightened levels of testosterone in their blood (hypergonadism). This in return causes the sperm quality to decline and also causes a low sperm count. And so according to PLFH, women are able to ‘detect’ the fertility problems related to overly masculine men.
Also women that are on a hormonal contraception (involving progesterone, which causes the body to ‘believe’ it is in a state of pregnancy), often choose men that have more feminine traits and look more alike themselves or like their family. The whole point of human reproduction is to procreate with a healthy partner that is genetically different from your own genes. So the child has the best genetic makeup as possible in order to survive and withstand possible diseases. The easiest example to explain this with is incest, people who are genetically related or alike have more chances of carrying the same genetic defaults and so heighten the chance for the offspring to have those defaults. So naturally it is better to have a partner who doesn’t look alike.