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What Is Attractive, According to Science

Studies Lead to 5 Conclusions About Physical Attractiveness

We’re animals. Still. Attraction is an instinct. While it’s versatile to some extend, key aspects of perceived attractiveness seem to be inherent to our species. Logically, traits of attractiveness differ between women and men. Both, in physical form and in inner qualities. A few are surprisingly similar though. The following 5 traits of physical attractiveness have been pointed out by science.

1. Height

A classic factor in studies on physical attractiveness in both, men and women, is overall body height. Research from Rice University and the University of North Texas suggested that men — while sometimes stating the height of women as a factor — had no conclusive preference, whereas women preferred taller male partners, in general.

In an online survey, the scientists found that 37 percent of the men wanted to date only women shorter than they are. In contrast, more than half of the women — 55 percent — wanted to date only men taller than they are.

Sidenote: A study from the 1990s determined that taller men and women also earn more money than their smaller or “average” peers. This study also found that attractive people earn more, a 15% increase.

2. Long Legs

A group of Polish scientists from the University of Wrocław determined in a study published in the scientific journal New Scientist that the length of the legs is an important factor of attractiveness in women AND men.

The experiment went as follows: 218 female and male participants were presented with photos of various leg lengths. The pictures had been altered in a way that the models appeared comparable in overall height. To focus on leg length only. It showed that people with short legs performed worse in both sexes. The most attractive turned out to be the people whose legs were 5% longer than “average”.

3. Facial Features: Symmetry and Skin

From a study published in Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, the scientists deduced that facial symmetry is a leading factor for attractiveness. In this study, photos of asymmetrical faces were manipulated to increase symmetry. Generally, these more symmetrical lines were preferred by the raters. The scientists concluded that facial symmetry is a factor in mating choices, and mate quality, inferring that these features may be biologically based.

In various studies worldwide, it has also been established that a driving factor for attractiveness is the condition of the face & skin. Both in men and women, even skin is perceived as a health factor on the one hand and as a sign of youthfulness and “flawlessness” on the other.

In contrast, it appears that the color of the skin is not a primary factor of determining attractiveness. The cultural stigma of skin color does play a role in the psychology of attraction, however.

4. Proportions and the WHR

Crucial for both male and female attractiveness is body proportions. As is true with animals. For men and women, the ratio between the circumference of the hips and the waist is an important factor of physical attractiveness. For men, this value hits between 0.9 and 1, whereas for women it sits at 0.7.

To determine the waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), the circumference of the waist is divided by that of the hip. For example, a 39-inch hip and a 28-inch waist amount to 0.72 which is considered an ideal ratio for women in terms of attractiveness.

But this WHR isn’t only used to explain physical beauty, in various research projects, it’s also used to associate weight — specifically overweight and obesity — with diseases like type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. WHR is directly correlated to an increased risk of developing both diseases.

5. A lot of Femininity, a lot of Masculinity

The last factor of attractiveness is not a feature by itself, but rather the measure of the preceding features. Both, for men and women, the physical attractiveness is even greater, the more pronounced the individual features are.

For example, a woman with thick and full lips is considered very attractive, whereas a man with the same traits is not. A man with a striking chin and jawline on the other hand is perceived as attractive, a woman with these features is not, or much less.

The bottom line

In the end, physical attractiveness is only one half of the equation of attraction as a whole. Inner qualities are just as important. But we can’t deny our animal, biological side. Physical features have always been and will always be an influential factor for attractiveness.

Rather than focusing on the biologically based elements of attractiveness — that we can’t change in most cases — it’s significant to improve the ones we have control over. Qualities like kindness, confidence, humor, determination, fitness, nutrition choices, and self-care. As C.M. Waggoner wrote in “Unnatural Magic”:

“Prettiness is lent to you by youth; attractiveness is purchased with experience.”

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