- Being attractive is largely controllable, according to research.
- A study found that traits people find attractive are good grooming, neat hair, nice-fitting/quality clothing, good posture, and healthy weight.
- According to the same study, the traits of "masculinity," "femininity," and "pleasantness" were only one-third as important as self-care.
Welcome back to The Attraction Doctor.
When I was young, I was often obsessed with what I looked like. Perhaps this happens to everyone, more or less. It is common to be a bit dissatisfied with parts of our body, our appearance, and our level of attractiveness. This dissatisfaction and concern especially comes out when we think about dating and becoming passionate with a partner.
As I studied attraction further, however, I came to understand that physical appearance was not the only aspect of ourselves that was attractive. Our personalities can influence how others see us (for more, see here). In addition, our confidence and social skills can spark attraction, passion, and intrigue in potential lovers (see here, here, here, and here).
Eventually, I also discovered that those "unchangeable" parts of our looks were not driving attraction anyway! A symmetrical nose, perfectly proportionate figure or classic face is not necessarily as important as the aspects of yourself that are easy to change. Read on for the research...
Research on Physical Appearance and Attractiveness
Mehrabian and Blum (1997) began their research with a simple idea—they wondered what physical features were most attractive to the opposite sex. More particularly, they wanted to discover the relative importance of stable features (e.g. body type and height) versus changeable features (e.g. grooming and clothing) in physical attractiveness. In essence, they wondered what combinations really made someone "attractive."
To answer that question, they presented 117 male and female university students with pictures of 76 partners of the opposite sex, varying in different physical features. They had the students rate the attractiveness of the people pictured and also measured their emotional responses. Then, through statistical analysis, the researchers figured out who was attractive—and why.
Their shocking finding was that, by far, the most attractive features fell under the category of "self-care." These features were changeable aspects like good grooming, neat hair, nice-fitting/quality clothing, good posture, and healthy weight. Essentially, the most attractive features about a person (male or female) seemed to be that they put forth some effort to shower, groom, select some nice clothes, stand up straight, and manage their diet a bit. No plastic surgery, major gym time, or extensive overhauling required.
Only one-third as important as "self-care" were three other feature clusters—"masculinity," "femininity," and "pleasantness."
- Masculinity, somewhat attractive to women, comprised some of the stable features (depending on your gym time) of muscularity, shoulder width, larger chest, and a bigger jaw.
- Femininity, somewhat attractive to men, contained more changeable features of wearing makeup, longer hair, and greater femininity (in posture, body language, etc.).
- Finally, pleasantness, somewhat attractive to both men and women, was all about being happy, positive, and friendly in attitude.
Overall, the majority of features important to attractiveness were relatively easy to change. Just grooming, standing up straight, getting a decent wardrobe, and staying relatively healthy make you attractive! Beyond that, being positive, pleasant, and friendly makes you truly alluring. Finally, if guys want to spend a bit of time in the gym, or women want to grow their hair and put on some makeup, then they can have the whole package. Again, no implants, Botox, nose jobs, or facelifts required.
What This Means for Your Love Life
Being attractive is easier than you think. Just keep up with as many of these changeable features as you can.
- Grooming – by far, the most important feature. Take some time to care for yourself. Shower, style your hair, and shave or trim where you need to. Be clean, neat, and smell good too. Grooming alone can make (or break) your attractiveness—and all it takes is a bit of time, effort, and a toothbrush!
- Clothing – also important and a relatively easy fix. The research points to three features of clothing—neat, well-fitting, and more formal. Put plainly, your clothes need to be clean, pressed, and well-maintained. They also need to fit you well and flatter your shape. Finally, they should be a little classy. Don't be chronically "under-dressed"... buy some dressier gear.
- Posture – practice standing up straight. Hold your head up. Put your shoulders back. Buy some sensible shoes and a good desk chair. Good posture is sexy. It also contributes to the right body language for dating and relating (see here).
- Attitude – remember to put on a happy face. Smile. Be pleasant, positive, and friendly. Heck, a good personality can even overshadow other physical issues you may have (see here).
- Fitness – granted, this isn't as easily "changeable" as the others (at least for me). But, the research is not talking about the "perfect butt" or "washboard abs" anyway. Essentially, we're shooting for "relatively healthy." So, no need to obsess and go overboard. But, do your best to eat well, move around a bit, and care for your health. Good grooming, the right clothes, and standing up straight can go a long way towards minimizing what diet and exercise don't!
- Gender – To be more masculine, you can muscle up your shoulders and chest (or wear a nice, padded sportcoat). Grow a goatee, chin-strap, or beard to hide a weak jaw. To be more feminine, you can learn to properly apply makeup—accentuating your eyes and lips—or grow your hair longer (or just get extensions).
Who knew the Jersey Shore folks had the secret to attraction with G.T.L. (gym, tanning, and laundry). Although they can't seem to manage relationships (see here), they do have a point about taking care of yourself. You don't need washboard abs or double D implants though... just a little time, care, and effort.
Groom well, buy some clothes that fit, stand up straight, smile, and be healthy. That's all it takes. You can take the plastic surgeon off your speed dial now. Stop obsessing... and go have some fun!
© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Mehrabian, A., & Blum, J. S. (1997). Physical appearance, attractiveness, and the mediating role of emotions. Current Psychology, 16, 20-42.