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What Is Physical Attractiveness?

By Jacob Queen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Physical attractiveness is a term describing the way people judge the physical appearances of others, usually from the perspective of sexual selection. There are many different factors that come together to create what people perceive as attractiveness, including instinctive elements as well as cultural ideals and personal preferences. Many scientists have studied attraction over the years and have actually found specific mathematical elements in the way people perceive the attractiveness of others on a universal level, including things like symmetry and body size ratios. Men and women tend to have slightly different criteria for judging attractiveness, and most of these are thought to have primitive evolutionary roots

Overall, most of the research generally suggests that the elements of physical attractiveness tend to be primarily instinctive. When people look for mates, they are often searching for very obvious signs of physical health and strong genetics. For example, many studies have generally suggested that people are most attractive when they are young and in good physical condition, while people get less attractive as they get older, and they may also be less attractive if they fall out of decent physical condition by gaining too much weight or eating too little food to maintain a decent shape. Generally speaking, people tend to be drawn to symmetry of body and face, while disliking extreme physical characteristics.

There are some elements of physical attractiveness that seem to be more cultural than anything else. Some cultures may like certain styles of dress and there may be physical characteristics that are specifically liked by certain groups of people. This sort of specific cultural preference tends to drift over time, which is why the ideals of beauty tend to change over the years.

Many elements of physical attractiveness are specific to the sexes. For example, women tend to prefer men with narrow hips, broad shoulders, and square jaws. Men tend to prefer women with softer features, along with wider hips and larger breasts. When someone actually judges another person’s physical attractiveness, however, it is often really based more on a total package and not specific to any one element. The person generally takes in the other person’s symmetry, shape, and health, combining these elements with cultural cues and personal preferences to make a very quick judgment.

Some studies have also shown that body language can play a large role in physical attractiveness. For example, men who walk with a swagger and women who sway their hips both tend to get rated as more attractive. Many experts think there are more complicated body language cues as well, and there is a theory that people use body language to try and get a sense of another person’s personality without actually having to speak to them, which may be immediately factored into the perception of attractiveness.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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