Physical attractiveness

Physical attractiveness is the degree to which a person's physical features are considered aesthetically pleasing or beautiful. The term often implies sexual attractiveness or desirability, but can also be distinct from either. There are many factors which influence one person's attraction to another, with physical aspects being one of them. Physical attraction itself includes universal perceptions common to all human cultures such as facial symmetry,[9] sociocultural dependent attributes and personal preferences unique to a particular individual.[10]

Venus de Milo at the Louvre has been described as a "classical vision of beauty".[1][2][3] However, one expert claimed her "almost matronly representation" was meant to convey an "impressive appearance" rather than "ideal female beauty".[4]
Adonis restored and completed by François Duquesnoy, formerly in the collection of Cardinal Mazarin (Louvre Museum)

In many cases, humans subconsciously attribute positive characteristics, such as intelligence and honesty, to physically attractive people.[11] From research done in the United States and United Kingdom, it was found that the association between intelligence and physical attractiveness is stronger among men than among women.[12] Evolutionary psychologists have tried to answer why individuals who are more physically attractive should also, on average, be more intelligent, and have put forward the notion that both general intelligence and physical attractiveness may be indicators of underlying genetic fitness.[12] A person's physical characteristics can signal cues to fertility and health,[13] with statistical modelling studies showing that the facial shape variables that reflect aspects of physiological health, including body fat and blood pressure, also influence observers' perceptions of health.[14] Attending to these factors increases reproductive success, furthering the representation of one's genes in the population.[15]

Men, on average, tend to be attracted to women who have a youthful appearance and exhibit features such as a symmetrical face,[16] full breasts, full lips, and a low waist-hip ratio.[17] Women, on average, tend to be attracted to men who are taller than they are and who display a high degree of facial symmetry, masculine facial dimorphism, upper body strength, broad shoulders, a relatively narrow waist, and a V-shaped torso.[18][19][20][21]

General contributing factors

Generally, physical attractiveness can be viewed from a number of perspectives; with universal perceptions being common to all human cultures, cultural and social aspects, and individual subjective preferences. The perception of attractiveness can have a significant effect on how people are judged in terms of employment or social opportunities, friendship, sexual behavior, and marriage.[22]

Some physical features are attractive in both men and women, particularly bodily[23] and facial symmetry,[24][25][26][27] although one contrary report suggests that "absolute flawlessness" with perfect symmetry can be "disturbing".[28] Symmetry may be evolutionarily beneficial as a sign of health because asymmetry "signals past illness or injury".[29] One study suggested people were able to "gauge beauty at a subliminal level" by seeing only a glimpse of a picture for one-hundredth of a second.[29] Other important factors include youthfulness, skin clarity and smoothness of skin; and "vivid color" in the eyes and hair.[24] However, there are numerous differences based on gender.

A 1921 study of the reports of college students regarding those traits in individuals which make for attractiveness and repulsiveness argued that static traits, such as beauty or ugliness of features, hold a position subordinate to groups of physical elements like expressive behavior, affectionate disposition, grace of manner, aristocratic bearing, social accomplishments and personal habits.[30]

Grammer and colleagues have identified eight "pillars" of beauty: youthfulness, symmetry, averageness, sex-hormone markers, body odor, motion, skin complexion and hair texture.[31]Traditionally in Samoa, body fat was acceptable or attractive.[32]

Neural correlates of perceiving attractiveness

Most studies of the brain activations associated with the perception of attractiveness show photographs of faces to their participants and let them or a comparable group of people rate the attractiveness of these faces. Such studies consistently find that activity in certain parts of the orbitofrontal cortex increases with increasing attractiveness of faces.[33][34][35][36][37] This neural response has been interpreted as a reaction on the rewarding nature of attractiveness, as similar increases in activation in the medial orbitofrontal cortex can be seen in response to smiling faces[38] and to statements of morally good actions.[35][37] While most of these studies have not assessed participants of both genders or homosexual individuals, evidence from one study including male and female hetero- and homosexual individuals indicate that some of the aforementioned increases in brain activity are restricted to images of faces of the gender participants feel sexually attracted to.[39]

With regard to brain activation related to the perception of attractive bodies, one study with heterosexual participants suggests that activity in the nucleus accumbens and the anterior cingulate cortex increases with increasing attractiveness. The same study finds that for faces and bodies alike, the medial part of the orbitofrontal cortex responds with greater activity to both very attractive and very unattractive pictures.[40]


Women, on average, tend to be more attracted to men who have a relatively narrow waist, a V-shaped torso, and broad shoulders. Women also tend to be more attracted to men who are taller than they are, and display a high degree of facial symmetry, as well as relatively masculine facial dimorphism.[18][19] Women, regardless of sexual orientation, tend to be less interested in a partner’s physical attractiveness than men.[41]

Sexual dimorphism

Studies have shown that ovulating heterosexual women prefer faces with masculine traits associated with increased exposure to testosterone during key developmental stages, such as a broad forehead, prominent nose and cheekbones, large jaw and strong chin.[42] The degree of differences between male and female anatomical traits is called sexual dimorphism. Female respondents in the follicular phase of their menstrual cycle were significantly more likely to choose a masculine face than those in menses and luteal phases,[43] (or in those taking hormonal contraception).[18][19][44][45] This distinction supports the sexy son hypothesis, which posits that it is evolutionarily advantageous for women to select potential fathers who are more genetically attractive,[46] rather than the best caregivers.[47] However, women's likeliness to exert effort to view male faces does not seem to depend on their masculinity, but to a general increase with women's testosterone levels.[48]

It is suggested that the masculinity of facial features is a reliable indication of good health, or, alternatively, that masculine-looking males are more likely to achieve high status.[49] However, the correlation between attractive facial features and health has been questioned.[50] Sociocultural factors, such as self-perceived attractiveness, status in a relationship and degree of gender-conformity, have been reported to play a role in female preferences for male faces.[51] Studies have found that women who perceive themselves as physically attractive are more likely to choose men with masculine facial dimorphism, than are women who perceive themselves as physically unattractive.[52] In men, facial masculinity significantly correlates with facial symmetry—it has been suggested that both are signals of developmental stability and genetic health.[53] One study called into question the importance of facial masculinity in physical attractiveness in men arguing that when perceived health, which is factored into facial masculinity, is discounted it makes little difference in physical attractiveness.[54] In a cross-country study involving 4,794 women in their early twenties, a difference was found in women's average "masculinity preference" between countries.[55]

A study found that the same genetic factors cause facial masculinity in both males and females such that a male with a more masculine face would likely have a sister with a more masculine face due to the siblings having shared genes. The study also found that, although female faces that were more feminine were judged to be more attractive, there was no association between male facial masculinity and male facial attractiveness for female judges. With these findings, the study reasoned that if a woman were to reproduce with a man with a more masculine face, then her daughters would also inherit a more masculine face, making the daughters less attractive. The study concluded that there must be other factors that advantage the genetics for masculine male faces to offset their reproductive disadvantage in terms of "health", "fertility" and "facial attractiveness" when the same genetics are present in females. The study reasoned that the "selective advantage" for masculine male faces must "have (or had)" been due to some factor that is not directly tied to female perceptions of male facial attractiveness.[56]

In a study of 447 gay men in China, researchers said that tops preferred feminized male faces, bottoms preferred masculinized male faces and versatiles had no preference for either feminized or masculinized male faces.[57]

In pre-modern Chinese literature, the ideal man in caizi jiaren romances was said to have "rosy lips, sparkling white teeth" and a "jasper-like face" (Chinese: ).[58][59]

In Middle English literature, a beautiful man should have a long, broad and strong face.[60]


A study that used Chinese, Malay and Indian judges said that Chinese men with orthognathism where the mouth is flat and in-line with the rest of the face were judged to be the most attractive and Chinese men with a protruding mandible where the jaw projects outward were judged to be the least attractive.[61]


Symmetrical faces and bodies may be signs of good inheritance to women of child-bearing age seeking to create healthy offspring. Studies suggest women are less attracted to men with asymmetrical faces,[62] and symmetrical faces correlate with long term mental performance[63] and are an indication that a man has experienced "fewer genetic and environmental disturbances such as diseases, toxins, malnutrition or genetic mutations" while growing.[63] Since achieving symmetry is a difficult task during human growth, requiring billions of cell reproductions while maintaining a parallel structure, achieving symmetry is a visible signal of genetic health.

Studies have also suggested that women at peak fertility were more likely to fantasize about men with greater facial symmetry,[64] and other studies have found that male symmetry was the only factor that could significantly predict the likelihood of a woman experiencing orgasm during sex. Women with partners possessing greater symmetry reported significantly more copulatory female orgasms than were reported by women with partners possessing low symmetry, even with many potential confounding variables controlled.[65] This finding has been found to hold across different cultures. It has been argued that masculine facial dimorphism (in men) and symmetry in faces are signals advertising genetic quality in potential mates.[66] Low facial and body fluctuating asymmetry may indicate good health and intelligence, which are desirable features.[67] Studies have found that women who perceive themselves as being more physically attractive are more likely to favor men with a higher degree of facial symmetry, than are women who perceive themselves as being less physically attractive.[52] It has been found that symmetrical men (and women) have a tendency to begin to have sexual intercourse at an earlier age, to have more sexual partners, and to have more one-night stands. They are also more likely to be prone to infidelity.[68] A study of quarterbacks in the American National Football League found a positive correlation between facial symmetry and salaries.[25]

Body scent

Double-blind studies found that women prefer the scent of men who are rated as facially attractive.[69] For example, both males and females were more attracted to the natural scent of individuals who had been rated by consensus as facially attractive.[70] Additionally, it has also been shown that women have a preference for the scent of men with more symmetrical faces, and that women's preference for the scent of more symmetrical men is strongest during the most fertile period of their menstrual cycle.[71] Within the set of normally cycling women, individual women's preference for the scent of men with high facial symmetry correlated with their probability of conception.[71] Men's body odor is also affected by their diet, with women expressing preferences for male body odor associated with increased dietary fruit and vegetable and protein content, and reduced carbohydrate content.[72]


Studies have explored the genetic basis behind such issues as facial symmetry and body scent and how they influence physical attraction. In one study in which women wore men's T-shirts, researchers found that women were more attracted to the bodily scents in shirts of men who had a different type of gene section within the DNA called major histocompatibility complex (MHC).[73] MHC is a large gene area within the DNA of vertebrates which encodes proteins dealing with the immune system[74] and which influences individual bodily odors.[75] One hypothesis is that humans are naturally attracted by the sense of smell and taste to others with dissimilar MHC sections, perhaps to avoid subsequent inbreeding while increasing the genetic diversity of offspring.[74] Furthermore, there are studies showing that women's natural attraction for men with dissimilar immune profiles can be distorted with use of birth control pills.[75] Other research findings involving the genetic foundations of attraction suggest that MHC heterozygosity positively correlates with male facial attractiveness. Women judge the faces of men who are heterozygous at all three MHC loci to be more attractive than the faces of men who are homozygous at one or more of these loci. Additionally, a second experiment with genotyped women raters, found these preferences were independent of the degree of MHC similarity between the men and the female rater. With MHC heterozygosity independently seen as a genetic advantage, the results suggest that facial attractiveness in men may be a measure of genetic quality.[76][77] General genetic heterozygosity has been demonstrated to be related to attractiveness in that people with mixed genetic backgrounds (i.e., mixed race people) as seen as more attractive than people with a more similar genetic parents (i.e., single race people).[78]


A 2010 OkCupid study on 200,000 of its male and female dating site users found that women are, except those during their early to mid-twenties, open to relationships with both somewhat older and somewhat younger men; they have a larger potential dating pool than men until age 26. At age 20, women, in a "dramatic change", begin sending private messages to significantly older men. At age 29 they become "even more open to older men". Male desirability to women peaks in the late 20s and does not fall below the average for all men until 36.[79] Other research indicates that women, irrespective of their own age, are attracted to men who are the same age or older.[80]

For the Romans especially, "beardlessness" and "smooth young bodies" were considered beautiful to both men and women.[81] For Greek and Roman men, the most desirable traits of boys were their "youth" and "hairlessness". Pubescent boys were considered a socially appropriate object of male desire, while post-pubescent boys were considered to be "ἔξωροι" or "past the prime".[81] This was largely in the context of pederasty (adult male interest in adolescent boys). Today, men and women's attitudes towards male beauty has changed. For example, body hair on men may even be preferred (see below).

A 1984 study said that gay men tend to prefer gay men of the same age as ideal partners, but there was a statistically significant effect (p < 0.05) of masculinity-femininity. The study said that more feminine men tended to prefer relatively older men than themselves and more masculine men tended to prefer relatively younger men than themselves.[82]

Waist-to-chest ratio

The physique of a slim waist, broad shoulders and muscular chest are often found to be attractive to both females and males.[83] Further research has shown that, when choosing a mate, the traits females look for indicate higher social status, such as dominance, resources, and protection.[84] An indicator of health in males (a contributing factor to physical attractiveness) is the android fat distribution pattern which is categorized as more fat distributed on the upper body and abdomen, commonly referred to as the "V shape."[84] When asked to rate other men, both heterosexual and homosexual men found low waist-to-chest ratios (WCR) to be more attractive on other men, with the gay men showing a preference for lower WCR (more V-shaped) than the straight men.[85]

Other researchers found waist-to-chest ratio the largest determinant of male attractiveness, with body mass index and waist-to-hip ratio not as significant.[86]

Women focus primarily on the ratio waist to chest or more specifically waist to shoulder. This is analogous to the waist to hip ratio (WHR) that men prefer. Key body image for a man in the eyes of a woman would include big shoulders, chest, and upper back, and a slim waist area.[87] Research has additionally shown that college males had a better satisfaction with their body than college females. The research also found that when a college female's waist to hip ratio went up, their body image satisfaction decreased.[88]

Some research has shown that body weight may have a stronger effect than WHR when it comes to perceiving attractiveness of the opposite sex. It was found that waist to hip ratio played a smaller role in body preference than body weight in regards to both sexes.[89]

Psychologists Viren Swami and Martin J. Tovee compared female preference for male attractiveness cross culturally, between Britain and Malaysia. They found that females placed more importance on WCR (and therefore body shape) in urban areas of Britain and Malaysia, while females in rural areas placed more importance on BMI (therefore weight and body size). Both WCR and BMI are indicative of male status and ability to provide for offspring, as noted by evolutionary theory.[90]

Females have been found to desire males that are normal weight and have the average WHR for a male. Females view these males as attractive and healthy. Males who had the average WHR but were overweight or underweight are not perceived as attractive to females. This suggests that WHR is not a major factor in male attractiveness, but a combination of body weight and a typical male WHR seem to be the most attractive. Research has shown that men who have a higher waist to hip ratio and a higher salary are perceived as more attractive to women.[91]

Flat abdomen

A 1982 study found that an abdomen that protrudes was the "least attractive" trait for men.[92]

In Middle English literature, a beautiful man should have a flat abdomen.[60]


Men's bodies portrayed in magazines marketed to men are more muscular than the men's bodies portrayed in magazines marketed to women. From this, some have concluded that men perceive a more muscular male body to be ideal, as distinct from a woman's ideal male, which is less muscular than what men perceive to be ideal.[93] This is due to the within-gender prestige granted by increased muscularity and within-gender competition for increased muscularity.[93] Men perceive the attractiveness of their own musculature by how closely their bodies resemble the "muscle man."[94] This "muscle man" ideal is characterized by large muscular arms, especially biceps, a large muscular chest that tapers to their waist and broad shoulders.[94] Among Australian university students, the male body composition found to be most attractive (12.16 kg fat, 63.27 kg muscle) was in line with the composition that was perceived as healthiest, and was well within the healthy range.[95]

In a study of stated profile preferences on, a greater percentage of gay men than lesbians selected their ideal partner's body type as "Athletic and Toned" as opposed to the other two options of "Average" or "Overweight".[96]

In pre-modern Chinese literature, such as in Romance of the Western Chamber, a type of masculinity called "scholar masculinity" is depicted wherein the "ideal male lover" is "weak, vulnerable, feminine, and pedantic".[58]

In Middle English literature, a beautiful man typically has thick, broad shoulders, a square and muscular chest, a muscular back, strong sides that taper to a small waist, large hands and arms and legs with huge muscles.[60]


A 2006 study, of 25,594 heterosexual men found that men who perceived themselves as having a large penis were more satisfied with their own appearance.[97]

A 2014 study criticized previous studies based on the fact that they relied on images and used terms such as "small", "medium", and "large" when asking for female preference. The new study used 3D models of penises from sizes of 4 inches (10 cm) long and 2.5 inches (6.4 cm) in circumference to 8.5 inches (22 cm) long and 7 inches (18 cm) in circumference and let the women "view and handle" them. It was found that women overestimated the actual size of the penises they have experimented with when asked in a follow-up survey. The study concluded that women on average preferred the 6.5-inch (17 cm) penis in length both for long-term and for one-time partners. Penises with larger girth were preferred for one-time partners.[98]

Leg-to-body ratio

Height and erect posture

Females' sexual attraction towards males may be determined by the height of the man.[100] The online dating Website eHarmony only matches women with taller men because of complaints from women matched with shorter men.[101]

Other studies have shown that heterosexual women often prefer men taller than they are rather than a man with above average height. While women usually desire men to be at least the same height as themselves or taller, several other factors also determine male attractiveness, and the male-taller norm is not universal.[102] For example, taller women are more likely to relax the "taller male" norm than shorter women.[103] Furthermore, professor Adam Eyre-Walker, from the University of Sussex, has stated that there is, as of yet, no evidence that these preferences are evolutionary preferences, as opposed to merely cultural preferences.[104] Still, the cultural perceived attractiveness preferences for taller men are powerful and confirmed by multiple studies. One study by Stulp found that "women were most likely to choose a speed-dater 25 cm taller than themselves."[105]

Additionally, women seem more receptive to an erect posture than men, though both prefer it as an element within beauty.[106] According to one study (Yee N., 2002), gay men who identify as "only tops" tend to prefer shorter men, while gay men who identify as "only bottoms" tend to prefer taller men.[107]

In romances in Middle English literature, all of the "ideal" male heroes are tall, and the vast majority of the "valiant" male heroes are tall too.[60]


Studies based in the United States, New Zealand, and China have shown that women rate men with no trunk (chest and abdominal) hair as most attractive, and that attractiveness ratings decline as hairiness increases.[108][109] Another study, however, found that moderate amounts of trunk hair on men was most attractive, to the sample of British and Sri Lankan women.[110] Further, a degree of hirsuteness (hairiness) and a waist-to-shoulder ratio of 0.6 is often preferred when combined with a muscular physique.[110]

In a study using Finnish women, women with hairy fathers were more likely to prefer hairy men, suggesting that preference for hairy men is the result of either genetics or imprinting.[111] Among gay men, another study (Yee N., 2002) reported gay males who identify as "only tops" prefer less hairy men, while gay males who identify as "only bottoms" prefer hairier men.[107]

Skin color

Testosterone has been shown to darken skin color in laboratory experiments.[112] Despite this, the aesthetics of skin tone varies from culture to culture. Manual laborers who spent extended periods of time outside developed a darker skin tone due to exposure to the sun. As a consequence, an association between dark skin and the lower classes developed. Light skin became an aesthetic ideal because it symbolized wealth. "Over time society attached various meanings to these colored differences. Including assumptions about a person's race, socioeconomic class, intelligence, and physical attractiveness."[113]

A scientific review published in 2011, identified from a vast body of empirical research that skin colour as well as skin tone tend to be preferred as they act as indicators of good health. More specifically, these indicators are thought to suggest to potential mates that the beholder has strong or good genes capable of fighting off disease.[114]

According to one study (Yee N., 2002), gay men who identify as "only tops" tend to prefer lighter-skinned men while gay men who identify as "only bottoms" tend to prefer darker-skinned men.[107]

More recent research has suggested that redder and yellower skin tones,[115] reflecting higher levels of oxygenated blood,[116] carotenoid and to a lesser extent melanin pigment, and net dietary intakes of fruit and vegetables,[117] appear healthier, and therefore more attractive.[118]


Research indicates that heterosexual men tend to be attracted to young[119] and beautiful women[120] with bodily symmetry.[121] Rather than decreasing it, modernity has only increased the emphasis men place on women's looks.[122] Evolutionary psychologists attribute such attraction to an evaluation of the fertility potential in a prospective mate.[119]

Facial features


Research has attempted to determine which facial features communicate attractiveness. Facial symmetry has been shown to be considered attractive in women,[125][126] and men have been found to prefer full lips,[127] high forehead, broad face, small chin, small nose, short and narrow jaw, high cheekbones,[62][128] clear and smooth skin, and wide-set eyes.[119] The shape of the face in terms of "how everything hangs together" is an important determinant of beauty.[129] A University of Toronto study found correlations between facial measurements and attractiveness; researchers varied the distance between eyes, and between eyes and mouth, in different drawings of the same female face, and had the drawings evaluated; they found there were ideal proportions perceived as attractive (see photo).[123] These proportions (46% and 36%) were close to the average of all female profiles.[123] Women with thick, dark limbal rings in their eyes have also been found to be more attractive. The explanation given is that because the ring tends to fade with age and medical problems, a prominent limbal ring gives an honest indicator of youth.[130]

In Persian literature, beautiful women are said to have noses like hazelnuts.[131] In Arabian society in the Middle Ages, a component of the female beauty ideal was for women to have straight and fine noses.[132] In Jewish Rabbinic literature, the rabbis considered a delicate nose to be the ideal type of nose for women.[133] In Japan, during the Edo period, a component of the female beauty ideal was for women to have tall noses which were straight and not "too tall".[134]

In a cross-cultural study, more neotenized (i.e., youthful looking) female faces were found to be most attractive to men while less neotenized female faces were found to be less attractive to men, regardless of the females' actual age.[135] One of these desired traits was a small jaw.[136] In a study of Italian women who have won beauty competitions, it was found that their faces had more "babyish" (pedomorphic) traits than those of the "normal" women used as a reference.[137]

In a cross-cultural study, Marcinkowska et al. said that 18- to 45-year-old heterosexual men in all 28 countries surveyed preferred photographs of 18- to 24-year-old Caucasian women whose faces were feminized using Psychomorph software over faces of 18- to 24-year-old Caucasian women that were masculinized using that software, but there were differences in preferences for femininity across countries. The higher the National Health Index of a country, the more were the feminized faces preferred over the masculinized faces. Among the countries surveyed, Japan had the highest femininity preference and Nepal had the lowest femininity preference.[138]

Michael R. Cunningham of the Department of Psychology at the University of Louisville found, using a panel of East Asian, Hispanic and White judges, that the Asian, Hispanic and White female faces found most attractive were those that had "neonate large eyes, greater distance between eyes, and small noses"[139] and his study led him to conclude that "large eyes" were the most "effective" of the "neonate cues".[139] Cunningham also said that "shiny" hair may be indicative of "neonate vitality".[139] Using a panel of blacks and whites as judges, Cunningham found more neotenous faces were perceived as having both higher "femininity" and "sociability".[139] In contrast, Cunningham found that faces that were "low in neoteny" were judged as "intimidating".[139] Cunningham noted a "difference" in the preferences of Asian and white judges with Asian judges preferring women with "less mature faces" and smaller mouths than the White judges.[139] Cunningham hypothesized that this difference in preference may stem from "ethnocentrism" since "Asian faces possess those qualities", so Cunningham re-analyzed the data with "11 Asian targets excluded" and concluded that "ethnocentrism was not a primary determinant of Asian preferences."[139] Rather than finding evidence for purely "neonate" faces being most appealing, Cunningham found faces with "sexually-mature" features at the "periphery" of the face combined with "neonate" features in the "center of the face" most appealing in men and women.[139] Upon analyzing the results of his study, Cunningham concluded that preference for "neonate features may display the least cross-cultural variability" in terms of "attractiveness ratings"[139] and, in another study, Cunningham concluded that there exists a large agreement on the characteristics of an attractive face.[140][141]

In computer face averaging tests, women with averaged faces have been shown to be considered more attractive.[27][142] This is possibly due to average features being more familiar and, therefore, more comfortable.[125]

Commenting on the prevalence of whiteness in supposed beauty ideals in his book White Lies: Race and the Myth of Whiteness, Maurice Berger states that the schematic rendering in the idealized face of a study conducted with American subjects had "straight hair," "light skin," "almond-shaped eyes," "thin, arched eyebrows," "a long, thin nose, closely set and tiny nostrils" and "a large mouth and thin lips",[143] though the author of the study stated that there was consistency between his results and those conducted on other races. Scholar Liu Jieyu says in the article White Collar Beauties, "The criterion of beauty is both arbitrary and gendered. The implicit consensus is that women who have fair skin and a slim figure with symmetrical facial features are pretty." He says that all of these requirements are socially constructed and force people to change themselves to fit these criteria.[144]

One psychologist speculated there were two opposing principles of female beauty: prettiness and rarity. So on average, symmetrical features are one ideal, while unusual, stand-out features are another.[145] A study performed by the University of Toronto found that the most attractive facial dimensions were those found in the average female face. However, that particular University of Toronto study looked only at white women.[146]

A study that used Chinese, Malay and Indian judges said that Chinese women with orthognathism where the mouth is flat and in-line with the rest of the face were judged to be the most attractive and Chinese women with a protruding mandible where the jaw projects outward were judged to be the least attractive.[61]

A 2011 study, by Wilkins, Chan and Kaiser found correlations between perceived femininity and attractiveness, that is, women's faces which were seen as more feminine were judged by both men and women to be more attractive.[147]

A component of the female beauty ideal in Persian literature is for women to have faces like a full moon.[131][148][149]

In Arabian society in the Middle Ages, a component of the female beauty ideal was for women to have round faces which were like a "full moon".[132]

In Japan, during the Edo period, a component of the female beauty ideal was for women to have long and narrow faces which were shaped like ovals.[134]

In Jewish Rabbinic literature, the rabbis considered full lips to be the ideal type of lips for women.[133]

Historically, in Chinese and Japanese literature, the feminine ideal was said to include small lips.[150] Women would paint their lips thinner and narrower to align with this ideal.[151][152]

Classical Persian literature, paintings, and miniatures portrayed traits such as long black curly hair, a small mouth, long arched eyebrows, large almond shaped eyes, a small nose, and beauty spots as being beautiful for women.[153]


A study where photographs of several women were manipulated (so that their faces would be shown with either the natural eye color of the model or with the other color) showed that, on average, brown-eyed men have no preference regarding eye color, but blue-eyed men prefer women of the same eye color.[154]

Through the East Asian blepharoplasty cosmetic surgery procedure, Asian women can permanently alter the structure of their eyelid. Some people have argued that this alteration is done to resemble the structure of a Western eyelid[155] while other people have argued that this is generally done solely to emulate the appearance of naturally occurring Asian double eyelids.[156]

A study that investigated whether or not an eyelid crease makes Chinese-descent women more attractive using photo-manipulated photographs of young Chinese-descent women's eyes found that the "medium upper eyelid crease" was considered most attractive by all three groups of both sexes: white people, Chinese and Taiwanese nationals together as a group, and Taiwanese and Chinese Americans together as a group. Similarly, all three groups of both genders found the absence of an eye crease to be least attractive on Chinese women.[157]

In the late sixteenth century, Japanese people considered epicanthic folds to be beautiful.[158]

A study that used Russian, American, Brazilian, Aché, and Hiwi raters, found that the only strong distinguisher between men and women's faces was wider eyes relative to facial height for women, and this trait consistently predicted attractiveness ratings for women.[159]

In Arabian society in the Middle Ages, a component of the female beauty ideal was for women to have dark black eyes which are large and long and in the shape of almonds. Furthermore, the eyes should be lustrous, and they should have long eyelashes.[132]

A source written in 1823, said that a component of the Persian female beauty ideal was for women to have large eyes which are black in color.[148] In Persian literature, beautiful women are said to have eyes that are shaped like almonds.[131]

In Chinese, the phrase "lucent irises, lustrous teeth" (Chinese: ) is used to describe a beautiful woman with "clear eyes" and "well-aligned, white teeth", and the phrase "moth-feeler eyebrows" (Chinese: 蛾眉) is used to denote a beautiful woman by describing her eyebrows as being thin and arched like moth antennae. In the Chinese text "The Grotto of the Immortals" (Chinese: ) written during the Tang dynasty period, narrow eyes were the preferred type of eyes for women, and, in the Chinese text "Jeweled Chamber Secrets" (Chinese: ) from the Six Dynasties period, the ideal woman was described as having small eyes.[134]

In Japan, during the Edo period, one piece of evidence, the appearance of the "formal wife" of Tokugawa Iesada as determined by "bone anthropologist" Suzuki Hisashi, indicates that large eyes were considered attractive for women, but, another piece of evidence, the 1813 Japanese text "Customs, Manners, and Fashions of the Capital" (Japanese: ), indicates that large eyes were not considered attractive for women.[134]


Cross-cultural data shows that the reproductive success of women is tied to their youth and physical attractiveness[160] such as the pre-industrial Sami where the most reproductively successful women were 15 years younger than their man.[161] One study covering 37 cultures showed that, on average, a woman was 2.5 years younger than her male partner, with the age difference in Nigeria and Zambia being at the far extreme of 6.5 to 7.5 years. As men age, they tend to seek a mate who is ever younger.[119]

25% of eHarmony's male customers over the age of 50 request to only be matched with women younger than 40.[101] A 2010 OkCupid study, of 200,000 users found that female desirability to its male users peaks at age 21, and falls below the average for all women at 31. After age 26, men have a larger potential dating pool than women on the site; and by age 48, their pool is almost twice as large. The median 31-year-old male user searches for women aged 22 to 35, while the median 42-year-old male searches for women 27 to 45. The age skew is even greater with messages to other users; the median 30-year-old male messages teenage girls as often as women his own age, while mostly ignoring women a few years older than him. Excluding the 10% most and 10% least beautiful of women, however, women's attractiveness does not change between 18 and 40, but if extremes are not excluded "There's no doubt that younger [women] are more physically attractive—indeed in many ways beauty and youth are inextricable. That's why most of the models you see in magazines are teenagers".[79]

Pheromones (detected by female hormone markers) reflects female fertility and the reproductive value mean.[162] As females age, the estrogen-to-androgen production ratio changes and results in female faces to appear more and more masculine (thus appearing less "attractive").[162] In a small (n=148) study performed in the United States, using male college students at one university, the mean age expressed as ideal for a wife was found to be 16.87 years old, while 17.76 was the mean ideal age for a brief sexual encounter. However, the study sets up a framework where "taboos against sex with young girls" are purposely diminished, and biased their sample by removing any participant over the age of 30, with a mean participant age of 19.83.[163] In a study of penile tumescence, men were found most aroused by pictures of young adult females.[164]

Signals of fertility in women are often also seen as signals of youth. The evolutionary perspective proposes the idea that when it comes to sexual reproduction, the minimal parental investment required by men gives them the ability and want to simply reproduce 'as much as possible.'[165] It therefore makes sense that men are attracted to the features in women which signal youthfulness, and thus fertility.[165] Their chances of reproductive success are much higher than they would be should they pick someone older—and therefore less fertile.

This may explain why combating age declines in attractiveness occurs from a younger age in women than in men. For example, the removal of one's body hair is considered a very feminine thing to do.[166] This can be explained by the fact that aging results in raised levels of testosterone and thus, body hair growth. Shaving reverts one's appearance to a more youthful stage[166] and although this may not be an honest signal, men will interpret this as a reflection of increased fertile value. Research supports this, showing hairlessness to considered sexually attractive by men.[167]


Research has shown that most heterosexual men enjoy the sight of female breasts,[168] with a preference for large, firm breasts.[169] However, a contradictory study of British undergraduates found younger men preferred small breasts on women.[170] Smaller breasts were widely associated with youthfulness.[171] Cross-culturally, another study found "high variability" regarding the ideal breast size.[170] Some researchers in the United Kingdom have speculated that a preference for larger breasts may have developed in Western societies because women with larger breasts tend to have higher levels of the hormones estradiol and progesterone, which both promote fertility.[172]

A study by Groyecka et al., in which they examined Poles and Yali of New Guinea, demonstrated that men judgements of breast appearance is affected by the occurrence of breast ptosis (i.e., sagginess, droopiness).[173] Greater breast ptosis (more sagging breasts) is perceived as less attractive and attributed to a woman of older age. These findings are coherent with previous research that link breast attractiveness with female youthfulness. Unlike breast size, breast ptosis seems to be a universal marker of female breast attractiveness.

A study showed that men prefer symmetrical breasts.[121][174] Breast symmetry may be particularly sensitive to developmental disturbances and the symmetry differences for breasts are large compared to other body parts. Women who have more symmetrical breasts tend to have more children.[175]

Historical literature often includes specific features of individuals or a gender that are considered desirable. These have often become a matter of convention, and should be interpreted with caution. In Arabian society in the Middle Ages, a component of the female beauty ideal was for women to have small breasts.[132] In Persian literature, beautiful women are said to have breasts like pomegranates or lemons.[131] In the Chinese text "Jeweled Chamber Secrets" (Chinese: ) from the Six Dynasties period, the ideal woman was described as having firm breasts.[134] In Sanskrit literature, beautiful women are often said to have breasts so large that they cause the women to bend a little bit from their weight.[176] In Middle English literature, beautiful women should have small breasts that are round like an apple or a pear.[60]


Biological anthropologist Helen E. Fisher of the Center for Human Evolution Studies in the Department of Anthropology of Rutgers University said that, "perhaps, the fleshy, rounded buttocks... attracted males during rear-entry intercourse."[178] In a recent study, using 3D models and eye-tracking technology Fisher's claim was tested and was shown that the slight thrusting out of a woman's back influence how attractive others perceive her to be and captures the gaze of both men and women.[179][180] Bobbi S. Low et al. of the School of Natural Resources and Environment at the University of Michigan, said the female "buttocks evolved in the context of females competing for the attention and parental commitment of powerful resource-controlling males" as an "honest display of fat reserves" that could not be confused with another type of tissue,[181] although T. M. Caro, professor in the Center for Population Biology and the Department of Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology, at University of California, Davis, rejected that as being a necessary conclusion, stating that female fatty deposits on the hips improve "individual fitness of the female", regardless of sexual selection.[181]

In a 1995 study, black men were more likely than white men to use the words "big" or "large" to describe their conception of an attractive woman's posterior.[182]

Body mass

Body Mass Index (BMI) is an important determinant to the perception of beauty.[183] Even though the Western ideal is for a thin woman, some cultures prefer plumper women,[139][184] which has been argued to support that attraction for a particular BMI merely is a cultural artifact.[184] The attraction for a proportionate body also influences an appeal for erect posture.[185] One cross-cultural survey comparing body-mass preferences among 300 of the most thoroughly studied cultures in the world showed that 81% of cultures preferred a female body size that in English would be described as "plump".[186]

Availability of food influences which female body size is attractive which may have evolutionary reasons. Societies with food scarcities prefer larger female body size than societies that have plenty of food. In Western society males who are hungry prefer a larger female body size than they do when not hungry.[187]

BMI has been criticised for conflating fat and muscle, and more recent studies have concentrated on body composition. Among Australian university students, the most attractive body composition for women (10.31 kg fat, 42.45 kg muscle) was found to be lower in fat than both the most healthy appearing composition, and below the healthy range.[95]

In the United States, women overestimate men's preferences for thinness in a mate. In one study, American women were asked to choose what their ideal build was and what they thought the build most attractive to men was. Women chose slimmer than average figures for both choices. When American men were independently asked to choose the female build most attractive to them, the men chose figures of average build. This indicates that women may be misled as to how thin men prefer women to be.[184] Some speculate that thinness as a beauty standard is one way in which women judge each other[145] and that thinness is viewed as prestigious for within-gender evaluations of other women. A reporter surmised that thinness is prized among women as a "sign of independence, strength and achievement."[145] Some implicated the fashion industry for the promulgation of the notion of thinness as attractive.[188]

East Asians have historically preferred women whose bodies had small features. For example, during the Spring and Autumn period of Chinese history, women in Chinese harems wanted to have a thin body in order to be attractive for the Chinese emperor. Later, during the Tang Dynasty, a less thin body type was seen as most attractive for Chinese women.[189] In Arabian society in the Middle Ages, a component of the female beauty ideal was for women to be slender like a "cane" or a "twig".[132] In the Chinese text "Jeweled Chamber Secrets" (Chinese: ) from the Six Dynasties period, the ideal woman was described as not being "large-boned".[134]

In the Victorian era, women who adhered to Victorian ideals were expected to limit their food consumption to attain the ideal slim figure.[190] In Middle English literature, "slender" women are considered beautiful.[60]

Waist–hip ratio

A WHR of 0.7 for women has been shown to correlate strongly with general health and fertility. Women within the 0.7 range have optimal levels of estrogen and are less susceptible to major diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and ovarian cancers.[192] Women with high WHR (0.80 or higher) have significantly lower pregnancy rates than women with lower WHRs (0.70–0.79), independent of their BMIs.[193][194] Female waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) has been proposed by evolutionary psychologists to be an important component of human male mate choice, because this trait is thought to provide a reliable cue to a woman's reproductive value.[195]

Both men and women judge women with smaller waist-to-hip ratios more attractive.[196] Ethnic groups vary with regard to their ideal waist-to-hip ratio for women,[197] ranging from 0.6 in China,[198] to 0.8 or 0.9 in parts of South America and Africa,[199][200][201] and divergent preferences based on ethnicity, rather than nationality, have also been noted.[202][203] A study found the Machiguenga people, an isolated indigenous South American ethnic group, prefer women with high WHR (0.9).[204] The preference for heavier women, has been interpreted to belong to societies where there is no risk of obesity.[205]

In Chinese, the phrase "willow waist" (Chinese: ) is used to denote a beautiful woman by describing her waist as being slender like a willow branch.[134]

In the Victorian era, a small waist was considered the main trait of a beautiful woman.[190] The term "wasp waist" describes an extreme fashion silhouette, produced by a style of corset and girdle.


Most men tend to be taller than their female partners.[17] It has been found that, in Western societies, most men prefer shorter women. Having said this, height is a more important factor for a woman when choosing a man than it is for a man choosing a woman.[206] Men tend to view taller women as less attractive,[207] and people view heterosexual couples where the woman is taller to be less ideal.[207] Women who are 0.7 to 1.7 standard deviations below the mean female height have been reported to be the most reproductively successful,[208] since fewer tall women get married compared to shorter women.[207] However, in other ethnic groups, such as the Hadza, study has found that height is irrelevant in choosing a mate.[102]

In Middle English literature, 'tallness' is a characteristic of ideally beautiful women.[60]

Leg-to-body ratio

A study using Polish participants by Sorokowski found 5% longer legs than average person leg to body ratio for both on man and woman was considered most attractive.[209] The study concluded this preference might stem from the influence of leggy runway models.[210] Another study using British and American participants, found "mid-ranging" leg-to-body ratios to be most ideal.[211]

A study by Swami et al. of British male and female undergraduates showed a preference for men with legs as long as the rest of their body and women with 40% longer legs than the rest of their body.[99] The researcher concluded that this preference might be influenced by American culture where long legged women are portrayed as more attractive.[99]

Marco Bertamini criticized the Swami et al. study for using a picture of the same person with digitally altered leg lengths which he felt would make the modified image appear unrealistic.[212] Bertamini also criticized the Swami study for only changing the leg length while keeping the arm length constant.[212] After accounting for these concerns in his own study, Bertamini's study which used stick figures also found a preference for women with proportionately longer legs than men.[212] When Bertamini investigated the issue of possible sexual dimorphism of leg length, he found two sources that indicated that men usually have slightly proportionately longer legs than women or that differences in leg length proportion may not exist between men and women.[212] Following this review of existing literature on the subject, he conducted his own calculations using data from 1774 men and 2208 women. Using this data, he similarly found that men usually have slightly proportionately longer legs than women or that differences in leg length proportion may not exist between men and women. These findings made him rule out the possibility that a preference for women with proportionately longer legs than men is due proportionately longer legs being a secondary sex characteristic of women.[212]

Feet size

According to some studies, most men prefer women with small feet,[213][214] such as in ancient China where foot binding was practiced.[215]

In Jewish Rabbinic literature, the rabbis considered small feet to be the ideal type of feet for women.[133]


Men have been found to prefer long-haired women.[119][216][217] An evolutionary psychology explanation for this is that malnutrition and deficiencies in minerals and vitamins causes loss of hair or hair changes. Hair therefore indicates health and nutrition during the last 2–3 years. Lustrous hair is also often a cross-cultural preference.[171] One study reported non-Asian men to prefer blondes and Asian men to prefer black-haired women.[217]

A component of the female beauty ideal in Persian literature is for women to have black hair,[131] which was also preferred in Arabian society in the Middle Ages.[132] In Middle English literature, curly hair is a necessary component of a beautiful woman.[60]


Evidence from various cultures suggests that heterosexual men tend to find the sight of women's genitalia to be sexually arousing.[218]

Movement patterns

The way an individual moves can indicate health and even age and influence attractiveness.[171] A study reflecting the views of 700 individuals and that involved animated representations of people walking, found that the physical attractiveness of women increased by about 50 percent when they walked with a hip sway. Similarly, the perceived attractiveness of males doubled when they moved with a swagger in their shoulders.[219]

Skin color and radiance

A preference for lighter-skinned women has been documented across many cultures.[221][222] A 2010 study found a preference for lighter-skinned women in New Zealand and California.[223] In parts of Africa and Asia, skin bleaching is common.[224] The universality of this preference however has been questioned by a 2006 study on men of the Bikosso tribe in Cameroon which found no consistent preference for either lighter or darker skinned women.[225]

Skin color preferences may shift over time, as in Western culture, where tanned skin used to be associated with the sun-exposed manual labor of the lower-class, but since the mid-20th century it has generally been considered more attractive and healthier than before, with sun tanning becoming fashionable.[226][227][228][229][230]

Skin radiance or glowing skin may influence perception of beauty and physical attractiveness.[231][232]

Fertility-driven attractiveness

There are some subtle changes in women's perceived attractiveness across the menstrual cycle. During their most fertile phase, we can observe some changes in women's behavior and physiology. A study conducted by G. Miller (2007) examined the amount of tip earnings by lap dancers across the menstrual cycle. He found that dancers received nearly 15 USD more when they were near ovulation than during the rest of the month. This suggests that women either are more attractive during ovulation phase, or they experience a significant change in their behavior.[233] Some other studies have found that there are subtle differences in women's faces when in their fertile phase. Bobst and Lobmaier (2012) created 20 prototyped photographs, some of a female during ovulation and some during the luteal phase. Men were asked to choose the more attractive, the more caring and the more flirtatious faces. They found a significant preference for the follicular phase (ovulation). This suggests that subtle shape differences in faces occurring during the female's ovulation phase are sufficient to attract men more.[234] This idea is supported by another study, where a similar experiment was done. Men and women had to judge photographs of women's faces taken during their fertile phase. They were all rated more attractive than during non-fertile phase. They are some subtle visible cues to ovulation in women's faces, and they are perceived as more attractive, leading to the idea that it could be an adaptive mechanism to raise a female's mate value at that specific time (when probability of conception is at its highest).[233]

Women's attractiveness, as perceived by men and women, slightly differs across her menstrual cycle, being at peak when she is in her ovulation phase. Jones et al. (2008), focused on women's preferences for masculinity, apparent health and self-resemblance and found that it varies across the cycle. They explained that the function of the effects of menstrual cycle phase on preferences for apparent health and self-resemblance in faces is to increase the likelihood of pregnancy.[235]

Similarly, female prefer the scent of symmetrical men and masculine faces during fertile phases as well as stereotypical male displays such as social presence, and direct intrasexual competitiveness.[236]

During the follicular phase (fertile), females prefer more male's traits (testosterone dependent traits such as face shape) than when in non-fertile phase. Those findings have been found in the voice, showing that females’ preferences for more masculine voices over feminine voices increase the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle.[237]

But not only females' preferences vary across cycle, their behaviours as well. Effectively, men respond differently to females when they are on ovulatory cycle,[233] because females act differently. Women in the ovulatory phase are flirtier with males showing genetic fitness markers than in low fertile phase.[238] It has been shown in some studies that women high in estrogen are generally perceived to be more attractive than women with low levels of estrogen, based on women not wearing make-up. High estrogen level women may also be viewed as healthier or to have a more feminine face.[239]

Similarly, a study investigated the capacity of women to select high quality males based on their facial attractiveness. They found that facial attractiveness correlated with semen quality (good, normal, or bad depending on sperm morphology and motility). The more attractive a man's face is, linked to his sperm being of better quality.[240]

Sexual ornamentation

Sexual ornaments are seen in many organisms; in humans, females have sexual ornamentation in the form of breasts and buttocks. The physical attraction to sexual ornaments is associated with gynoid fat, as opposed to android fat, which is considered unattractive.[241] In human females, proximate causes of the development of sexual ornaments are associated with the predominance of estrogen in puberty. The activation of estrogen receptors around the female skeletal tissue causes gynoid fat to be deposited in the breasts, buttocks, hips and thighs, producing an overall typical female body shape.[242] Specifically, female breasts are considered more attractive when symmetrical, rather than asymmetrical,[243] as this is thought to reflect good developmental stability.[244]

Sexual ornaments are considered attractive features as they are thought to indicate high mate value, fertility,[245] and the ability to provide good care to offspring. They are sexually selected traits present for the purpose of honest signalling and capturing the visual attention of the opposite sex, most commonly associated with females capturing the visual attention of males. It has been proposed that these ornaments have evolved in order to advertise personal quality and reproductive value.[246] Honest signalling with sexual ornaments is associated with ultimate causation of these evolved traits. The evolution of these ornaments is also associated with female-female competition in order to gain material benefits provided by resourceful and high status males.[35] In humans, once these sexual ornaments develop, they are permanent. It is thought that this is associated with the long-term pair bonding humans engage in; human females engage in extended sexual activity outside of their fertile period.[247] This relates to another ultimate cause of sexual ornaments with function in obtaining non-genetic material benefits from males. In other animal species, even other primate species, these advertisements of reproductive value are not permanent. Usually, it is the point at which the female is at her most fertile, she displays sexual swellings.[248]

Adolescence is the period of time whereby humans experience puberty, and experience anatomical changes to their bodies through the increase of sex hormones released in the body. Adolescent exaggeration is the period of time at which sexual ornaments are maximised, and peak gynoid fat content is reached.[35] In human females, the mean age for this is approximately 16 years. Female breasts develop at this stage not only to prepare for reproduction, but also due to competition with other females in displaying their reproductive value and quality to males.[35]

Possible gender differences for preferences

For both men and women, there appear to be universal criteria of attractiveness both within and across cultures and ethnic groups.[16][249] When considering long term relationships, some studies have found that men place a higher emphasis on physical attractiveness in a partner than women do.[250][251][252][253][254] On the other hand, some studies have found few differences between men and women in terms of the weight they place on physical characteristics when they are choosing partners for short-term relationships,[255][256][257][258] in particular with regard to their implicit, as opposed to explicitly articulated, preferences.[259] Other recent studies continue to find sex differences for long-term relationships.[260][261][262][257] There is also one study suggesting that only men, not women, place greater priority on bodily compared to facial attractiveness when looking for a short-term as compared to a long-term partner.[263]

Some evolutionary psychologists, including David Buss, have argued that this long-term relationship difference may be a consequence of ancestral humans who selected partners based on secondary sexual characteristics, as well as general indicators of fitness which allowed for greater reproductive success as a result of higher fertility in those partners,[264] although a male's ability to provide resources for offspring was likely signaled less by physical features.[252] It is argued that the most prominent indicator of fertility in women is youth,[265][266][267] while the traits in a man which enhance reproductive success are proxies for his ability to accrue resources and protect.[267]

Studies have shown that women pay greater attention to physical traits than they do directly to earning capability or potential to commit,[268] including muscularity, fitness and masculinity of features; the latter preference was observed to vary during a woman's period, with women preferring more masculine features during the late-follicular (fertile) phase of the menstrual cycle.[269][270] Additionally, women process physical attractiveness differently, paying attention to both individual features and the aesthetic effect of the whole face.[271] A 2003 study in the area concluded that heterosexual women are about equally aroused when viewing men or women. Heterosexual men were only aroused by women. This study verified arousal in the test subjects by connecting them to brain imaging devices.[272][273][274][275] Notably, the same study reported arousal for women upon viewing animals mating.

Bonnie Adrian's book, Framing the Bride, discusses the emphasis Taiwanese brides place on physical attractiveness for their wedding photographs. Globalization and western ideals of beauty have spread and have become more prevalent in Asian societies where brides go through hours of hair and makeup to "transform everyday women with their individual characteristics into generic look-alike beauties in three hours' time." These brides go through hours of makeup to transform themselves into socially constructed beauty.[276]

According to strategic pluralism theory, men may have correspondingly evolved to pursue reproductive strategies that are contingent on their own physical attractiveness. More physically attractive men accrue reproductive benefits from spending more time seeking multiple mating partners and relatively less time investing in offspring. In contrast, the reproductive effort of physically less attractive men, who therefore will not have the same mating opportunities, is better allocated either to investing heavily in accruing resources, or investing in their mates and offspring and spending relatively less time seeking additional mates.[277]

Facial similarity and racial preferences

Several studies have suggested that people are generally attracted to people who look like them,[278] and they generally evaluate faces that exhibit features of their own ethnic or racial group as being more attractive.[217] Although both men and women use children's "facial resemblance" to themselves in "attractiveness judgments," a greater percentage of women in one study (37% n=30) found hypothetical children whose faces were "self-morphs" of themselves as most attractive when compared to men (30% n=23).[279] The more similar a judged person is toward the judging person, the more the former is liked. However, this effect can be reversed. This might depend on how attractiveness is conceptualized: similar members (compared to dissimilar ones) of the opposite sex are judged as more likable in a prosocial sense. Again, findings are more ambiguous when looking for the desiring, pleasure related component of attractiveness.[280] This might be influenced by the measure one uses (subjective ratings can differ from the way one actually reacts) and by situational factors: while men usually prefer women whose face resembles their own, this effect can reverse under stress, when dissimilar females are preferred.[281]

A study by R. E. Hall in 2008, which examined determinations of physical attractiveness by having subjects look at the faces of women, found that race was sometimes a factor in these evaluations.[282] In 2011, two studies found evidence that the ethnicity of a face influenced how attractive it was judged to be.[283][284] A 2014 study by Tsunokai, McGrath and Kavanagh based on data from a dating website, the authors cited race as a factor in dating preferences by Asian-American men, both homosexual and heterosexual.[285]

Social effects

Perceptions of physical attractiveness contribute to generalized assumptions based on those attractions. Individuals assume that when someone is beautiful, then they have many other positive attributes that make the attractive person more likeable.[15] This is referred to as the halo effect, also known as the 'beautiful-is-good' effect.[15] Across cultures, what is beautiful is assumed to be good; attractive people are assumed to be more extroverted, popular, and happy. This could lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy, as, from a young age, attractive people receive more attention that helps them develop these characteristics.[286][287] In one study, beautiful people were found to be generally happier than less beautiful or plain people, perhaps because these outgoing personality traits are linked to happiness, or perhaps because beauty led to increased economic benefits which partially explained the increased happiness.[129] In another study testing first impressions in 56 female and 17 male participants at University of British Columbia, personality traits of physically attractive people were identified more positively and more accurately than those who were less physically attractive. It was explained that people pay closer attention to those they find physically beautiful or attractive, and thus perceiving attractive individuals with greater distinctive accuracy. The study believes this accuracy to be subjective to the eye of the beholder.[288] Recent results from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study confirmed the positive link between psychological well-being and attractiveness (higher facial attractiveness, lower BMI) and also found the complementary negative association with distress/depression. Even though connections and confounds with other variables could not be excluded, the effects of attractiveness in this study were the same size as the ones for other demographic variables.[289]

In developed western societies, women tend to be judged for their physical appearance over their other qualities and the pressure to engage in beauty work is much higher for women than men. Beauty work is defined as various beauty “practices individuals perform on themselves or others to elicit certain benefits from a specific social hierarchy.”[290] Being “beautiful” has individual, social and institutional rewards.[290] Although marketers have started to target the “metro-sexual” male and produce hygiene and beauty products geared towards men, the expectations placed on them is less than women[291] The time and money required for a man to achieve the same well-groomed appearance is much lower. Even in areas that men also face pressure to perform beauty work, such a haircuts/styling, the prices discrepancy for products and services are skewed. This phenomenon is called the "pink tax."[292][293]

However, attractiveness varies by society; in ancient China foot binding was practiced by confining young girls' feet in tightly bound shoes to prevent the feet from growing to normal size causing the women to have an attractive "lotus gait". In England, women used to wear corsets that severely constricted their breathing and damaged vital internal organs, in order to achieve a visual effect of an exaggeratedly low waist-to-hip ratio.

People make judgments of physical attractiveness based on what they see, but also on what they know about the person. Specifically, perceptions of beauty are malleable such that information about the person's personality traits can influence one's assessment of another person's physical beauty. A 2007 study had participants first rate pictures for attractiveness. After doing distracting math problems, participants saw the pictures again, but with information about the person's personality. When participants learned that a person had positive personality characteristics (e.g., smart, funny, kind), that person was seen as more physically attractive.[294] Conversely, a person with negative personality characteristics (e.g., materialistic, rude, untrustworthy) was seen as less physically attractive. This was true for both females and males. A person may be perceived as being more attractive if they are seen as part of a group of friends, rather than alone, according to one study.[295]

Physical attractiveness can have various effects. A survey conducted by London Guildhall University of 11,000 people showed that those who subjectively describe themselves as physically attractive earn more income than others who would describe themselves as less attractive.[22] People who described themselves as less attractive earned, on average, 13% less than those who described themselves as more attractive, while the penalty for being overweight was around 5%. According to further research done on the correlation between looks and earnings in men, the punishment for unattractiveness is greater than the benefits of being attractive. However, in women the punishment is found to be equal to the benefits.[296] Another study suggests that more physically attractive people are significantly more likely on average to earn considerably higher wages. Differences in income due to attractiveness was much more pronounced for men rather than women, and held true for all ranges of income.[297]

It is important to note that other factors such as self-confidence may explain or influence these findings as they are based on self-reported attractiveness as opposed to any sort of objective criteria; however, as one's self-confidence and self-esteem are largely learned from how one is regarded by his/her peers while maturing, even these considerations would suggest a significant role for physical appearance. One writer speculated that "the distress created in women by the spread of unattainable ideals of female beauty" might possibly be linked to increasing incidence of depression.[298]

Many have asserted that certain advantages tend to come to those who are perceived as being more attractive, including the ability to get better jobs and promotions; receiving better treatment from authorities and the legal system; having more choices in romantic or platonic partners and, therefore, more power in relationships; and marrying into families with more money.[26][129][286][287][299] Those who are attractive are treated and judged more positively than those who are considered unattractive, even by those who know them. Also, attractive individuals behave more positively than those who are unattractive.[300] One study found that teachers tend to expect that children who are attractive are more intelligent, and are more likely to progress further in school. They also consider these students to be more popular.[301] Voters choose political candidates who are more attractive over those who are less attractive.[302] Men and women use physical attractiveness as a measure of how "good" another person is.[303] In 1946, Soloman Asch coined the Implicit Personality Theory, meaning that the presence of one trait tends to imply the existence of other traits. This is also known as the halo effect. Research suggests that those who are physically attractive are thought to have more socially desirable personalities and lead better lives in general.[11] This is also known as the "what-is-beautiful-is-good effect." Discrimination against or prejudice towards others based on their appearance is sometimes referred to as lookism.

Some researchers conclude that little difference exists between men and women in terms of sexual behavior.[251][304] Other researchers disagree.[305] Symmetrical men and women have a tendency to begin to have sexual intercourse at an earlier age, to have more sexual partners, to engage in a wider variety of sexual activities, and to have more one-night stands. They are also prone to infidelity and are more likely to have open relationships.[68] Additionally, they have the most reproductive success. Therefore, their physical characteristics are most likely to be inherited by future generations.[306][307][308][309]

Concern for improving physical attractiveness has led many persons to consider alternatives such as cosmetic surgery. It has led scientists working with related disciplines such as computer imaging and mathematics to conduct research to suggest ways to surgically alter the distances between facial features in order to make a face conform more closely to the "agreed-upon standards of attractiveness" of an ideal face by using algorithms to suggest an alternative which still resembles the current face.[24] One research study found that cosmetic surgery as a way to "boost earnings" was "not profitable in a monetary sense."[129] Some research shows that physical attractiveness has a marginal effect on happiness.[310]

See also


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  2. "Says Venus de Milo was not a Flapper; Osteopath Says She Was Neurasthenic, as Her Stomach Was Not in Proper Place" (PDF). The New York Times. April 29, 1922. Retrieved August 5, 2011. Venus de Milo ... That lady of renowned beauty...
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