Why we are attracted to an individual has many complex factors. It can’t easily be summed up in a few words. Science has some of the answers; in a Psychology Today article, Helen Fisher writes that there are qualities that we all look for that are universal. For example, a clear complexion and a symmetrical faces (considered to be a sign of health), and a general appearance of hygiene and good health. This is supported by a separate study published by Live Science, which concluded that face symmetry, face structure, and hip-shoulder ratios influence attraction because these physical features represent good health. But attraction is more than skin deep.
Smell is considered to be a powerful factor in attraction. Scientists discovered a type of scent-bearing chemical secreted in the sweat and other bodily fluids of animals. These ‘pheromones’ are understood to be involved in the process of sexual attraction; research also suggests that pheromones in humans also play an important role in attraction.
Fisher also acknowledges that there is a cultural aspect of what people consider attractive. In a separate study published in 2017, the results concluded that the faces of people around us influence what we find attractive. The report tells us that, in different countries and regions, what is generally considered as attractive changes. Almost like a regional spoken accent, tastes change from one region to the next. The study found that the facial characteristics common to each person’s local population were considered to be the most attractive.
What about personality? Attraction isn’t just about how a person looks and their elusive odour. Other personal characteristics are important in determining how attracted we are to someone. A 2007 study found that participants were asked to score strangers for attractiveness, using just their photographs. When participants were asked to rate the same photos, but with personality descriptions added, the study discovered that where the photos had positive descriptions of personality, they received the highest ratings for attractiveness. Personality traits appear to influence how physically attracted we are to someone.
While there are well-researched scientific reasons as to why we might choose romantic and sexual partners, at the end of the day, who we are actually attracted to is utterly unique to each of us. There is no absolute rulebook, and how attractive we are is not preordained.
Modern technology in the form of advanced cosmetics, beauty products and surgical procedures are fuelling multi-billion dollar industries. There is no doubt that these technologies have moved with the times. In the 1940s, at the start of the nuclear age, you could buy Doramad which was, scarily, a radioactive toothpaste. In the 2020’s, you can maintain your life choices by choosing vegan collagen to enhance your skin, hair and nails. We have all the tools to influence how we look, and tip the game (whilst still honouring our personal values) in our favour when it comes to attraction. Science, too, evidences the positive effect of cosmetics on attraction. Such effects range from looking healthier, wealthier, displaying greater competence, likeability and trustworthiness, as well as appearing more prestigious and dominant.