Being attractive is not just about physical appearance
Many people with Hidradenitis Suppurativa say that their condition makes them feel less attractive. Which, in turn, makes it difficult for them to date or form romantic relationships. This is because our society focuses so much on looks. Evolutionary psychology argues that our bodies are on the lookout for good genes to pass on. And beauty indicates health to our brains. But being attractive is so much more than that.
Lots of things influence who we like, but most are either to do with our senses or our environment. Beauty is only one factor, and it’s certainly not the most interesting. Here are five other surprising (and strange) ways we decide who is attractive.
1. Sense of Smell
Our noses are one of our best tools for finding partners. In one famous experiment, researchers asked two groups of women to wear t-shirts. One group was ovulating, and the other was not. Then they asked a group of men to sniff the t-shirts and decide which they preferred. The men preferred the t-shirts worn by the ovulating women more than the non-ovulating women.
And vice versa!
In another study, researchers asked a group of men to sleep in t-shirts for several nights. Then a group of women sniffed the t-shirts and ranked the scent by preference. The researchers found that women preferred the smell of the men who had differing MHC genes to them. MHC is a group of genes linked to immune system functioning and sexual arousal. It makes sense because passing on a diversity of genes to our children can improve their health. Now I’m not saying to sniff your date because that would be rude. What I am saying is that our bodies do a lot of work behind the scenes. And our noses may be more important than our eyes in determining who we find attractive.
Have you have noticed that neighbours, colleagues and friends often get together. How many times do you hear of actors in a movie dating in real life? This is an example of the Mere-Exposure Effect.
The Mere-Exposure Effect says that if we either feel positive or neutral about someone, then seeing them often, may increase liking. But, if somebody annoys you, spending time with them can have the opposite effect. Spending time with someone, whether at work or in class promotes friendship. And friendship may develop into something more. We like people who are familiar and whom we have things in common, which brings us to similarity.
The adage opposites attract is not always accurate, (except of course for smell). More often we like people with whom we have stuff in common. Sometimes that’s looks, but it can be interests, hobbies and values too.
One explanation for this might be that they validate our thoughts and preferences. Other reasons are that we think people similar to us will like us back. Or that we have fun with them. So, it’s more like birds of a feather flock together.
4. They Know You Like Them
According to social psychology, we are more likely to like someone if we know they have feelings for us. This is called reciprocal liking. Researchers think that when someone likes us, it makes us feel good. Also, when people like us, they spend more time with us, allowing us to get to know one another.
It’s not always the case, though. If you feel someone is showing interest in you with ulterior motives, you are more likely to dislike them. Maybe this is why people with low self-esteem are less likely to feel reciprocal liking. If you don’t like yourself, how can you believe others will. (We like you ! And you can learn more about building self-esteem here if this is something you struggle with.)
5. The First Kiss
When we kiss our bodies produce chemicals called neurotransmitters. In this case, norepinephrine serotonin and oxytocin. This is not just about feeling good. This chemical combination helps us engage our senses like smell and taste. Which, as we have said, tells us if that someone is a suitable partner or not.
According to Dawn Maslar, the big test for attraction is the first kiss. The majority of people studied have said the person loses appeal if the first kiss isn’t right.
Not so straightforward!
So, there you have it, the weird and wonderful world of human attraction. It’s not very romantic, is it? And you won’t find it as the plot in the next big Rom-Com. Could you imagine, Boy Meets Norepinephrine, PS. I Love You Because I See You Often or When Harry Smelled Sally. It just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
But that means attraction is not about looks and there is no such thing as perfect. It’s not about body type or how much makeup you wear. Attraction is not a set of beauty ideals determined by fashion or Hollywood. It is a whole body experience.
Next time you feel unattractive, think of these kind and colourful words by author John Green:
“That’s always seemed so ridiculous to me, that people want to be around someone because they’re pretty. It’s like picking your breakfast cereals based on colour instead of taste.”
– John Green, Paper Towns
About the Author
Shannon Sweeney is a psychology and sociology student from Ireland. She is also living with HS and has a keen interest in lifestyle, wellbeing, and Hidradenitis Suppurativa.