Plato famously said “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. This is a question that Plato and many philosophers have asked for centuries. I have actually held an opinion on this question since being in high school (over 20 years ago) and while my opinion has been refined a bit, it basically has remained the same.
Let me be clear before I begin, that in this post for the most part we will be discussing physical outward beauty, and not as much the inward beauty of the mind and soul. In other posts I will touch on inward beauty as well. This will be the first post in a series of posts I will be writing dealing with the subjects of beauty, body image and physical sexual attraction.
Also in this post I am discussing beauty as it relates to sexual attractiveness in human beings, as opposed to animals or other things in nature. Also for the most part I will be discussing attractiveness from the male perspective, as men for the most part are far more visually wired for sexual attraction then women. I will hit on a few important physical characteristics that women are attracted to in men as well.
Three types of beauty
Objective beauty is the idea that human beings are hardwired to find certain physical traits more or less attractive in the opposite sex.
Relative beauty is a sub form of objective beauty. Relative beauty is the idea that a man or woman, when compared to others within their age group or other demographic group, are considered beautiful.
Subjective beauty is the philosophy that what is considered beautiful is different for each culture, and each person. With this type of beauty, anyone one could be beautiful because there are no defined parameters for what “beautiful” is.
Is there really such as thing as objective beauty? In our modern culture today, most people would probably answer no. But I believe there is such a thing as objective beauty.
Here are some articles based on studies of men and their perceptions of beauty that prove there are some objective qualities that men find most appealing in women:
Even without reading those articles we can look back to sculptures made thousands of years ago to see what men considered to be attractive:
This is a statue of Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (ca. 1370 BC – ca. 1330 BC) who was the royal wife of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten.
This 3000 year old statue (and many others like it from different cultures around the world) confirms what men consider to be objectively beautiful. Consider the general body characteristics of this 3000 year old Egyptian woman:
Breasts: the first most defining characteristic of female beauty are breasts. While men may have some differences in the size and shape of breasts they prefer, all men want to see some type of breasts on a woman. Again this statue shows a woman with small, yet firm breasts something that the vast majority of men would find attractive.
The Bible even speaks of the importance of a woman having breasts and it’s connection with femininity:
“We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?”
Song of Solomon 9:8(KJV)
60 to 70 percent hip ratio: Study after study shows that most men prefer a 60 to 70 percent hip ratio on a woman. African and South American men may go as high as 80 percent. But the fact remains that men prefer this type of hip ratio. Rounded hips (as opposed to flat hips) are one of the two most important physical characteristics that men look for in women.
When a woman has full breasts, a 60 to 70 percent hip ratio and rounded hips this is how we arrive at the hourglass figure that men find most attractive:
Smooth skin: When it comes to skin, both men and women prefer smooth skin. No one could honestly say they prefer wrinkles, skin blemishes and fat rolls to smooth, roll free skin.
Face: Contrary to popular opinion among women, most men (not all) do care about the beauty of a woman’s face. Ideally men would like a woman to have a beautiful face and form, and they don’t want to have to choose between the two. However I will admit that facial beauty is probably the least “objective” type of beauty there is. This is because of racial considerations, what one race considers to be attractive facial features and what another considers attractive facial features may be quite different.
The form of a woman’s body, and the beauty of her face have always been important to men as we see in these Biblical accounts:
“And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.”
“Esther… the young lady was beautiful of form and face…”
Legs: Legs are also an important characteristic that men look for in women. The idea of women shaving their legs is not completely modern. Women in ancient cultures also found crude ways to shave their legs if their clothing or culture demanded it. For instance if the women wore dresses or danced or did things that would generally reveal more of their leg they would shave them. Other women whose clothing mostly covered their legs did not shave. But beyond shaving, the shape and tone of a woman’s legs can make them more or less appealing to men.
Generally smooth and toned thighs and calf’s, with defined ankles are attractive to the vast majority of men. Bumpy, fatty legs, or boney legs (also known as chicken legs) are not generally regarded as attractive to most men. “Cankles” (where a woman’s calf seems to go straight into her foot with no defined ankle) is considered less attractive than defined ankles.
Long hair: There is a reason that the vast majority of actresses and models have long hair, and that is because it yet another defining female characteristic.
The Bible talks about the glory of a woman’s long hair:
“Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.”
I Corinthians 11:14-15(KJV)
Buttocks – Men prefer a round and plump buttocks. To be sure, just as with breasts, there are some differences in preferences. But based upon the profile of the Egyptian statue we are studying, she most likely has a full, firm and round buttocks.
Overall firmness – I have mentioned firmness a few times here and I want to clarify. The type of firmness men look for in women does not mean tight muscles, or big muscles. Most men (aside from body builders), do not find muscular women attractive as having a high muscle content is most associated with masculinity.
Overall balance – Men want to see a balance in a woman’s body. Full breasts are great, but if they are too large in proportion to her body then large breasts can become less attractive to most men. The same could be said of a woman’s buttocks, hips, legs or any other part of her body. This is something that men and women would share in common as to what they deem attractive. Balance is always attractive, things that are out of balance, or proportion are not considered to be the most attractive.
Beauty, youth and health are all connected
There is a connection between objective beauty, youth and health. The connection is fertility. This is not to say all younger women are objectively more attractive to men as that would certainly not be true. But the fact is that a young attractive woman, would generally be more attractive to a man than an attractive older woman because of her fertility. Most men are not even consciously aware of this, but this is a biological truth.
It is a biological fact that women with youthful, balanced bodies that are not under weight or over weight are more fertile. A woman’s weight (and thus her appearance) does affect her fertility.
This type of beauty is similar to objective beauty with the difference that not all people would find these women attractive. A woman may be considered relatively attractive when compared to her peers. For instance a woman in her 70’s may no longer be objectively attractive, but she could be relatively attractive when compared with her peers.
We see this all the time when we say things like “for her age, she is a beautiful woman”. This does not mean that most men would find her more attractive than younger attractive women, it just means she still has a nice form for her age.
These three women demonstrate relative beauty by age. Here we have a young woman with her mother and grandmother. All of these women could be considered relatively attractive for their various age groups.
Like objective beauty, you would not have to know anything about an older woman to say she was relatively beautiful for her age.
Relative beauty could also relate to women of different weights. For instance men might say of an overweight woman – “compared to most women in her weight range, she is a beautiful woman”.
This brings us to the beauty that knows no boundaries, the one that Plato spoke of. There are several reasons that a man may find a woman subjectively attractive:
Sometimes because of what a man knows about a woman – he may not know her personally, but he knows about the kind of woman she is and that makes him find her attractive.
An woman who would be not be objectively attractive can make herself more attractive by how she acts toward a man, she can draw him to her and cause herself to be subjectively attractive just by her attitude and personality.
How he feels about her – He cares for her.
She reminds him of someone he cared about.
He has been conditioned to find women of her build and type attractive by family or other cultural influences. A good example of this is that in some primitive tribes women with out of balance features like extra-large buttocks or extra-long necks are found most attractive by the men of their village. But this is a conditioned and instilled type of attraction, not a biologically hardwired attraction.
The old man walking down the street with his 70 year old wife still finds her attractive because of how he feels about her (she is subjectively beautiful to him).
Applying the three types of beauty
When men see a young, balanced looking woman, with smooth skin, firm breasts, a firm buttocks, and a 60 to 70 percent waist ratio walking down the street and they find her attractive, that is most likely an objective attraction that is a response to their hardwired biological drive to seek out fertile females.
Sometimes men are attracted to an older women because they possess the form and physical attributes of a much younger woman.
When a man does not find a woman attractive because of her body being out of balance(either being overweight or underweight), or because she has no breasts, or because her hips are straight like a man’s, or she is too muscular that is because his brain is telling him she is less fertile, and therefore less attractive. Again this is based upon objective, hardwired parameters for attraction in the male brain.
However, some men can be conditioned to find women attractive that would otherwise be considered unattractive (from a fertility perspective) for a variety of reasons as we pointed out in the section on Subjective beauty.
Let me illustrate how the different types of beauty might work with these examples:
The 70 year old man still finds his 70 year old wife attractive because of how he loves her – that’s subjective beauty.
That same 70 year old woman could be found attractive by other men in her age group – that’s relative beauty.
A 20 year old woman could be subjectively attractive to her husband, relatively attractive when compared to most 20 year old women, and objectively attractive to all men of all age groups.
A 40 year old woman who has kept her youthful appearance, having a beautiful form might be considered more attractive than a 20 year old boney woman with no breasts. This not because the 40 year old woman is necessarily more fertile than the 20 year old, but because she has the physical qualities that a fertile 20 year old woman might have.
But what about what women find attractive in men?
It would be wrong to say that women care nothing about what a man looks like. A woman could see a man across the room who she has never met and find him attractive. However, for most women physical appearance is a much smaller part of what they find attractive in a man.
Women also like to see a toned man. But with women, muscle to a certain extant is very attractive (unlike to most men, muscular women are not as attractive). But there comes a point as my wife has pointed out to me on several occasions, that some of these body builder men have way too much muscle where their faces are all muscle as well and then they are not as attractive any more.
A man can have too much muscle, just a woman can breasts that are too large – it is possible to have too much of a good thing.
Height is very important to most women, they want the man to be taller, and they don’t mind often that he is towers over them.
Women generally prefer men with full heads of hair. Yes there are sexy actors or singers that are bald that women like. But that is because of how they feel about them as an actor or singer (subjective beauty).
But in the same way that an objectively unattractive woman can make herself attractive by how she carries herself and acts, so too a man who is not objectively attractive can make himself very attractive to women.
Women find confidence very attractive in man. Women find intelligence a very attractive feature in man.
If you had to sum up the differences between how men and women are with physical appearance it would be this – women get over a man’s lack of objective beauty and switch to subjective beauty a lot easier than men do. It is just a difference in how the sexes are wired.
More and less objectively attractive
I will talk about this more in other posts on the subject of body image but I wanted to address it here a bit. Some women reading this might come away from this depressed thinking men expect women to have perfect faces and bodies and this is untrue for most men. It is true that there are a small percentage of women in this world that are perfect (from an objective vantage point) in almost every part of their body. Some women have beautiful breasts but have skinny or boney legs. Other women have beautiful legs and almost no breasts. Some women have beautiful faces but are vastly overweight.
Some men may be tall, but have almost no muscle mass. Some men might be muscular but bald. Other men may be overweight but they have a handsome face and nice hair.
My point is that for many women, they may not have a perfect body, but there are other attractive things about their body. The same could be said for men as well.