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What Makes A Person Attractive?

by Stanley Ducharme, Ph.D.

As a youth, we all wondered as to how attractive we really were. Most of us tended to obsess about our clothes, skin, hair and generally how “cool” we really looked. Back then, it seemed as if our physical characteristics were all that mattered. After all, the nick names and teasing by others were generally focused on physical characteristics such as the shape of our nose, eyes, weight, height and any other bodily features. Getting through those years was a challenge for most of us!

More recently however social scientists have come to understand that physical appearance is not the only aspect of ourselves that is attractive to others. Our personalities influence how other people see us. In addition, our confidence, emotions and social ease determines how we are perceived by the people around us.

About a decade ago, two researchers (Mehrabian and Blum, 1997) began their research with a simple idea. They wondered what physical features were the most attractive to the opposite sex.  In essence, they posed the question of what combination of characteristics really make someone attractive and desirable to another person. Was it body type, personality, posture, grooming or any of hundreds of different features?

The answers to their research question may be surprising to many people. Their results should also make us realize how much control we really have over how other people see us. This is an important question since much of our self-esteem is often based on the feedback we get from other people. It is especially important for people who may not feel good about how they think they are seen by other people. This includes people with and without a disability.

The surprising results of this research study pointed out that, by far, the most attractive features of a person fall under the category of “self care”. Specifically their research showed that it didn’t matter how often someone went to the gym or whether someone had a straight nose or eyes that were crossed! Physical characteristics were not high on the list at all.

The most important features were characteristics that people had control over like good grooming, neat hair, nice fitting clothing, good posture and a healthy weight. To put it in a nut shell, this study showed that what made men and women desirable was if they put forth the effort to take a shower, groom, select nice clothing, look people in the eye and manage their diet a bit. In other words, these were all things that people could control if they had the interest in changing.

In addition to these “changeable factors”, the Mehrabian and Blum study also identified other factors that were about one third as important as the above features. These included masculinity, femininity and attitude. In this regard, women were attracted to men who did regular exercise and worked to stay healthy.

In contrast, men found women attractive if they had longer hair, wore make up and demonstrated femininity in their posture, facial expression and body language. Both men and women were attracted to others who were happy, positive and friendly in their attitude toward other people.

What This Means for Your Love Life

 This study and others like it show that you have more control over how other people see you than you may have thought. What makes you attractive as a person is the effort that you put into your appearance and your attitude. Putting forth that sense of confidence, friendliness and social ease can make all the difference in the world. Here are a few easy and practical tips to think about:

  1. Grooming – The most important feature in determining how other people will see you is the effort you put into your personal hygiene. Be clean, neat, smell good, style your hair, shave and brush your teeth. All those things that Mom used to tell you to do will really make a difference in your attractiveness to other people. It takes some effort but this is the most important thing you can do.
  2. Clothing – This is another simple thing that you have complete control over. Studies show that your clothes need to be cleaned, well fitting and maintained. Don’t be chronically underdressed. Be snazzy and show a bit of classiness in your choice of clothing. People will notice. Your clothes make a statement about you and how you feel about yourself.
  3. Posture – If you use a chair, sit as straight as you can. Put your shoulders back and keep your head up. Look people in the eye and smile. Do a little experiment and check out how people react to you when they see you with a grin or a little smile. You may be surprised.
  4. Accentuate your Masculinity or Femininity – Strut your masculinity a little bit by doing something like growing a goatee or beard, wearing clothes that show your muscles or do other things that come to mine. To be more feminine, learn to properly apply make up –accentuating your eyes and lips. Try other things such as growing your hair longer or using extensions.

In conclusion, simply by taking charge of your appearance you can influence whether other people perceived you as attractive. With a little effort and attention to detail, you may be surprised to find out just how much people will notice you and how differently they may respond to you. Sometimes, it’s the simple things that can make a big difference. Who knows, you may even feel a little differently about yourself in the process.


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