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The importance of being hot (or not)

Recently I’ve been getting into a lot of discussions about the importance of looks and the role they play in attraction. These discussions can look more like debates depending on who I’m talking to. Even grown adults sometimes have what I would consider superficial and immature attitudes as far as attractiveness is concerned. This can lead to a myriad of problems including low self-esteem, unrealistic expectations and difficulty finding partners. I know because I’ve seen it happen to people I am close to. I’ve tried offering advice, using real-life examples to counter their opinions, but to little avail. Here I am going to break down exactly why their views are unfounded, and hopefully provide them with the reassurance they need in order to move forward.

When it comes to attraction, looks are important. No one I know would disagree. But how important varies from one person to the next. You often hear stereotypes bandied around about how men are very visual and women aren’t. Generalisations like that are not helpful for anyone, regardless of gender identity. In my experience, men are nowhere near as superficial as the media or society would have you believe. I don’t doubt that shallow men exist, but they do not move in the same circles as me and quite frankly, that is how I like it. As for the idea that women are not visually stimulated, I can tell you categorically that that is nonsense. No one ever fell for someone they found physically repulsive. That being said, you do not need to be a model with flawless features in order to attract a partner. It should go without saying, but some people are still convinced that they need to look a certain way in order to find love.

I get it. I used to be one of those people. As a teenager I used to devour trashy magazines. These publications mercilessly judged female celebrities on their physiques while perpetuating the idea that men only wanted women with washboard stomachs and nutcracker thighs. Being naturally curvy myself, these magazines did nothing for my self-esteem and I grew up believing that I would have to shed every last pound of excess weight if I ever wanted to be in a relationship.

So what changed? I grew up. I had real interactions with real boys and discovered that they were far more complex and nuanced than would have you believe. I discovered that while I am not everyone’s cup of tea, I am definitely some people’s, and that those people liked me exactly as I was. It would not have made any difference to them if I were a couple of stone lighter, nor were they the slightest bit bothered about the parts of my body I didn’t like. The magazines were lying to us in order to sell products. That was all.

Everyone has hang-ups as far as appearance is concerned, but most people do eventually come to realise that physical perfection is not a requirement, nor is it realistic. Stunningly beautiful people are rare, as are those at the opposite end of the spectrum. Most fall into a vast middle bracket, meaning that while I personally may not find them attractive, I can see why someone else might. With the right clothes and a degree of self-care, most people scrub up well enough to be considered reasonably attractive on a physical level. They won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but they will be someone’s. Everyone has preferences, and that’s fine. Men need to clear a certain bar in order for me to find them attractive, and if they don’t then I’m afraid there’s nothing doing. But that bar is not set impossibly high, and a large proportion of people probably clear it if the connection were strong enough.

That’s the key. Connection. It’s less about how a person looks and more about the rapport you have with them. It’s about how your personalities gel and how you interact. It’s how well you understand each other, how easily you can talk and how often you laugh. All these things are infinitely more important than looks. I find that if I have a strong connection with someone, that enables me to see them as good looking even if I didn’t to begin with.

I’m something of an odd duck in that I’ve never experienced instant attraction. I don’t doubt that other people experience it; I’m just not wired that way. I might look at a man and instantly recognise that he is , but that doesn’t automatically mean that I am attracted him. Case in point: I practically ignored all three of my longterm boyfriends for well over a year before falling in love with them. For me, attraction is something that needs to be built up over time. It may be that the right person is already in your life but your circumstances aren’t properly aligned yet. Don’t discount it as a possibility just because someone didn’t turn your head immediately.

When someone does turn your head, their looks may not be a factor. I’ve been involved with guys in the past who would not be considered conventionally attractive. Some people were even kind enough to point this out to me, making such helpful comments as, ‘He isn’t very good-looking.’

Like I was looking for their approval. These boys may not have been model material, but they cleared the aforementioned bar and had plenty of other things going for them.

For another person to find you attractive, you have to have something about you. I said this to a friend of mine once, and maybe I didn’t explain myself clearly enough, but he completely misconstrued what I meant. He thought that in order to appeal to women, you have to be ‘an amateur footballer, play in a band etc.’ But that’s not what I meant at all. If that were the case, very few men would have partners. Sure, interests and achievements can be part of what makes a person appealing, but to suggest that women are only interested in sports players and musicians is both inaccurate and reductive. What I meant was that there has to be something about your personality that would appeal to another person. It might be your sense of humour, your drive and ambition or your easy-going nature. You have to have some kind of charm, at least around the person you’re interested in. I speak from experience when I say that charm can take many forms. There is classic, gentlemanly charm, jovial, good-humoured charm and smooth, seductive charm. They each have their own appeal and they all work a treat on me.

Positive traits like these can make an average-looking person infinitely more appealing and increase their attractiveness tenfold. On the flipside, negative traits can make an average-looking person seem distinctly unappealing. Arrogance, selfishness and cowardice all detract from a person’s attractiveness, as does negativity and self-indulgence. Being a buzzkill is far more off-putting than average looks or a dad bod. And yet some people are still convinced that their appearance is their main stumbling block when it comes to finding love.

A friend of mine recently expressed a desire to ‘get better looking,’ believing it would increase their chances of finding a partner. I didn’t know what to tell them. Your face is your face. Short of surgery, there isn’t that much you can do to drastically alter it. Sure, things like weight loss can make a difference, as can changing your hair, wearing glasses that suit you and having a good skincare routine. But ultimately, all you can do is accept the hand that genetics has dealt you and find a way to make it work. I should point out that this friend is by no means ugly, far from it. I would put them in that vast middle bracket I spoke of earlier, along with most of humanity. Being in that middle bracket is not a bad thing. It means you have potential; you just need to harness it.

Problems arise when people either think looks are the most important thing or have a very narrow view of what constitutes attractiveness. I’ve known some distinctly average-looking men who spent their time hankering after conventionally ‘hot’ women to no avail. They were, by their own admission, only interested in slim, pretty women despite not being particularly alluring themselves.

While attraction incredibly important, you also need to be realistic about the kind of partner you are likely to get. I can appreciate a conventionally hot guy as much as the next person, but for most of us there is simply no point in chasing those who are Hollywood levels of gorgeous. Hot people know they’re hot; they tend to date people who are also hot. Not always, but most of the time. Of course, there are exceptions. You hear of people ‘punching above their weight’ by dating someone more attractive than them, but again that is based purely on looks. Those supposedly mismatched couples just prove my point: that looks are the most important thing. The outwardly less attractive partner will have other qualities that render them attractive to the person they are dating.

Perhaps their partner is the only person who sees it., and that’s fine. I know several people whose choice of partner is baffling to me, but I am not the one dating them so my opinion doesn’t matter. Sometimes finding a partner means adjusting your expectations and looking past the purely physical to see the potential in someone.

People who have a narrow view of what constitutes attractiveness are not only limiting their own options. They are also ignoring one crucial fact, which is that tastes vary enormously. A close friend of mine loves the big, burly Viking look with tattoos and facial hair. I prefer my men slender, cleanshaven and pretty. As far as our taste goes, there is no overlap whatsoever. I’ve turned up to weddings and wondered what on earth the bride saw in the groom. Plenty of things, I don’t doubt. That those things are not visible to me does not matter in the slightest. There are women who, while not conventionally pretty, are striking in their own way and therefore very alluring. On the flipside, there are plenty of people who are widely considered to be attractive and yet do nothing for me personally. There is not just one version of attractiveness, despite what the media and the film and beauty industries would have us believe. Everyone has their own unique set of tastes, which means everyone is in with a chance of finding someone special.

The importance of looks in finding a partner cannot be discounted, but it should not be overplayed. Focusing solely or even mainly on a person’s appearance is superficial and demonstrates a lack of maturity. Of course you need to find your partner attractive, but you only need to find them attractive enough . They do not need to be the most beautiful person you have ever laid eyes on, because chances are they won’t be. Besides, you can be beautiful to look at and a complete bore. You can be beautiful to look at and a vapid airhead. You can be beautiful to look at and a horrible piece of work. Looks are factor, one of many, and certainly not the most important.

Looks for me are the cherry on the top of the cake. They’re an undeniably lovely addition, and a great way to finish off an already scrumptious cake. But without the cake itself, all you’re left with is a cherry, and that’s not going to sustain you for very long. The cherry might be the thing that caught your attention initially, the thing that made you single that particular cake out, but ultimately it’s just decoration, and decoration alone does not a satisfying cake make.

Written by

Lauren Phillips is a language teacher and writer with a deep love of words in all their forms. She uses writing to help her process her own tangled thoughts.

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