Why are we attracted to certain physical types?
November 11, 2015 10:12 PM   Subscribe

Ever since I was adolescent, so before there was even TV in my country, let alone Internet, I've always been attracted to the same type (skinny men with high cheekbones), and wonder what determines the physical type of people one is attracted to. Is there some kind of cultural, biological, Freudian or whatever explanation?
posted by Kwadeng to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite

According to this recent study, half of your preference is 'wiring' and the other half experience.

As far as the experience thing goes, it seems like when people think they have a 'type' they might pursue, interact with, or fantasize about those people more, which would reinforce the preference. Which is really more like a self-created bias, maybe. Because some people can kind of just be attracted to people without especially being attracted to or focussed on their physical parts.
posted by unmake at 1:23 AM on November 12, 2015

Sexual Imprinting is one psychological theory. Basically the idea is that there is a time period during our development during which we tend to become attracted to a mate type that in some ways resembles those who parented us. This is widely seen in the animal world. When applied to human psychology it is much more controversial however.

There is also a type of reverse imprinting called the Westermarck effect (covered in second link above). This normally means that while we end up attracted to somebody a bit like a parent - we should not end attracted to our parents or siblings themselves. Siblings raised apart, who miss out on this period of imprinting, often find themselves attracted to each other.
posted by rongorongo at 2:27 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'll give a whack at cognitive psychology of the beast. A thought:

You're attracted to first skinny guy with high cheekbones (SGWHC) and think and think about him and fantasize about him and get a lot of pleasure from thinking of him and looking at him, etc.
You see second SGWHC and he reminds you of first guy who you were very attracted to so some of the pleasant feelings you felt for first guy get automatically transferred to second SGWHC.
Then, enter third SGWHC who you've been positively reinforced for being attracted to, and you're now attracted to him, too.

And it goes on and on. See?
posted by Piedmont_Americana at 4:19 AM on November 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

The "sweaty t shirt study" is kinda relevant.
posted by mermaidcafe at 5:03 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Were there important people in your life when you were little/young who were skinny and at least seemed tall to you and had high cheekbones? Or, by contrast, were there people you really hated who were short and podgy and pudding-faced?

I find it very difficult to be attracted to people who don't wear glasses, for instance, and if there's a group photo, I will always unconsciously find the people wearing glasses to be the most attractive. I wear glasses. Everyone in my family wears glasses. My first serious crush and everyone I've dated except one person wore glasses. At this point, it's a giant hodge-podge of family history, seeking-similarity and past experience.

Are you usually attracted to people you are unlikely to be able to date because they're...uh...out of your league in some way? I too am attracted to gangly people - not just tall and skinny but actively gangly and scrawny. As a short, pudgy AFAB person, I do not get to date thin people; they are ipso facto out of my league, especially men or masculine spectrum people. I always figure I'm attracted to them mostly because they serve unconsciously as reminders that I am Not Good Enough. I mean, luckily I am attracted to other people as well, but I could easily see a life of telling myself that I could only be happy with a tall thin person and making myself miserable.

(Also, of course, we all get a lot of cultural reinforcement for liking people who are tall and skinny with high cheekbones; it's not like we receive any messages that say "short, round-faced people who look soft rather than bony are the most attractive ones". As we all know, Bob, the default attractive type has varied across time and culture, so it's not inborn.)
posted by Frowner at 5:04 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

A possible starting point for Freud is his 1927 paper "Some Psychological Consequences of the Anatomical Distinction between the Sexes". This is the source for his theory that heterosexual attraction is determined by the characteristics of one's opposite sex parent. The paper deals mainly with female heterosexual attraction. For a summary on Freud's theories on male and female homosexual attraction, you could start here.
posted by rongorongo at 6:02 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks to all. Some insightful stuff there, if not totally conclusive.

@ Frowner: the first crush I can remember was a kid in my class while we were 13 or so. And almost every man I've had a crush on since then has been skinny or thin, and they have come in all heights and races and nationalities and ages. But thin bodies, high cheekbones and, in the past few years, a receding hairline, have been constant in my attractions. I don't think it has to do with family image (we've a wide range from thin to big and short to tall), nor with me seeing them to be out of my league.Though I may be wrong.

Having read all your contributions, I guess it's a mix of many things and unmake might be on to something .
posted by Kwadeng at 6:18 AM on November 12, 2015

As a young person, I was very attracted to tall, skinny men with high cheekbones. I myself am a tall, skinny person with high cheekbones so I attributed my preference for these physical features to the phenomenon of being attracted to people we somewhat resemble.

I think preferences for certain physical types weaken as we age and learn to appreciate other qualities about people. That is what happened to me at least. As I've grown older, I've become much less attracted to tall, skinny men with high cheekbones and much more attracted to men with all sorts of body types. I'm not in the dating market, but if I was I think I'd enjoy dating much more than I did when I was younger and was more picky about dating only people that were of my physical type.
posted by scantee at 6:51 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

Heh, I'm short and round faced and I go for tall with cheekbones. Possibly that's an opposite preference from what's in my gene pool, which makes more sense genetically if not vanity-wise.

I'm a believer in the lovemap theory. Mostly because I watched a lot of a certain 80's detective show as a kid and ah...my exes all have a lot in common with that particular dude.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:32 AM on November 12, 2015

From experience dating/interacting with people of different cultures, I'd say a huge portion of it is cultural. In Asia, pale/light skin and slim bodies are attractive...in African/African American cultures, a curvy body (even a bit overweight) on a woman and a large backside is considered attractive...within WASP culture, a slim body on a woman is ideal...of course people in these cultures do have other preferences but painting with a large brush, culture does have a very big influence. (I think you'd have to dig deeper for the origins of cultural preferences though).
posted by bearette at 9:55 AM on November 12, 2015

On the Freudian side of things, I look so much like my Husbands mother that people assume he's the In-Law, add to that the fact I'm older than him & Freud would have had a field day with him. In my defense I didn't meet her for almost 3 years after knowing my husband.
posted by wwax at 12:29 PM on November 13, 2015

Coming to this question late, I just want to say that it's entirely possible for one's "type" to change later in life. As a teenager, I was strongly drawn to guys who looked like Julian Sands in A Room with a View — pale, blond, tall, slender.

A little over ten years later, my now-husband picked me up from a friend's place, after we'd watched Spider-Man 2 with Alfred Molina as Doc Ock.

"So," my husband said, "what did you think of the movie?"

"Well," I said, "Alfred Molina was, um…"

"What?" said my husband, defensively. "Doc Ock is supposed to be a big guy!"

"No, no," I said, chuckling to myself, "it's just that what I was going to say was 'Alfred Molina was really hot.' So, um."
posted by Lexica at 9:47 PM on November 26, 2015

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