Does Physical Attraction Matter?


Editor's Note: For those pursuing a spouse few issues can be
more emotional then that of finances and physical attraction. 4marks
Magazine sought to get a balanced perspective on both issues. Judson Cox has examined what role physical attraction should play for a man. In a separate article
, Mary Beth Bonacci has examined the role money should play for women. 4marks thanks both its columnist for helping to responsibly shed
light on topics that too often result in acrimony and misunderstanding
between the genders. 


A few weeks ago my editor here at 4 Marks asked me to "write about the role physical attraction plays in choosing a spouse." At first it seemed like a fun break from writing more serious articles. Then it hit me – my readers seem to be deeply religious people who would expect me to say that looks don't matter. They would expect me to say things like "it's what's inside that counts". But, I can't do that. The truth is, men prefer pretty women.

Humans are drawn to beauty. We seek beauty in nature, art and pretty much everything else; that is just how God made us. Many of the saints have said that man's desire for beauty is a reflection of our higher nature that seeks God, as the creation is a reflection of its creator. To get back down to earth though, no man has ever gazed at a woman across a crowded room and exclaimed, "Wow, she has a great personality!"

Researchers have found that babies respond more positively to attractive people (Langlois et al., 1987). Babies haven't been enculturated to learn what our popular culture considers attractive, but they still respond to beauty. Folk takes show us that long before television and magazines began to shape our social consciousness, beautiful women were associated with goodness and other positive attributes, while the villains were ugly old witches. Even the Bible tells the story of Esther, the beautiful Hebrew woman who was so desired by the King of Persia, that she was able to save her people solely on the merits of her physical attractiveness.

A recent study found that physical beauty is the highest priority for men in choosing a mate (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences by Peter Todd, of Indiana University, Lars Penke, of Humboldt University, Berlin, Barbara Fasolo, of the London School of Economics, and Alison Lenton, of the University of Edinburgh – 2007). Before you women reply with the typical "Lifetime Television" response condemning men as being shallow, consider this: the same study found that women placed physical attraction second only to how much money a man has. The pursuit of money would hardly seem to be a nobler goal than the pursuit of beauty!

That study sheds light on the whole "trophy wife" phenomenon. A woman who is pretty enough to have any man she wants seeks the richest guy she can find, and a man who is rich enough to have any woman he wants seeks the prettiest woman he can find. Donald Trump leaves Ivana for Marla (and so on and so on) and Anna Nicole Smith married a rich old geezer. They all seem to be rather shallow people. They all got what they wanted. Both sexes are equally superficial…or driven by basal/preservation instinct.

Beautiful women have more romantic options and opportunities. However, in my opinion, only about 5% of the population falls into the truly beautiful category. In some geographical regions this percentage may be higher; Italy has a surplus of beautiful women, as does Cuba and the American south – but, these regions also have the best food and, as obesity is not considered attractive by most men, it all balances out in the end. So, 95% of the population is not beautiful, but about 90% of folks get married. Most women are average in appearance and most women find mates; how is that?

My mother is a psychologist and she notices a lot of things about people that I usually miss. Not long ago, she commented, "Have you noticed how almost all of the couples on the E-Harmony commercials look alike? They look as though they could be related." This led her to conclude that many people are attracted to mates who look similar to themselves. This might explain why, even though I am most attracted to dark haired, olive skinned women, I usually end up with tall, pale, willowy blondes. I'm 6'4", with fair hair and complexion. I certainly don't seek these women out, but maybe they seek me out.

Here is a useful tip for average looking women: if you see a guy to whom you are attracted, go up to him and say hello. Men are not usually as socially adept as women. However, we are always expected to make the first move. Very few of us are comfortable approaching a woman and starting a conversation. Heck, most of us can barely talk with each other with any level of comfort! Just go up to the guy and start talking and flirting and doing what comes naturally to women. Don't stand there, waiting for him to make the first move. Even if you are not the most attractive woman in the room, you will be in his eyes.

I would also suggest that most people of both genders have a less than realistic opinion of their own looks. Most above average looking guys think that beautiful women are out of their league. They will choose a more average looking woman for fear of rejection or because they doubt they are attractive enough to cause a beautiful woman to fall in love with them and remain faithful.

Then, there is desperation. Many people get together motivated mainly by a desire not to be alone. A friend of mine recently married one of the most unpleasant women I've ever met mainly because he wanted to get married before he turned 40.

In the immortal words of Mickey Gilley, from "The Girls All Get Prettier at Closing Time":

I don't mean to criticize the girls at all / 'cause I'm no Robert Redford, even overhauled / But we all picture in our minds a girl that looks just right / Ain't it funny, ain't it strange / The way a man's opinion changes / When he starts to face that lonely night.

Another point needs to be examined. A recent study by Martin Fieder and Susanne Huber, of the University of Vienna found that men are most desirous of women younger than themselves, while women prefer older men. That makes sense considering that younger women tend to be more attractive (as proven dramatically at any high school reunion) and older men have had more time to make money. Historically, this has been the trend that humanity has followed, regardless of culture. It was only in the 1950s, when advertisers began to market products to specific generations and the teenager became a pop-culture phenomenon, that the natural desire of age difference in a romantic relationship began to fade – older men marrying younger women began to be seen as old fashioned, backward and less than ideal. I'm not going to say that age disparity is preferable. However, anyone can see that divorce rates skyrocketed from that point on.

I'm reminded of Ray and Rosa Hicks. Ray was a famous storyteller from the mountains of North Carolina, and a good friend of mine. Ray was 27 and Rosa was 14 when they married. They remained deeply in love throughout their marriage, raised several children, and Rosa was at Ray's side when he died at the age of 81. Their lives were very tough and Ray was a hard man to live with, but they stuck it out and their marriage survived – they remained attracted to each other and even jealous of one another to the end. You can read about Ray and Rosa in a book entitled The Last Chivaree. Now days, such relationships are not accepted. A man of 27 who was in love with a 14 year old girl would be branded a pedophile and arrested. Maybe things have changed for the better, but I would be hard pressed to find any evidence of it in our society.

One last aspect of this whole physical attraction thing, that I feel should be addressed, is society's concept of beauty. Over the past few decades the women who have been held up as the ideal of beauty in our culture are pencil thin, flat chested waifs. Frankly, I think the only people who think the ideal woman should look like a boy are the homosexuals who dominate the fashion and entertainment industries. Androgyny is not a quality to which one should aspire. This is unhealthy and just plain wrong. Arguably, the two most beautiful women America has ever produced were Marilyn Monroe and Ava Gardner. Those gorgeous creatures would be considered fat by today's standards and not even allowed in the entertainment industry. Here is a newsflash for the promoters of pop-culture: Men like breasts, and hips and curves! Anyone who thinks Angelina Jolie is more attractive in her current anorexic state than she was 10 years ago is sick. Paris Hilton is disgusting. Anyone who promotes such misguided images of beauty should be tarred, feathered and pushed off the left coast!

In the long run, of course, it is what's inside that counts. But beauty matters, big time!




  1. Marita-847688 June 23, 2012 Reply

    14 and 27? Where is Chris Hansen? Where are the cameras?

  2. Fred-190374 December 7, 2007 Reply

    Fred-190374 wrote on December 3rd, 2007
    Amongst all the criteria we men use to evaluate a possible mate ( physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual beauty ..) physical attraction seems the easiest / quickest one to form an interior conclusion about .. so we men , I think, generally try to cross that bridge ( evaluate physical attraction that is ) first.
    Then having crossed that perception / acceptance threshold , a man will spend weeks / months or years necessary to appreciate / understand / and come to a decision regarding the blessing , attraction and compatability within his potential partner's other gifts : emotional health, intellectual curiosity , common spiritual vision and goals .. hopefully this is done in grace and prayerfully !
    For a year I tried to avoid that first step – physical attraction – thinking that the other criteria are much more important .. hmmm , sadly , realistically though I learned that "yes" strong physical attraction IS needed to cement a marital bond .. guess that's the way our Father in His wisdom has made us . Though ALL of us love Mother Teresa's spiritual beauty .and warmth . probably not that many would feel a call to marry her – for different attractants are at work within the mystery of partnering and marrriage – physical attraction perhaps foremost .. though we idealists would rather not admit that .
    If you gals please , remain strong and wise you'll help teach us / reinforce within us that " yes " – physical attraction is ONLY first base and that the rest of your special gifts ARE needed for the relationship to grow and flourish ! HEYA , once you understand us you can help us grow up 🙂

  3. Federica-244436 November 30, 2007 Reply

    Marriage should be holy, so based on different's a noble vocation as the religious one may be just different. I am not surprised to see how many couples are divorced or separated, beauty is a grace but looking around u can see how many people expecially nowadays are unwanted, unloved, forgotten, pre-judged because they don't fit the idea of beauty and ideals of the world. So as Christian We should keep our torch high and please reflect more about what we should be instead of discuss life in the shade of the world

  4. John-10533 November 29, 2007 Reply

    The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart."
    1 Samuel 16:6-8
    Jesus said that when He would be lifted up on the cross that He would draw all men and women to Himself. He would attract or bring all men and women to himself by His self sacraficing love, His Agape! Can you feel it!!?!! Who can withstand the power of His love. A man or a women who radiates Gods Holy Spirit will do the same if your the ugly duckling or the dazzling duck! Quack! Have faith!
    "All flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flowers of the field: the grass withers and the flower wilts;but the word of the Lord remains forever" 1PETER3
    So it is true that man does judge by appearance. This of course began when He/She tasted the delicious apple that had that yucky bad after taste. Putooowy!!
    Eros (erotic love/attraction) is important for us to be fruitful and multiply but remember agape trumps the eros and sometimes what is unseen is more important than what is seen. Blessed is he or she who believes and has not yet seen.
    "Trust in the Lord and do good….you will find your delight in the Lord who will give you your hearts desire. pslam 37 3;7
    To God be the Glory!!

  5. Ruth-238762 November 28, 2007 Reply

    I think this article was poorly written: there is something to be said about beauty and its importance, but it was not said well in the above paragraphs. I truly wish 4-Marks had chosen an author with a more thorough understanding of human psychology and the varying perceptions of beauty. Truly it is difficult to cover such a broad topic as beauty, but I do believe a better perspective could have ben printed in this magazine. I agree that beauty will draw two persons together in a physical attraction…but over time…that will inevitably change. Are you still attracted to your wife after she loses her curves? Are you still attracted to your husband when he gains a potbelly? I have heard Christian public-speakers indicate it is a responsibility in marriage to keep oneself looking attractive for their spouse. But, to the best of my knowledge, maintaining beauty is not a requirement in the Catechism for marriage. And, Mr. Cox, I think you need to read the response to your article by Angelo. I am an athlete, and therefore very thin; would you like to tar and feather me for being a small-framed runner? Eating disorders are bad, but they are also complex psychological disorders that hardly have a place in a quip ending to an article on beauty. Mr Cox, did you mean body dysmorphia? Body dysmorphia is not selective to women, but equal in both genders. As a personal trainer, I have met a lot of young men obsessed with the imperfections in their bodies.
    What is beautiful to me? I'm sure it's different person to person! A man who is humble and loves his family and fears the Lord is beautiful to me…if he doesn't have that, it does not matter what he looks like on the outside: seriously! I think beauty is a combination of physical and interior attraction.

  6. Darren-128671 November 28, 2007 Reply

    Physical beauty is somewhat of a factor…it may help to get my attention…inner beauty…how she is…her presence…her uniqueness…is more important…

  7. Neil-277494 November 28, 2007 Reply

    This is the perfect article for me right now although I don't agree with everything said. Sure men seek beauty in women as in nature. But I think we should clarify the "way we are seeking". Yes we look at pictures, movies and pretty girls that walk past us in the street. How about "seeking" a girl from the pool of those we know or are actually communicating with (in other words-reality!) As a devout Catholic I value being friends with a few women and hold prospects for something more with "the one". Anything else is lust and I'm not immune to it either. But if God's will will make you truly happy, it doesn't matter that she's not the prettiest one you've seen. Besides are you looking for sex or Love? Look at other women in your own family, your Mother. Do you love her, does your Dad love her? I bet you didn't even think of physical attractiveness just there. That's the way it should be with your wife. You want someone that will wake up in the morning and have breakfast with. Not someone who will give you a striptease. That's just my opinion, but I think I'm on the right track. BTW prettiness is still important but not confined to Italy, Cuba or America's south nor to skinny waifs, that's just silly.

  8. Tracey-14882 November 27, 2007 Reply

    I think this article is pretty subjective and I wish he had tackled some points about nature. A major point being that of the survival of the fittest. Men look for women with breasts and hips because they make good babies. I believe each person has a right to his or her opinion when it comes to choosing the spouse who is right for him or her. I do not think using the increase in the divorce rate is right in the attempt to justify seeking a spouse much younger than yourself. I could relate the same statistic to bench seats in cars.
    I do not understand the point that men usually go after more average women. I have found quite the opposite to be true. I think that men have a pretty high self image and go after the girl who is an "8" when he in fact is a "5". These numbers are arbitrary and I am simply using them to make my point.

  9. John-116134 November 22, 2007 Reply

    Pretty BAD article, I thought. I firmly don't believe that babies respond more positively to pretty people. One of my baby nieces favorite people was her Grandma, a wonderful, though quite wrinkly old lady of 88 years. Did the author notice that a baby's fav person is their mom? They don't notice how she looks. Esther did not save her people because of her beauty, but rather her holiness. How can you say only 5% of people are trully beautiful? You watch too many movies, maybe you say this cause only 5% of people are actresses or supermodels. It has to do with age as well, there's not many ugly 18 year old girls, in my opinion. And NO, that's not who I chase.
    Divorce rates sky rocket because women don't marry older men anymore? His comments that "only people who like women to look like boys is homosexual" is inappropriate. Paris Hilton is disgusting? Dude, even though she has issues, she is pretty. The article sounded like it might be good, but please Catholic Match, DON'T ask this guy to write for you again.

  10. Francesco-7467 November 22, 2007 Reply

    The author makes the following observation:
    "Over the past few decades the women who have been held up as the ideal of beauty in our culture are pencil thin, flat chested waifs. Frankly, I think the only people who think the ideal woman should look like a boy are the homosexuals who dominate the fashion and entertainment industries. Androgyny is not a quality to which one should aspire. This is unhealthy and just plain wrong."
    When I decided to read the above article, I was under the distinct impression that the content would reflect wise opinion regarding Catholic morals and values, attempting to help others make prudent decisions regarding their future relationships, similar to Mary Beth Bonacci's well written viewpoints, so I was quite surprised to read the above quote, especially when society is filled with countless "pencil thin, flat chested" women that possess such a body structure not due to choice, but rather resulting from genetic makeup. To this author, such females should be considered masculine and unattractive to men, an observation that not only lacks sensitivity and Christian charity, but does not answer the obvious follow-up question to this article, which is how, if "pencil thin, flat chested" women are unappealing, do so many females with such a body structure find men to spend the rest of their lives with?
    The fact is, men have personal preferences for physical appearance in the woman they seek that differ greatly, as some are attracted to females with a curvy shape (such as the above author), while others prefer a thin woman, and are not concerned in the least with breast size (some men even prefer smaller breasts, as I have seen such comments written in discussions regarding this subject elsewhere), yet the article above presents such "flat chested" females as "androgynous," only appealing to "homosexuals" who believe all women should appear as boys. This, quite frankly, is the attitude that I would expect an article regarding physical appearance on a Catholic site would try to dispel, as opposed to affirming the standards that the pornography industry has been promoting for years, which is that any woman who does not have a large chest is essentially worth nothing to a man. In fact, although the above author seems to believe our culture promotes thin runway models as the bastion of beauty, it's actually the multi-billion dollar porn industry that has been selling its very own stereotype of large chested females for years, and conditioning men to believe that they must seek a woman with certain bust parameters to find happiness in life, which is why we see breast implant surgery becoming one of the prime plastic surgical procedures in our country today.
    I own a physical fitness business, and am well aware that a vast number of women are extremely thin by nature and born with small breasts (this is not a decision, but rather, their genetic makeup), and the author's comments sap the very dignity from such females, and if one does not fit the definition of beauty that the author holds true, his comments will encourage a quick visit to the local plastic surgeon for breast implants so that "flat chested" women can abandon their "androgyny" and become the bastion of womanhood that this author believes all men strive to find in their wife. If we learn one day that breast implant material causes harm to the body, we have attitudes such as these to thank for so many females feeling as if they need to surgically modify themselves to match what some in society have deemed to be standards of feminine beauty.
    To me, the proper Catholic message regarding beauty casts each of us as a special, unique creation, made in the image and likeness of God, unrepeatable, and worthy of respect based on our inherent dignity, knowing that although men will have their own individual preferences in terms of a woman's appearance, her faith and desire to embrace our Catholic teachings are what will make her the woman that we will strive to spend the rest of our life with. Anything less brings the human condition to one of lust, and should be rejected by all who wish to follow our Savior.
    God Bless,

  11. Susan-100468 November 13, 2007 Reply

    An attractive person has to have a outgoing demeanor or is rarely noticed. True beauty is from the values held and shared.

  12. Diana-286996 November 10, 2007 Reply

    Just to add a comment: Thank God for different "colors and tastes"!

  13. Michelle-176368 November 9, 2007 Reply


Post a comment