For most of my childhood, the only person who told me I was handsome was my mom. She would tell me that I would be such a heart breaker. Then I ventured out into the real world and found no such validation. Occasionally a girl would have a crush on me, but it was never one of the pretty or popular girls. As far as my friends were concerned, all they knew was that I had a big nose. I really had no idea of knowing whether I was good looking or not. I wanted to be… few things were more obvious than the advantages of being good looking.
After high school, I was more focused on building myself up than what I looked like. I was confident that women were more attracted to character than looks… how else do you explain Jay Z and Beyonce? So I focused on building character.. integrity.. honesty.. honor.. intelligence.. humor, etc. I proceeded to date 3 of the most eligible women at my university. One of them was non-superficial that she could’ve dated a burn victim. Another thought I was really good looking, but her ex was… rather plain, so not a great measure. The third was really into the body-builder physique (of which I was not), and that led to some lackluster physical chemistry. Coming out of university, I knew I had the ability to date beautiful women… but still no clue if I was good looking.
A few years after university, I dated a girl who seemed to be grateful and appreciative of everything in her life. Even her most significant accomplishments, she would dismiss as good fortune. It was foreign to me as I’ve always been one to celebrate work ethic. She was extremely grateful for her looks, and said that I should be too. I told her that I had given up on trying to understand whether or not I was good looking. She told me that was ridiculous, and that to deny that I was good looking was to be oblivious of the privilege it afforded to me. Perhaps she had a point. Instead of exploring that point, I told her it just wasn’t something I thought about very much and I was pretty happy with the results. It was the first time someone told me I was basically an asshole if I didn’t think I was good looking. Well then…
Over the last couple months, I’ve probably been called handsome or good looking more than any other period in my entire life. As someone who was trying to get back into the dating scene, one would hope those compliments would be coming from interested women. Wishful thinking. Almost every one of those comments came from older men in my professional life. Something to the effect of, “you’re a young, good looking guy, the world is your oyster”. There was an older Asian guy at my local tech summit who probably told me about 10 times in one conversation that I’m handsome, have a great smile, and should be doing business development for Intel. He made sure to spell Intel for me.. Pretty sure he was several drinks in.
While it’s easy enough to laugh off, maybe there’s something worth observing here. Am I good looking? I’d say that depends on who you ask. I’ve been told by friends overseas that if you were to drop me in a place like Japan, China or Korea, I’d be like catnip. Put me in a place like California or New York and probably much less so. So there are cultural factors at play. I know facial symmetry makes for bonus points… A full head of hair… Good genetics… but what about personal preferences? When I was young, I spent a lot of time crushing on girls who just weren’t into me. There seem to be elements of attraction which are general, while others can be highly individual.
So beauty is in the eye of the beholder, yes? Seems like an easy out. But maybe there’s yet another level to this. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but eyes of the beholders tend to follow similar algorithms. I think it starts with good genetics. When you mix genetics from diverse gene pools, you end up with great looking kids. When you let a brother and sister get it on, there’s a 50/50 chance you end up with a cyclops. We have instincts that pick up on good genetics and we perceive that as physical attraction. In reality, we’re just instinctively trying to diversify our gene pool.
Good health is perhaps second on that list. We seem to be in an interesting time where people who are unhealthy and overweight want to be perceived as attractive in the same way that someone healthy is. In reality, we’re physically attracted to good health and there are different ways we pick up on that. Are you fit? Do you have good skin? Good teeth? Is your hair falling out? Something I’ve found interesting is that whether it’s a 5’0″ gymnast or a 6’3″ power lifter, I’ve always found a healthy woman to be attractive.
So based on these parameters am I good looking? Probably.
My genetic background is Scottish, Irish, Jewish, and Austrian. Not the most diverse gene pool, but certainly not kissing-cousins. My face is largely symmetrical from what I can see. I have a full head of hair and mostly straight teeth. While I take liberties with my health and fitness from time to time, I’ve been a competitive athlete my entire life. If I had to guess, I would say that I am above average looking.
Great. Now what?
My concern before was that if I figured out that I was good looking, I’d let it go to my head. I liked being oblivious to it because it kept my focus on what I thought was more important. Now that I’m conceding, what changes? … Nothing…?
I think that at this point, it’s unlikely to go to my head. I’m appreciative for where it’s helped me, indifferent to where it didn’t, and hope that this baby face ages gracefully. I’m also understanding and accepting where it may have created unearned advantages for me. While it may have helped in my dating life, it probably wasn’t as big of a factor as some may believe. Where I think it’s actually helped me the most is in my professional life. Just about every person that’s hired me or considered me for a role has referred to me as good looking. I think that early on, I just saw these compliments as innocuous or inconsequential. Why does being good looking have anything to do with my performance in the work environment? I know I look good in a suit.. maybe they were just saying something nice. But I don’t think it’s that simple. I think that things like facial symmetry, good skin, good hair, and good teeth make a difference in the willingness of strangers to trust you. Match that with being presentable and well-spoken, and you’re able to earn trust faster than others. In the world of business, that’s a very real advantage.
Are there any disadvantages?
I often see a duality around privilege, and good looks seem to follow that pattern. While I’m grateful for my looks, I’m more grateful for that uncertainty while growing up. It encouraged me to put my efforts and focus elsewhere, and not everyone is so lucky. Think about the prettiest girl in your high school. Was she more likely to be headed to university on a full scholarship or date the captain of the football team? Was she more likely to get recruited out of school to the field of her choice or more likely to be working as a bartender? Does she stand a better chance of accomplishing things on her own, or being accessory to someone else’s accomplishments? From a certain perspective, being good looking provides an easier path than most. But since when is easy a good thing?
A duality.. and a reality of our world. At the end of the day, physical attraction has a rather functional purpose: visual markers of good genetic and good health that help you find a mate. But I can’t help but see the tail wagging the dog a bit. Rather than understanding how physical attraction plays out among several other factors like personality, resources, intelligence, and group-membership, we talk about it like it’s magic. We often treat it like something that can’t be explained, and that even if it could, it shouldn’t. That it would take the romance out of things. I disagree. I find the truth to be more romantic than any lie.
I think there’s a fair bit of magic in having an honest understanding of what we’re seeing and why we enjoy it.