Attractiveness is that quality which makes an individual desirable as a partner or member of a group. It is thus an important attribute for meeting a very basic need, that of association with others. Moreover, the more attractive a person is to others the more frequent and satisfying will be his/her relationship with them. However, it should not be assumed that this need for association of necessity results in an other-directed de-emphasis of the self. For closely bound together with our need to be associated with others in a meaningful way is the need to express our individuality (Cabot, Hugh, and Joseph A. Kahl, 1953. P. 142). Such individuality can only be expressed through inter-personal relations, and it is only those qualities that make us unique and different from other members of the group that endow us with attractiveness.
To be sure, one can carry the idea of uniqueness to an absurd degree. Eccentrics, for example, are not generally regarded as attractive people. But it must be admitted if one is asked why he or she finds a particular person attractive, the reply almost invariably relates to some distinguishing quality of the individual in question, such as their good personality, nice appearance, or interesting conversational ability. While the quality may be one they may possess to one degree or another, to single it out as a cause for attraction is to indicate that the attractive person possesses a relative surplus of the quality. On the other hand, a lack of some quality that is commonly possessed by others may be sufficient, if not compensated for by other positive qualities, to make a person decidedly unattractive. But the important thing to remember is that a person’s attractiveness is an outgrowth of his/her individuality and is really the sum of all the other qualities that he/she possesses.
The concept of attractiveness is commonly associated with sexuality. This is not, of course, the only meaning the word can have. A person can be attractive to other members of a group because he shares some common interest or has some particular ability that is prized by the group. But for all practical purposes , the concept of attractiveness cannot be divorced from that of sexuality. In this regard , it is worth noting that “sexuality, in its less obvious forms, is intertwined in some manner, large or small, in almost all social and economic activities.” (Chapman, 1968. P. 119). The very qualities which make a person sexually attractive to somebody else are generally those that will make him an attractive member of almost any group with which he happens to be associated.
It would seem, too, that attractiveness is self-reinforcing. The more attractive others seem to find an individual, the better will be his/her self-image and the greater the degree of self-acceptance. In turn, these positive valuations of the self result in more positive behavior in inter-personal relations and hence further enhance the individual’s attractiveness to others. Indeed, self acceptance is extremely basic to the quality of attractiveness, for if an individual does not find himself/herself attractive and deserving of friendship, it is doubtful that others will either. And it should be noted that there will generally be a lack of self-acceptance if a person’s aspirations are considerably higher than his achievements or his potentiality for achievement. Harry Emerson Fosdick states the matter as follows: “When self-acceptance is not achieved and the strain between the actual and the dreamed-of self becomes tense, the result is an unhappy and sometimes crushing sense of inferiority.” (Fosdick, 1943. P. 61). Since feelings of inferiority are readily perceived by others, it is very difficult for a person to be attractive if he/she does not have a healthy degree of self-acceptance.
The Role of Learning in Attractiveness
The most important factor in making one attractive is his personality, and personality is essentially learned social behavior. One’s personality is shaped, first of all, by his/her parents and others with whom the child comes into contact during infancy and early childhood. When the child reaches school age, teachers and members of the peer group are likely to become more important examples from which to learn personable and attractive behavior, simply because he/she spends the greatest share of his/her time with them. Parents continue to play a major role in shaping the child’s personality. However, with the onset of puberty, it may be said that the individual’s basic personality has already been formed and is not likely to change much during the remainder of his/her life. At this time, however, the youngster first begins to enter into serious relationships, and it may be said that his/her self-image will be greatly affected by the early encounters.
It appears that one learns to be attractive by imitating individuals he/she themselves regards as attractive. Learning will take place from those whom the individual sets, consciously or unconsciously, as models of attractiveness which in turn is probably determined by who he/she is around. But, by the time an individual reaches adolescence, his/her personality appears to be so well formed that only some modification is possible and no great transformation of personality is to be expected. Hence, we are forced back to the position that an individual’s personality, and his degree of attractiveness in social relationships, is determined largely by his/her parents, the earliest individuals whom he/she has to imitate. If the parents were themselves attractive individuals, the chances are the child will automatically learn and acquire those character traits that tend to promote attractiveness. On the other hand if the parents were unattractive or if there was severe conflict between the personal qualities of the mother and the father, the child is likely to grow up severely limited in his/her ability to attract people to himself/herself.
Cabot, Hugh and Joseph A. Kahl. Human Relations. Cambridge, Mass.; Harvard University Press, 1953.
Chapman, A.H. Put-Offs and Come-Ons. New York: G.P. Putnams Sons, 1968.
Fosdick, Harry Emerson On Being A Real Person. New York: Harper and Brothers, 1943.
~Dr. Estella Sneider, Ph.D