Physical attractiveness is partially primal, but culture exerts a heavy influence, according to licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist Judy Scheel, writing for Psychology Today. For example, although a deeply engrained drive to procreate may be behind the fact that men find women more attractive during the fertile phase of their menstrual cycle, as a 2004 study highlighted, the media managed to create a moment in the 1990s when the frail (and presumably infertile) "heroin chic" look became synonymous with attractiveness.
Yes, as attractiveness is not purely primal, different cultures and countries have differing ideas about what is attractive. If you’re from Denmark, you might be shocked to see someone with a facial tattoo, whereas in New Zealand you might find it appealing. While looking tan is a national obsession in Australia, pale skin is in in many parts of Asia. Likewise, what we as Americans find attractive might not be even remotely attractive to various other cultures. Here are the surprising physical traits that Americans find attractive.
Relative youthfulness is viewed differently by men than women
Scientists have long believed that humans have an unconscious drive to partner with members of the opposite sex who, based on physical appearance, appear most likely to help them bring offspring into the world (via Live Science). Accordingly, a team of scientists out of Western Illinois University hypothesized that both men and women would find members of the opposite sex who appear to be youthful to be more attractive than members of the opposite sex who appear to be older.
As it turned out, the scientists were right and wrong. The research, the results of which were published in the Journal of Social Psychology, revealed that heterosexual American women (at least those with an average age of 40) weren’t swayed by the perceived ages of the men they rated as more or less attractive. By contrast, a significant preference for younger-looking women was observed in heterosexual American men (average age: 40).
"Attractive" female body size is subjective in the United States
Being "plump" was considered pleasing in the early 1800s, but by the 1860s, the pressure to be thin was on (via Live Science). The pendulum has swung back and forth over the decades, but in recent years, it seems there’s been a premium placed on being thin in America. The question becomes: Just how thin? Moreover, does the standard change based on gender? How about other demographic factors?
A 1990 study out of the University of New Mexico and published in the journal Sex Roles found that men put a great deal of emphasis on "thinness" in determining which women they find attractive. Decades later, a 2020 study published in the same journal found that American women tended to overestimate just how thin American men prefer them to be. And a 2020 survey of 2,000 men by dating site Badoo indicated a strong preference for women with at least a moderate amount of flesh on their bones (via Your Tango).