Sharp looks, six packs, and curves that make the boys do swerves – how much does physical attraction really matter?
With the release of the movie “Me Before You”, the role of the body in relationships is once again in the spotlight. While I haven’t seen this movie yet myself, what I have seen is the amazing outrage that has been targeted at the movie following its success. Essentially without spoiling too much about the movie (as the trending hashtag did for me), it’s about a disabled man who falls in love with his carer, and before the end of the movie, deals with whether or not he should continue the relationship because he feels the state of his body is a hindrance. The way that it portrays this consideration has a number of disability support groups up in arms, and perhaps justifiably so.
If one good thing has come out of it, it is that the conversation about the importance of a person’s physical attributes is being taken in a more serious light.
Let’s face it – we all like some good eye candy. We love it when someone walks in the room and catches our eye. Whether it be a smile, their eyes, their legs, their muscular prowess, or the sizes of all their other appendages, there’s no denying we can be very visual people. While primarily this has been a comment/criticism of the male gender, the truth is that both men and women find themselves somewhat driven by the role of physical attraction.
But just how important is it really? Let’s have a look at some aspects of what place it really should take in our lives by looking at some of the big questions around it. Here we go!
“It’s not that important to me… but it’s gotta be there, right?”
This question is probably the reason you’re here. You either saw this on social media or were searching through the Interwebs for a few thoughts to help you make a decision in this area for yourself. Perhaps there’s someone in your life who would be a great fit, but they’re “just not doing it for you physically”. Maybe there’s someone you’re super attracted to, but you don’t think there’s much substance there. Or maybe there’s someone you’ve made some sort of commitment to, but you’re starting to notice it’s not really there like it used to be.
I mean, we all think it’s important, but when questioned about whether or not it’s a deciding factor in our relationship decisions, most of us will say an emphatic no. Why? Because we don’t want to be seen as shallow. We think it’s rude to reduce someone just down to their physical attributes.
And yet how many relationships in our lives I wonder have we overlooked simply because the person didn’t look a certain way? The gift inside was pretty nice, but the wrapping paper wasn’t done so well. And so, you’ve passed it on. Or perhaps it hasn’t been as driving a factor.
But let’s say you’re unashamed about the fact that it’s important to you. At what point does someone’s physical attraction to you replace other qualities? If he’s hot, but treats everyone in his life like an idiot, is he suitable material? What about if she’s good looking, but doesn’t believe in you at all? How about if they’re like maybe a 5, 6 or a 7 out of 10, but they’ve got the most beautiful personality or ambitions in life?
Where do you draw the line? I don’t really know. I guess it’s a decision all of us need to make in our own lives where we think the line is. But I think we need to be realistic about what our level of physical expectation means for the people who enter and leave our lives.
Aren’t we just talking about The Spark?
A while ago I wrote about some of the problems with The Spark. You know, The Spark. That mystical magic feeling you’re supposed to feel when you find The One™. When we’re talking about physical attraction, this is what we’re really talking about, isn’t it? Their body makes us feel things. When they’re around, we can’t stop looking. Photos, videos, whatever we can get our hands on, just to take it all in.
There’s no denying that someone’s physique can illicit a sexual or emotional reaction within us. It’s just how much this really factors into things.
I know for many people I’ve come across, the consideration of the physical and The Spark have been major hurdles for them in getting together with their now husbands or wives. Some people get lucky and have always been super attracted to their partner. Others, not so much. In fact, I can think of several relationships that wouldn’t have even started had the initial physical attraction been the deciding factor. And more and more every day.
But hey, for others, they wouldn’t have even gone there without it, and they’re also happy. It just depends once again how much importance you place on magic feelings that may or may not exist the way the movies tell us they do.
Isn’t this just the domain of double standards?
I think any physical expectation we have in our own lives immediately opens us up to a world of double standards. I know guys who’ve only gone after girls based on their bodies, even though their own bodies are more KFC than UFC. I know girls who similarly have a “You must be this tall/cut/bulging/endowed to ride the ride” signs on their lives, even though the dudes who’ve been keen on them are sometimes even better looking than they are. Just saying.
I think some of the clearest, extreme examples I can think of this reality is during Marvel movies like Thor and Captain America. Natalie Portman or Scarlett walk into frame and the guys exclaim “Heck yeah”, and all the girls shudder in disdain. “I hate it when guys do that”. “It’s so disgusting and misogynistic”. Nekk minnit Chris Evans or Hemsworth have their shirts off with their amazing chiseled upper torsos in frame, and a united chorus of praise and desire erupts. True story. Has happened several times that I’ve been a party to. And this is just one example. There are so many other cases of this.
Maybe we’re more Shallow Hal than we realize or acknowledge.
Is it an excuse not to look after yourself?
I’ve heard it said that your appearance is a reflection of how you treat other things in your life. Possibly, possibly not. I do think that it does highlight that a lenience on the physical attributes in our lives doesn’t dismiss the importance of things like grooming or exercise.
I guess looking after yourself manifests it differently in different people. I know some very big IT guys who would run rings around anyone smaller than them in a triathlon. I know some girls that society would label “fairly average” who actually put in a lot of effort personally. And yet the results appear different.
I guess this is another one we need to find the balance on in our own lives. The land between the extremes of vanity and neglect.
Where did you get your standard of beauty from?
I was recently at a buck’s weekend away where this topic came up just as a general talk (not about anyone specific). Sometimes guys or girls will want their husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, ideal future partner, whoever, to look a certain way, to have certain grooming habits, or to do certain other things to their body. I can’t help but think sometimes though… hey, wait a minute, where did you get the idea that that was a thing?
All of us have a past and a history. That’s something we can never change. However, with that past, we bring in so many different experiences, whether they be sexual, visual or experiential, and they may actually be what’s framing our expectations and requests. Do you want a certain amount of body hair based on something you saw in a porn movie once? Or them to have their torso tweaked like that dude you saw in that romantic drama you love so much? Or for their physique to more closely mirror the body of a celebrity or magazine?
I think we have to be really careful, and very humble, in recognizing where our standards of beauty come from. If you’re only going to be attracted to her as long as she styles herself like your ex, or as long as he maintains his muscle weight like in the movies, you’ve really gotta check yourself before you hurt someone.
What happens if their body changes? Or someone more attractive comes along?
I think my favourite question around the role of appearance in the realm of relationships is this – if that person got hit by a bus tomorrow, couldn’t walk, couldn’t look after themselves any more, would you still love them?
“Oh, well that’s not fair to ask…”
I think though our answer to that question reveals the true nature of why we consider physical appearance more important than it probably is. It’s because love is a decision above all else. Our answer to that sort of question reveals whether or not we would selflessly love that person with our dying breath, or we would start to consider our other options when the “return on investment” doesn’t feel as high in our minds.
Charm is deceptive, and beauty soon fades.
A story in Scripture that often gets quoted (or misquoted) around the issue of appearance is when the prophet Samuel is commissioned with finding and identifying Israel’s next king. After looking at 6 strapping young lads, considering all of them based on their stature and appearance, the voice of God comes to the prophet and says, “Man looks at the outside appearance, but God looks at the heart”.
Many people quote this verse as being a reason why we all have to look at the outside appearance, and yet this is not actually a piece of advice being given here, but a rebuke. Samuel was being rebuked for his failure to see beyond the physical.
I wonder if in our relationships and sexuality we’re still relying too much on the shapes, smoothness and stereotypes above our commitment to love someone else. I wonder if we let ourselves see beyond physical layers and to the heart. And I wonder if we’re a shallow relationship waiting to happen.
If we want to love and love well, we have to learn to move beyond physical barriers and enter into covenant with each other. Even the most amazing supermodel eventually becomes plain once you get used to the way they look. Don’t let that happen to the ones you love in your life.
But that’s just one guy’s thoughts on it. How about for you? How much does physical appearance really matter for you?