One of the ongoing debates that crops up when it comes to dating advice for men is: “How important are men’s looks?” Just check the comments section of this blog; whenever I talk about what women find attractive in men, people will inevitably show up and insist that all of this is bullshit and that women are interested in tall dudes with rippling washboard abs, blindingly white teeth, pecs you could bounce rocks off of, an Audi R8 and a 7 figure bank account.
Others will insist that looks don’t matter at all and that it’s strictly a matter of one’s character.
So here’s the cold hard truth: good looks matter. But they also don’t.
Confused? It’s understandable. The issue comes down to the differences between how men and women define “attractiveness”. Men tend to have a more uniform definition of what they consider attractive while women’s definitions tend to have more variability. Men tend to assume that women view men with the same metrics that men view women – that is, that women will put greater importance on facial symmetry, height, body fat percentages, penis size and muscle tone.
In reality, being attractive to women is a combination of a host of factors, coming together to build a holistic version of desirability that’s based on more than just whether or not one has Scandinavian cheekbones and piercing blue eyes.
Good looks in men certainly help when it comes to attraction; nobody is denying that. But there’s a difference between being good looking and being attractive. And there are many ways for a man to make himself more attractive.
The Difference Between Good Looks and Attractiveness
There’s no question that good looks help in life. Humans are psychologically predisposed to be more positively inclined toward people who are physically attractive; a cognitive bias known as the “halo effect” influences people’s judgements and impressions about a person based purely on their physical appearance. A person who is blessed with good looks will frequently have a leg up in the world.
However: The definition of what women consider to be “good looking” varies wildly. Men tend to think that all women go for Chris Hemsworth’s god-like build and leonine mane of hair, when women may be far more likely to scream for Joseph Gordon Levitt’s more wiry frame, Chiwetel Ejiofor’s gap-tooth smile or Matt Smith’s unique fivehead.
A person can be good looking… but still be unattractive and have little success with women. A man can be far less than model-gorgeous and still be incredibly attractive to women; in fact, one of the most popular, sex-gettingist men I have known is short and fat, yet attracts women like cheese attracts mice.
The men who are most invested in the idea that women only like guys who look like X often need to believe that attraction is immutable; it takes the pressure off of them to be responsible for their own successes – or lack thereof. It allows them to put the blame on others – on women who have “unfair” standards, on the media for promoting certain looks, on their own genes. After all, short of painful surgeries, there’s not much a man can do about the shape of his face or his height.
Attractiveness, however, is about more than facial symmetry and height. It’s about how a man presents himself – the way he talks, the way he dresses and his attitude… and it’s surprisingly easy to sabotage one’s own attractiveness by accident.
Step One: Embrace Proper Grooming
This is a no-excuses step. There’s more to grooming and self-care than the usual male ritual of “a couple of spritz under the pits and out the door you go”… if you even get that far.
You wouldn’t think that much of this would be necessary… until you’ve spent some time at a convention; there’s a reason why nerds are associated with stench. If a woman gags when gets within two feet of you… well, you’re not going to get anywhere with her, let’s just put it that way.
Absolute minimum of grooming means brushing your teeth, flossing, mouth wash and a decent deodorant. The 99 cent drugstore special is not going to help you here and most of them are going to leave white residue on your clothes. You’re better off to shell out for something at the level of Anthony’s Logistics for Men than Speed-Stick.
Also: no Axe anything. Ever.
However, most men stop here when it comes to personal grooming. This is a mistake; part of grooming means taking care of your face and skin. After all, 99% of communication means being face to face with people – why wouldn’t you want to keep up the maintenance of the one area that everybody is going to be looking at?
It’s time to embrace proper skin-care. Many men will avoid this for fear of being too “metro” (read: gay) and as a result… they look terrible. Their skin looks old and dull and detracts from their natural looks. Proper skin care will make you look younger, more alert and – importantly – more attractive. Start with going beyond washing your face with bar soap, which will actually dry your skin and make things worse. You want a facial cleanser – preferably one with 2% salicylic acid – in the morning to help wash away dirt, debris and oils that lead to clogged pores and zits.
Follow this up with a moisturizer with sun-screen. Sun exposure ages your skin and leaves you at risk for skin cancer; this is why you need the sunscreen. Meanwhile, the moisturizer keeps your skin firm and smooth, minimizes fine lines, and preserves skin’s elasticity.
At least once a week, use an exfoliating scrub. Think of it as sanding away the top layer of paint on an old house; you’re getting rid of the old, damaged, and dead skin and letting your real face shine through.
Also: learn to corral your unwanted hair. Get a decent pair of tweezers and attack your eyebrows and any ear and nose hair. Keeping bushy eyebrows under control (especially if you tend towards a unibrow) will work wonders for improving your look and confidence, and you don’t want anyone getting in close to notice stray nose or ear hairs.
(This, I might add, gets much more important the older you get; when you start losing hair on your head, you start gaining it everywhere else.)
While I’m at it: take care of your damn hands. You don’t have to go out and get a mani/pedi (but I do recommend it) but you want to keep your nails neatly trimmed (not bitten) and filed with care to avoid points or raggedy edges. Women definitely notice your hands… and there are many (ahem) performance reasons why you will want to keep your nails short and clean.
Step Two: Get a Haircut.
Cold hard truth: women hate your hair. Sorry.
Most men have absolutely no idea what to do with their hair. They go to the barber or Supercuts, get the exact same haircut over and over again, and never stop to think just how much a decent hair cut can change how they look. There’s more to a haircut than just trimming off a couple of inches here and there; a proper hair cut can completely transform your face, bring balance to your features and help frame your personality.
Also: No ponytails. Very few men can pull off long hair and unless you are ripcord, rockstar thin, that includes you.
This means you need to get a decent hair cut.
- Find a good stylist. Do not go to SuperCuts or that place in the mall; you want a proper salon or barbershop and that means being willing to pay. Sorry, but this is definitely one of the areas where you get what you pay for. It can be hard to find a new barber or stylist (I hate it, personally) because it can be hard to find a good one, but it’s vitally important. Word of mouth is the best way to find one, but Yelp and Google Reviews can help lead you in the right direction.
- Bring a photo. Yup, it’s a chick move, but it helps you communicate exactly what you want to your barber instead of trying to convince him or her to read your mind. Just be willing to be flexible; a good barber will be taking your head and face shape, hair thickness and texture into account and not everybody is going to be able to pull off the same style. If you have curly hair, you’re going to have to learn how to work with it. If you have thinning hair, you need to learn to embrace it and just start cutting things short.
- Use some product. Different hair products are suited to different hair styles – wax works better for thicker, coarser hair while clay or pomade works better for thinner or silkier hair. A little bit of hair product can turn a sloppy look into something nice.
While you’re at it: start attacking your facial hair. Some people can pull off facial hair. Some can’t. If you have patches of bare skin in your beard, you need to just accept that you may not be one of them; a patchy, scraggly beard makes you look more like Chester The Molester than the God of Testosterone you think you are.
That being said, a nicely trimmed1 beard can help strengthen and add definition to an otherwise weak jawline. Keep it short and neat and for fuck’s sake don’t let it grow into neckbeard territory. Shave your neck; your beard should stop just under your jaw line – not so close that you look overly groomed but not so far that you look like you spend all your time in your mother’s basement running 25 man raids in World of Warcraft.
Step Three: Your Clothes Need To Fit
There is nothing that drives me crazier than people who wear clothes that don’t fit properly.
Most men out there do not wear clothes that actually fit them. Many times, it’s that they are so simply out of touch with how clothes are meant to fit; they dress for comfort, under the assumption that clothes are supposed to be roomy. Others are insecure about their bodies and wear larger clothes in an attempt to disguise it.
This never works. In fact, wearing clothes that are too large will serve to draw attention to the fact that you’re trying to camouflage a perceived flaw.
(The less said about “relaxed fit” anything the better.)
At best, wearing clothes that don’t fit looks sloppy and immature, making even the most expensive, stylish clothes look like something you picked up from the Lost and Found. At worst, you look like a kid trying to play dress-up in his daddy’s clothes.
Here’s what you need to know:
- A shirt’s shoulder seam should sit at your shoulder joint. If it goes any further, it’s too big. Cuffs on a dress shirt should not reach past your wrist.
- A dress shirt’s collar should be loose enough so that you can slip two fingers into the neck without effort.
- Blazers, jackets, and sports coats should also have shoulder seams that sit at the shoulder joint. The sleeves should stop around 3/4 of an inch from the back of your hand, allowing just a little cuff to show.
- Pants are meant to sit at your natural waist, approximately three finger-widths below your navel. If your pants sag below your waist without a belt holding them up, they’re too big.
- Jeans should feel snug; they’ll loosen up as you wear them, so you want a pair that fits slightly tighter in the waist, thighs and seat than you’re used to.
- The bottom of your pants leg should sit just at your shoes. Some dress pants will have what is known as a “break”, where the pants crease into a natural fold from resting on the top of the shoes. A “medium” break is traditional – a shallow crease with the back of the pants coming down to midway between the top of the back of the shoe and the sole. A full break is more daring as it creates a very deep crease and brings the back of the pants leg to just above the sole of the shoe. No break is considered to be more retro – think Mad Men – and is often a feature of tailored Italian suits. Jeans should have a very slight break. No pants should have more than one crease; if they do, they are too large.
If you’re the sort of person who has a hard time finding clothes that fit, then a tailor is absolutely your best friend. A skilled tailor can make clothes look absolutely amazing on you. This is why so many celebrities look like a million bucks even when they’ve thrown whatever shit they have to go to the grocery store: they have everything tailored, including t-shirts and jeans. Find clothes that fit over your widest, hardest-to-size feature2 and have the rest adjusted to fit. It costs less than you’d think; just factor the price of tailoring into the cost of the clothing.
The simple act of switching to clothes that fit you properly will completely transform your look and sillouette with minimal effort from you.
Step 4: Straighten Up
This is another simple tip that so many men seem to miss: sit up straight young man!
We’ve become a desk-bound, sedentary society and we’ve been paying the price for it ever since; we hunch over our desks and computers like monks illuminating manuscripts in drafty monasteries and it is absolutely ruining our backs. Good posture can make a night-and-day difference in your appearance. Straightening out your posture will leave you looking taller, stronger and more confident… and you’ll feel infinitely better too.
Look in the mirror, then turn to your side. Look at where your head and chin fall in relation to your chest and shoulders; you want a straight line from the crown of your head to your spine. Your ears, shoulders, arms, knees, and feet should all form a straight line, not hunching forward with a curved back and spine. It helps to imagine a string attached to the top of your head, directly above where your spine meets your skull, pulling you slightly upward. Use that imaginary string to lift yourself up, letting your arms dangle loosely from your side and leaving your knees slightly bent; you want a relaxed, at ease look, not military precision.
While you’re straightening up your back, look at how you’re holding your shoulders. You want to pull your shoulders back so that you have a straight line from the junction of your neck and shoulder to your deltoid; this is where you want to position your shoulders when you’re standing naturally. Years of slouching and computer use will have trained your shoulders to slope forward, so it will take a lot of concentration and practice to make this natural.
Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, with your weight evenly distributed and your toes pointing straight forward or at a slight outward angle.
Learning to adopt proper posture will help lengthen your spine, which will help you stand a little taller. A straight spine and your shoulders held back will also help you project confidence; when you hunch in on yourself, you’re tacitly telling the world that you’re afraid to take up space and you’re curling into a defensive position. Confident people stand up straight and aren’t afraid to take up space; having your arms dangle at your side will make you seem more at ease and add a swagger to your walk.
Incidentally, this is one more area where yoga is absolutely invaluable. Practicing yoga twice a week will make adopting good posture a habit and help build up the muscles you need to maintain it.
Step Five: Clean Up Your Diet
The food we eat is killing us.
We as Westerners eat too much fat, too much high-fructose corn syrup, far too much salt, and entirely too much caffeine… and we’re paying the price for it. The health cost is obvious – plenty of ink has been spilled about the obesity epidemic in this country – but it also is making you less attractive.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t about weight; this is about the way food affects the way you look and feel. You are literally what you eat and shitty food is going to make you look like shit – it screws up your skin, your hair and body… not to mention the effects of all that salt and processed food on your internal organs and circulatory system.
I’m not going to advocate any particular diet because, frankly, diets are like putting a bandage over an arterial hemorrhage. They’re a stop-gap solution at best and never last in the long term. Proper health comes from proper nutrition and that means a total lifestyle change, not just “going paleo” to fit into a new pair of jeans.
Now I’ll be the first to tell you: this is an area I struggle with. My addiction to Diet Dr Pepper is legendary and I will eat damn near anything if you deep fat fry it. But even minor changes can produce major results. Start simple and small and build up; trying to go cold-turkey is only going to ruin your efforts and sabotage any progress you make.
Here’s what you want to do:
Drink more water. Just upping your water intake will do amazing things for your skin. Cut out sodas entirely if at all possible, as well as most fruit juices; these are liquid calories, period. If you have to have fruit juice try to stick to freshly squeezed and organic; your morning Tropicana has more chemicals and added sugar than you realize. Diet sodas, by the way, aren’t any better. Aspertame is known to actually make you consume more calories; your body is convinced that it should be getting more calories and tries to make up the difference by tricking you into eating more elsewhere. Coffee and tea are… ok; odds are that you need to cut back on the caffeine as well so try to keep them to a minimum and as little milk and sugar as you can get away with.
Eat more fruits and vegetables. You almost certainly aren’t eating enough; however much you’re eating, you need to increase it. This is where most of your nutrition is going to come from, not to mention fiber that’s going to solve many of your (ahem) gastric problems. Wherever possible eat it fresh and organic – health claims aside (many of which are scientifically dubious at best) organic produce just tastes better. It’s night-and-day different.
Cut the hidden calories: fatty sauces, salad dressings and spreads. All of these are sources of bad fats that you often overlook when you’re considering trying to eat better. It doesn’t help to eat more broccoli if you’re going to drown it in ranch dressing first.
Stick to lean protein: chicken, lean cuts of beef, turkey, fish.
Avoid simple carbs – potatoes, white bread, sugar, white rice. Yes, you need carbs for energy, but these turn to glucose and from there to fat with absolutely no nutritional value to justify eating them. Complex carbs – sprouted grain breads, brown rice, sweet potatoes, green leafy veggies, legumes, apples, pears, mangos – have nutrients and fiber that offset the bump to your glucose levels and they’re far better for you.
Cut out processed foods entirely. If your dinner involves ingredients you can’t pronounce, never mind find on its own at the grocery store, you’re eating crap that should never be put in your body. This includes high-fructose corn syrup: that shit is in everything.
A healthier diet will make you feel like a new man – you’ll have more energy, you’ll feel more positive, and your immune system will be boosted… and you’ll look better too.
The tricky secret of attraction is that it doesn’t take very much to make it happen. A couple of minor changes have a major impact that can turn your dating life around.