You Are Beautiful

I was looking at some data on how attractiveness is perceived and I thought the findings were worth sharing.

The median male’s attractiveness is rated 5.9/10. If you think this is low, it means your calibration is off. A 5.9 is not ugly, but average! If someone’s appearance is rated 5.9/10, they are more attractive than half the population. In comparison, the median woman’s attractiveness is rated a 6.5/10. The distinction should be meaningless as in practice, attraction is not objectively scored, but subjective based on how one compares to all other people of their gender. However, the difference in ratings does suggest that men are more attracted to women, than women are to men.

More importantly, the data shows that variation in how attractive one is perceived follows a bell curve distribution. This is mind-blowing to me. I previously thought that the world had agreed that some people were just attractive and others not; this is wrong.

If someone’s attractiveness is rated as a 7/10, there is no uniform agreement that they are a 7, but that an equal number of people think they are more attractive than a 7 and less attractive than a 7.

The data shows that the standard deviation in perceived attractiveness is 0.4. This means there is great variance in how people will judge one’s attractiveness. While everyone knows this to some extent, I never internalized what it means. The bell curve distribution doesn’t just mean some people will think you are a little more or less attractive than everyone else; it means that most people will think you are a little more or less attractive than your average rating, but that a small number of people will think you’re far more attractive than your average rating.

Being average does not mean everyone finds you average. In fact, very much the opposite. If you’re average, statistically many people will find you absolutely beautiful.

If you are average, over 20% of people will find you in their top 20th percentile of attractiveness; more than 5% of people will find you in their top 5 percentile of attractiveness; and more than 1% of people will find you in their top 1% of attractiveness.

To me, this finding is significant. Think of the most beautiful people you know; if you are average looking, you will almost certainly be that attractive to some other people you know.

Given that perceived attractiveness follows a bell curve, the math is clear. No matter how you rate out of 10, there will always be many people who find you gorgeous, it’s just a question of finding a large enough sample.

All data can be found here  which was collected by Ray Fishman and Sheena Lyengar for the paper  Gender Differences in Mate Selection: Evidence From a Speed Dating Experiment 

Note: I don’t think people are defined by physical attractiveness, and I certainly don’t think people can be defined by one number. However, I do think that some people spend a substantial amount of time thinking about physical beauty, and it causes some people insecurity and anxiety. I wrote this article as an attempt to show people to worry less, and to have more confidence in their appearance.

For those who still do worry about their level of physical attractiveness, my suggestion is to follow the findings of this paper: which demonstrate that being a kind and good person increase one’s level of physical attractiveness.