AKIE BERMISS: We’re all very sensitive about what makes us attractive, aren’t we? As a pretty average looking guy (or less-than, depending who you ask!) I’ve always been pretty curious about what an attractive woman could possibly be seeing that would make her want to be with me. Especially with so many better-dressed, better-shaped, better-acting candidates available. I suppose there are all sorts of prickly issues there if you’re talking about male attractiveness in our patriarchal society with a heteronormative bias. Nevertheless, I manage to find admirers somehow. Yet a recent article on Jezebel.com has me reconsidering what I may or may not have been doing right. The article uses female pictures on a popular online dating sight to create an algorithm that correlates levels of beauty to levels of interest from men. And the results are kind of weird.
Basically, what the article uncovers is an interesting trend wherein having men disagree about whether a woman is attractive or not will lead to greater interest in that woman. In a sense, being attractive enough to have men form a sort of unconscious consensus that you are “very attractive” can be harmful to your chances of being propositioned by said men. The article illustrates this using the pictures of two different users (with permission, of course) and their stats on the dating site OkCupid.com. Woman “A” is, for all intents and purposes, a very specific kind of beauty. She has dark hair, deliberately prominent bangs, clear pale skin that is accentuated by vivd red lipstic, dark make-up around her eyes, and a bright white flower over her ear. She is not unattractive, but you probably would find a good number of guys for whom she would definitely not be their type. Woman “B” is attractive as well, but she has not very distinguishing features (at least not in her picture). She has a beautiful face, she is smiling in a picture taken on what was likely a sunny day, and she has blonde hair pulled back from her face. In short, most men would probably look at her and agree: she’s attractive. End of Story.
Now, as it turns out, both of these women have the same overall rating on OkCupid. But the ways they got their rating were very different. Woman “B” had a very few votes in the “ugly”, “ok”, and “super-hot” categories (my names for levels of the 5 point OkCupid rating system) and had a ton of votes in the “very attractive” category (a 4). Meanwhile, Woman “A” had something that was much more like a split decisions. She got a good number number of votes for “very attractive” but she got the most ratings at either ends of the spectrum. In fact, they were almost equal (with the “Hot” votes edging it out). And yet, Woman B got three times as many propositions as Woman A.
Well the article goes in depth about why this may be so. They crunch the numbers and basically discover that, yes: being somewhat individual and looking good in, what I might call, “your own way” is likely to get a woman more attention than trying to strive for some agreed-upon kind of beauty that will offend no one. If, indeed, this hypothesis is true than the implications are even more interesting. Like, perhaps, the best bet when trying to go after men is to deliberately try to NOT please everyone. If you have a particularly polarizing feature — a particular piercing, unconventional hairstyle, tattoos, freckles, big ears, an overbite, etc — you might be better of accentuating that particular trait than hiding it. At least where overtures to romance are concerned.
My only disappointment with the article? It doesn’t go into the deeper stuff. Like whether this holds true for personality traits or talents or opinions. Is it better (and by that I mean more effective in garnering attention) to be agreeable or to be self-assured? Is it better to be polite, kind, and dependable? Or rude, crass, and unpredictable? Do these elements — and those attached to physical beauty as in above — have any lingering effects down the road?
And then, how does this affect the way society views a woman? How do other women view her? Personally, professionally? What are the psychological corollaries? Is there a personality type that is likely to go one way or the other? Or is this strictly sociological? Is it a matter of how society treats women? And simply how men view them?
And, as I wondered at the outset, what would the possible implications be for men?! Is there a study in the works that looks at the male side of the coin? And at same-sex dating sites?
I guess what I’m saying is I couldn’t really care less about the dating implications of these findings. Its likely that whatever I’m doing wrong (or right!) is going to continue to work for me (or not) and nothing will change that. But as a whole, it would be interesting to see how this plays throughout our society? In personal and professional settings. Through different age groups and cultural groups. There is so much that could actually be informative here, its a shame to have it stop at: highlight your worst feature and you’ll have better luck getting a man.
Then again, it is an interesting thing to say to a woman in our society. And, in a very strange and insulting way, its might be a big step in the right direction.
ZOË RICE: Good gracious, OK Cupid Blog. Do you know how long it took for me to be able to look at a photo of myself and think, “Hey, that’s cute”? “Cute” was that lofty goal throughout my adolescent years and even my blossoming early 20′s. And then I got there. I got to cute! And now you’re telling me that’s not good enough? OK Cupid, are you trying to make us all neurotic freaks?
I enjoy statistical analysis, considering sample selection, calculating variables in ways that illuminate unforeseen connections. But oy. When using numbers to try to attract the opposite sex, you might as well be asking for a total mind f***. So I’m supposed to find my most unique feature – perhaps my long nose or what I consider my flat face – those same features I’ve spent years finding the perfect angle to hide…and focus on them? And then men who love flat faces will be all about me? Ah, but wait. I see a flaw with OK Cupid’s analysis here, and it starts with their basic premise.
In my online dating experience, I’ve gotten contacted by plenty of men. I’m sure many women do. I have responded to very, very few of them. They may pick me, but that doesn’t mean I pick them back. And what OK Cupid is analyzing here is what makes a man contact a woman. It can work the other way, you know. Certainly not all the time, but I’d say a good 75% of the time that I’ve gone on an online date, I initiated contact. So what happens if you target a guy – the one you want – but he doesn’t happen to be one of the few who likes your unique feature? What if he’d be more likely to respond to “cute”? Shouldn’t the blog be as concerned with how a guy will respond when a woman initiates contact?
If I’ve written a guy an email, I’ve done pretty well getting responses with my cute photos. And so perhaps more men would contact me if I had a more unique “ugly” (to use the blog’s word) photographs, but would I want them back? Or would I rather have the guy I pick? For that matter, this blog post should really be called “The Mathematics of Female Beauty.” Not one consideration is given to what the photos of men may look like compared with how many women contact them. Are the men’s photos “cute” or “unique”? We may never know.
So number-crunching aside, the givens for the study are that 1) Women should be concerned with what makes a man contact them, not with what makes a man respond to them, and 2) It doesn’t matter what a guy’s photo looks like. My analysis, then, is as follows: For all the fancy math here, the whole thing sounds profoundly old fashioned.