Most people can easily say what physical features they find attractive, but they may have trouble explaining exactly why they prefer these traits. Science tells us that these preferences are predetermined by a combination of genetics and natural instinct. If this was true, then everyone in the world would have the same idea of beauty. Others say media determines our perception of beauty. If this were true then how can we explain the fact that often extremely different cultures will share many of the same beauty standards? In reality what we find “attractive” is a combination of both DNA and our enviroment.

Biology

Above all geographic, racial, and cultural divides, we are all human. From a biological standpoint, passing on your DNA is above all other needs. Seeing that procreation is so important it would make sense that Mother Nature gave us a bit of help to make sure we got it right. Physical beauty is nature’s health certificate. It shows that the individual has good genes to pass on, is capable of survival, and can provide for their mate and/or offspring. Although today we no longer need for these traits in a partner, our DNA still hasn’t gotten with the times.

Female Beauty

The ability to produce many healthy children is subconsciously the main trait that a man will look for in a woman. What is most commonly acceptable as beautiful is actually nature’s way of showing us who’s most fertile. The hormone estrogen affects a women’s fertility and consequently her beauty as well.  Estrogen is what gives women their ideal ‘hourglass figure”. It controls female fat distribution during puberty, and healthy amounts of this fertility hormone give a woman this envious figure. The 0.7 hip-to-waist ratio sends a biologically subconscious message to males that this woman is most likely to produce healthy offspring.

Male Beauty

Men with high levels of the male hormone, testosterone, are also perceived are being more attractive. They will have a higher width-to-height ratio, which translates as more distance between the cheekbone, the upper lip, and the mid-brow. Testosterone also gives men defined chins, square jaws, strong brows, and bigger muscles, all of which are features generally accepted as being attractive. Women prefer high levels of testosterone in men because it can communicate social dominance. This will often indicate that a man is better at protecting a woman and her offspring, and also more capable of providing shelter and food.

Enviromental Influences

Although we may all be programmed to find certain traits attractive, the environment we grow up in can significantly change these predetermined preferences. One strong example of this is a recent study, which showed that in harsher environments men strayed from the norm of picking a mate with a “pretty face” and showed preference for women with more masculine features. This is because they equated this with a better chance of survival.

Big Feet

Small feet are universally deemed to be a more attractive feature in women because they show off a woman’s youth and therefore fertility. In a 2013 study, researchers found that in a rural community in Indonesia the environment was able to reverse this natural preference. “This new research supports that idea that cultural transmission of mate preference allows humans to adapt to local environments, and this may trump hard-wired preferences,” Geoff Kushnick, a researcher on the study, explained in a press release. Kushnick found that both the rural ecology and the limited exposure to Western media was the the reason men over there preferred large-footed women. Big feet were equated with strength and greater productivity in the rice fields.

Tanned Skin

Fairer skin is preceived as being more attractive in cultures throughout the world. No matter the natural skin tone of the region, having more fair skin was often associated with wealth and power. In women, more fair skin is also a biological marker for youth and fertility. This is because our skin is lightest in youth, before its exposure to the elements. However, as reported by ABC News, some believe that the Industrial Revolution in Western cultures has shifted the preference from fair skin to tanned skin. In Western countries, such as America, tanned individuals are perceived as more attractive. This may be because in the West, tanned skin can often signify that an individual is wealthy enough to afford a break from work and go on a sunny vacation.