Carola Long: Beauty's in the eye of the researcher

The impulse to create one rule for attractiveness is quite sinister

Share
Related Topics

All the single ladies (as Beyoncé might say), are you looking to meet Mr Right, or Mr Right Now, or any other partially correct males who have stepped out of the pages of a dating manual? Then forget about sparkling wit or wearing something chic, because pseudo-science has come to your rescue once again, like a knight in a shining lab coat.

A study by experts at the University of Leeds has helpfully calculated that for a woman to maximise her appeal to men she should reveal 40 per cent of her flesh. The findings were based on work by four female researchers who observed women at one of Leeds's biggest nightclubs. They noted what female clubbers were wearing and how many times they were approached by men asking them to dance. (Asking them to dance? Is this Gone with The Wind?)

They ascribed percentage values to different areas of the body and discovered that women who revealed around 40 per cent of their skin attracted twice as many men as those who covered up. However, women who bared more than 40 per cent attracted less attention, because, according to psychologist Dr. Colin Hendrie who led the study, that suggests, "general availability and future infidelity". So nothing to do with the fact that clubs are really hot then.

Clearly this is a ridiculous survey with about as much subtlety as one of Simon Cowell's putdowns. For a start, its additional observation that sexy dancing and tight clothing also helped to attract men is hardly revelatory. It's one nightclub in one city, and the way women dress and men's responses to them varies hugely between cultural tribes and postcodes, while the assumption that women are passive creatures waiting to be approached is highly patronising.

But it's hardly an isolated nugget of research. Barely a week goes by in which some boffins attempt to uncover the secret of what determines attractiveness, and surprise, surprise it's often focused on women. Another study unveiled in the past few days found that a woman's skin tone was more important than facial symmetry in determining her physical appeal. The findings sound as if they have some validity, but they also miss the myriad subtleties that make someone alluring.

One of my personal favourites in the long canon of dispiriting weekly survey – along the lines of why the Fibonacci sequence proves that Angelina Jolie is a modern-day Helen of Troy and the rest of us are blotchy, asymmetric frumps – was one about an android that could determine how attractive a woman is. Who wouldn't queue up to have a robot bark at them in a Dalek-style, "No, thanks, not be-fore an-oth-er Smir-noff Ice?"

In some ways the impulse to create one rule for attractiveness is quite sinister. It suggests a desire to iron out individuality, repress those dangerous femme fatales that are ruining society and reduce women to a set of scientific criteria that they either pass or fail.

Try as they might though, these disco-loving scientists working with just a calculator and a copy of FHM will never be able to reduce the complex and delightful alchemy of attraction to a mathematical formula: not least because it's all subjective anyway. Thank goodness for that, because no one wants to think they missed out on meeting the love of their life because they were 61 per cent covered up.

c.long@independent.co.uk

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Recruitment Genius: Development Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Development Scientist is required to join a ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012  

I saw the immigration lies a mile off - and now nobody can deny it

Nigel Farage
The Uber app allows passengers to hail a taxi with a smartphone  

Who wouldn’t like a sharing economy? Well, me, for one

Mary Dejevsky
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising

In pictures: There's a Good Girl exhibition

The new exhibition reveals how female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover - from advent calendars to doll's houses

UK firm Biscuiteers is giving cookies a makeover

It worked with cupcakes, doughnuts and macarons so no wonder someone decided to revamp the humble biscuit