Tuesday, September 19, 2006

musings on what makes people attractive

I watched a Broadway play tonight: History Boys, the 2006 Tony Award winner for Best Play. It was set in a college prep school in England.

Dekan, the boy in the very middle of the picture, was referred to several times as the most attractive boy. His two male history teachers wanted to fondle him (and more). His gay classmate pined for him throughout the show.

Sometimes I watch shows where one character is made out to be super-hyper-attractive. But they're not, and I internally question "That person?"

Not so this time. I felt the full gale of attraction. There were moments when I wanted to leap over the thirteen rows of seats in front of me, using the seat backs to spring onto the stage and embrace him.

But I didn't.

Because I figured he wouldn't like that.

It got me thinking as to what makes people attractive. Dekan was physically good-looking, the best of the bunch, but it was more than that.

He was very confident. For example, making an overture on his history teacher. "I was thinking now that the term is over, you and I could go get a drink." Teacher: "No." Dekan: "Well, drink is really a euphemism. I meant that ... maybe you could [bleep] me off."

But sometimes people are really good-looking and confident, and yet they just get on your nerves. Like Paris Hilton to many people. Or a guy I met last month in a San Francisco party.

Maybe those people aren't truly confident. Or maybe there are some detractors that overpower the attractiveness of the confidence.

I was standing in the subway station while thinking these thoughts. Suddenly I heard my name called, and after whipping my head around two or three times, I saw Andrew, a fellow Googler. He revealed he'd gone to the same play, and I posed this question to him.

He made the obligatory disclaimers about not being able to tell if a guy is attractive (note to all men: It is OKAY to admit another guy is attractive! You will not become labelled as gay. Get over it already!)

"It's the confidence," Andrew said.

Okay. So what makes some people confident, and not others? I recalled to a time four years ago when I was managing a particularly nervous high school intern at Microsoft. My manager Jason gave me this advice for the intern, "Confidence can't be granted. It comes from setting challenges and then surmounting them."

That's not entirely accurate though. Truly confident people are confident at all times, even in areas they have no experience in. I recall going to an upscale restaurant with my Microsoft team once. Rob, the test lead, was obviously unaccustomed to the setting, but he ate the carpaccio and raw tuna and bantered with us with the greatest of comfort.

Maybe confidence is when no one can really make you feel bad about yourself. No words will bring you down. You could receive a thousand insults, and you wouldn't bat an eye. You could get fired, and you'd just calmly send out your resume.

What do you think?


VarunMayan said...

I must say it is combination of intelligence and confidence

Moonweaver said...

Let us take other example from Musical Chicago, where Usher is starring at Broadway Theater in New York.

I really believe that Usher is one of the most confindent artists in the world. He looked confident becouse of his professional and easygoing art. When he dance it looks like he done that for years. He achieved his confidence with routine. When he sings is looks like he is breathing new energy. Thats the secret about Usher. I saw him in a concert in 2005 in Hamburg and he had the same aura of confidence. Nothing changed, except of his songs and costumes. He is still the same. Thats confident.

Usher is also not the best looking guy.
Thats pretty interesting about him. He is not supermodel. If you look at him, you see him as a complex of movements and songs. He also gives you wonderful smiles and foxy glimps of his eyes. They are so real and natural, you could think he is doing this only for you. So in this case, confidence also means opposite of arrogance.

ArC said...

I think if the self-confidence is genuinely deserved, it's an attractive thing. If it's just delusional, then that's off-putting. But then again, if it's genuinely deserved -- is it the underlying competency that's the attractive thing, not the confidence?

That said, there's still something to be said for pleasing proportions and symmetry. I think Lauren Hill once said she wouldn't be as famous if one of her eyes was lower than the other...

Anonymous said...

I've pondered this question myself. After thinking for 3 days and downing 5 bottles of Corona, I came to the conclusion that confidence stems from knowing yourself, i.e. your abilities, your limitations, what is the normal perception that people have of you.

Once you know all that, you know the boundaries within which to operate. In essence, what you do and say is within your world, and nothing is unexpected.

If something tries to throw you off, like a friend says your shoes are whack, or a girl thinks you're hediously nerdy, you simply shrug it off because their perceptions don't fly in your world.

Anonymous said...

attractiveness^2 = Eva

Therefore, attractiveness is the square root of Eva. Any questions?

Anonymous said...

One other poster alluded to it, but let's not forget our mammalian roots.

1. Any signs of youth (e.g., blond hair, small nose, small features, thinness, etc.).

2. Symmetric features.

These are both signs that the person is ultra-healthy and ready to bring forth fantastically healthy offspring.


Xerces Blue said...

Yes I think confidence and intelligence is key. But sometimes just a bit of humor and self realization/depracation helps a man appear more attractive to a woman even if he is not superman. I have a friend who is not terribly attractive (in terms of height OR symmetry), but smart and witty, and reasonably fit, yet who always seems to be dating incredibly attractive women. Example. One time we were at a Barnes & Noble, and this really really attractive girl (no rings on her fingers)was sitting at a table with her capuccino doing work on her pink MacIntosh computer. He looked at me and said I bet I could get her email and I told him I'd take that bet. He ordered a coffee, walked over to her table, caught her eye as if by accident, glanced at her, looked at the computer sort of slyly and then with a confident, kind of quasi cocky demeanor said, "So, do they make those for guys yet?" . Just like that, she looked at the Mac, looked at him, smiled, chuckled, and they had a conversation going. Five minutes later he got her email, and they dated for six months. He does this, seemingly at will. On other occasions I've seen him just pick out the most attractive woman in a club, and just go up to her, glasses and all, and say something with great confidence like,"So you're probably not used to a man as hot as myself just coming up out of the blue to pick you up, but..." Again, once he gets them laughing, it's email and off to the races. These super attractive girls seem to be going for the smart, confident and witty more than the physical perfection thing it seems. I think maybe then I put more weight on those attributes and a little less on the physical symmetry...

Anonymous said...

I think confidence comes from this:

* I don't give a f**k

You can add smart and witty, although I know a lot of people who are neither smart or witty yet they are still confident.

People are so afraid of not being accepted that they start to second guess what they want to accomplish in life. After a while, you either give up and say 'I don't care' or you continue to become like everyone else.

As far as the attractiveness/confidence as it goes to attracting women, witty/interesting/humor goes a lot farther than looks with no personality...

Anonymous said...

I hedge my comments about guys' attractiveness not because I'm afraid of being called gay (I mean, give me a break) but because I've learned that I seriously can't tell what guys women will go for.

I know this by occasionally chatting with women about the guys they find hot, and I'm always surprised and can never quite figure out why guy A is totally swoony and guy B is not. Like, consider Johnny Depp: Women go nuts over him, and I never would have predicted it.

I think part of it might be how, stereotypically at least, women are more interested in that magic confidence thing you're talking about than in pure looks.

Of course, some guys may well be quite adept at knowing what women like. I just wanted to object that not all guys who say "well, I'm not a great judge of attractiveness in guys, but..." are afraid of being called gay. Some of us are just realistic.

Anonymous said...

What about your ex-boyfriend ? Gay too ???

KE Liew said...

Maybe confidence is when no one can really make you feel bad about yourself. No words will bring you down. You could receive a thousand insults, and you wouldn't bat an eye. You could get fired, and you'd just calmly send out your resume.

Sounds more on "faith" and "perseverance" than "confidence" to me, though I have to say, you are correct in many ways on that.

I would add another character, which is "self-control", to the umbrella of "confidence".

alberto said...

How would Gloria Steinem define confidence?

Anonymous said...

who cares?

Anonymous said...

Aside from the factors mentioned, I think there is some transitivity to attraction too: the more people who swoon over someone, the more the casual observer will percieve the object of swooning as attractive. And this is modulated by the attractiveness of the swooners.

I once had someone tell me about a very attractive friend, "She is very brave to be going out with him." After I asked why, she explained, "He is ugly; she is beautiful. People are going to assume she has a nasty personality if he'd the only thing she can get." I don't really think it works in that direction though.

Anonymous said...

I really agree about the confidence thing; if you've ever seen the film Cruel Intentions, you'll see that he (Ryan Philippe) is very confident.
However, I think it's also the fact that these people truly believe they are a good catch. If they can convince themselves, they can convince others.