Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Eye of the Beholder

I think we’re all agreed that character and personality are more important than good looks. However, in romantic novels, the heroes do tend to be extremely handsome.

Which begs the question: what makes a man handsome in looks (as opposed to his whole personality)?

Ask ten different people and they’ll give you ten different answers. Even dictionaries have different definitions of "handsome":
  • Pleasing and dignified in form or appearance.
  • Having an attractive, well-proportioned, and imposing appearance suggestive of health and strength
  • Agreeable to the eye or to correct taste; having a pleasing appearance or expression; attractive; having symmetry and dignity; comely.
From one website, here are the "Top 5 Physical Attributes in Men which Women Want in their Men"(with my comments in italics):

A Handsome Face: The face can have the highest amount of attraction. A good jaw line with a nice smile can make a woman swoon about your looks. What defines as a handsome face? It can be mostly about keeping the right hair style and also about maintaining facial hair neat and trim.

Agree about the nice smile (especially with even white teeth). But can a handsome face really be ‘mostly’ about the hair style? Partly, maybe, but not mostly.

Sense of Style: The sense of style in a man is mostly about the way he carries himself. This is one of the major aspects of the personality in a man. The sense of style and presentation can form the most important aspect when it comes to attracting women.

As it says, this is part of his personality, rather than his looks. Presentation is too. Especially a man in a tux :)

Muscular Build: The rippling and the bulging muscles of men can certainly make a women weak in the knees. The muscular build in a man adds an immense amount of physical appeal and attraction. The biceps score high points with women as they are easily noticeable and they can also show how much pumping of iron a man is doing.

This does absolutely nothing for me. Firm muscles and biceps, yes, but rippling and bulging? Yuck!

Height: Although it is the most coveted thing, height of a man does play a role in attracting women. It is not necessary that one has to be really tall. A correct posture can help a man to look tall and erect.

Maybe true, but then I’m a sucker for long legs!

Fitness: A fit man has a higher chance of impressing the women a lot. Fitness may not be completely about the muscular build. It is mostly about the stamina and the endurance a man shows. A better fitness level in a man can increase his physical attributes for attracting women.

Agree to a certain extent – but I’d say again that this is more a result of personality and character.

More online research uncovered even more interesting answers from women replying on one forum about what makes a man handsome:
  • I do have a thing about teeth though. You must have teeth. but if you are missing some...they should be in the back. Not in the front.
  • Nicely kept body definitely. Eyes that smile indeed. Hands OMG I am a sucker for hands, well kept, nice looking hands and I am so there.
  • A shaved head, a goatee, huge arms and chest, and a killer smile.
  • These days I'm partial to large sparkly blue-green eyes, lines of character in a strong face, broad shoulders and long lean legs.
  • One thing I really can't resist is a man with long hair.
  • Personally, I don't care for a very hairy man, but some is fine.
  • I have a serious thing for geeky guys. I like them shorter, kind of compact and pasty.
  • I like tall balding men, maybe a little older, stately, with kind of a commanding air.
  • Good haircut, preferably crew cut.
  • Abundant black hair, intense blue eyes.
And here is one person’s list of the characteristics of the male "Sexy face":
Browner (tanned) skin
Narrower facial shape, less fat
Fuller and more symmetrical lips
Darker eye brows
More and darker lashes
Upper half of the face broader in relation to the lower
Higher cheek bones
Pronounced lower jaw
Well-defined chin
No wrinkles between nose and corner of the mouth

I’d agree with some of those, but not all. So, while we instinctively know what appeals to our own sense of beauty, defining what determines attractiveness isn’t always easy. Also, of course, what appeals to one person doesn’t appeal to another. There are times when I can accept someone is ‘handsome’ even though it’s not the kind of handsomeness that necessarily appeals to me.

So where does that leave us when we are describing our heroes? Is a guy with dark eyes not going to appeal to the readers who love blue eyes? Is the hero with fair silky hair going to be a complete turn-off for those who like bald or shaven-headed men?

Maybe we just have to go with what appeals to us personally. After all, we have to be able to fall in love with our own heroes. We can only hope that, whether his looks appeal to our reader or not, his personality will attract them. Which could bring us right round to the alpha v. beta hero discussion – which we’ve already done!


  1. Everytime I read bulging muscles, I think of body builders. An oiled, overly muscled body is the opposite of handsome.

  2. Wow, I always thought requirements for women to be thought of as beautiful were tough--with requirements like these, it's a wonder more men don't have eating disorders!!!! Paula, you're right, I think we do have to go with what appeals to us personally--there's no way to make everyone happy. Ana, I agree--yuck!

  3. Hi,

    No body-builders, pleasssse! Never enough mirrors around for those chaps.

    Give me slate blue eyes, slim, hard-muscled torso, quirky smile, lots of laughter, blondish Viking appearance with goatee beard tipped silver. Yum yum.

    I have to say that because it's a description of hubby!! ;)


  4. Seems like we all agree about the bulging muscles being a turn-off. Interesting therefore that heroes like this often appear on the front covers of romance novels, particularly the erotic ones.

  5. I'm a sucker for hands as well. :) Give me a hero with a firm handshake and manly hands and I'm there. Just stumbled on your blog. What fun!

  6. Thanks for visiting and following us, Kathi.
    I like hands too - so important when hero is caressing heroine LOL.
    Firm handshake, oh yes; limp handshake - a definite no-no. That's made me remember experiences of limp handshakes - yuck!