It seems to me that beauty is one subject that we rarely talk about in an honest way. We might exclaim: “What a handsome man!” or “Oh-my-” when a particularly striking creature moves into a room. However, serious talk about male beauty is often shrouded in platitudes, such as “It’s in the eye of the beholder” or presented as a false dichotomy between beauty and brains. Why are we so uncomfortable with the subject?
Maybe it’s because it’s seen as a cruel gene lottery: you’ve got it or you don’t. Worse still, it’s perceived as a marker of self worth. And to doubt is to fail. If you are asking yourself whether you’ve ‘got it’, you already don’t. Welcome to the deep dark hole of doom. Luckily, life is more complex than that. And yet, if a person’s self-esteem is shot, he might very well hold up this flow chart of despair as a true mirror of his self.
What is beauty?
Let’s agree from the outset that beauty encompasses more than pleasing facial features or six-pack abs. Let’s also agree not to fall into a trap of lying to ourselves about how outer beauty doesn’t matter. The smoking hot guy who turned your head at the coffee shop did not entrap you with his beautiful soul and good sense of humour. I mean, you saw him for a few seconds and neither of you spoke. And if outer beauty matters to you, it matters to others too.
Beauty is just one branch of aesthetics, the other two are art and taste. When we talk about people, the concept may include “inner beauty” and “outer beauty”. What that means is:
1) In people we look for aesthetic enjoyment rather than mere beauty.
2) We believe that enjoyment can be contributed to by inner qualities, such as charm.
What makes a beautiful man?
Physical features or your genetic inheritance
A lot of this has to do with having the right proportions. Conceptions of male beauty will vary geographically, for example the Japanese love bishounen/biseinen – boyish, waifish and effeminate men. They will also vary over time. Some men will largely conform to the prevailing standard of beauty, some will not conform, most will fall somewhere in the middle.
How to: play to your strengths by emphasising the features that you like. Know and accept the features that you don’t like but don’t agonise over them. There is a golden middle between never looking at yourself in the mirror and actively searching for flaws before you’ve even had your first coffee of the day.
If you’ve been dealt a look that doesn’t conform to the current standards of beauty at all, you might as well spend less thought on your features and focus on other aspects of beauty. Therefore I present to you…
The marriage of art and taste. Skin wrinkles and hair falls out with age but style doesn’t deteriorate, it evolves. It is also an aspect of beauty that can be learned and honed. When wielded properly, it has the power to enhance or diminish individual features. Furthermore, it can project your inner qualities – charm, sex appeal, confidence – outwards. Finally, it can be a form of art. While not everyone will have the time and inclination to take it that far, creating and maintaining your personal style needn’t be difficult or time consuming.
How to: there are many websites and articles dedicated to style that can help you learn about what you like. Allow your personality and taste lead the way. Fashions change but good style does not devalue. What you’re aiming for is not to look trendy but to look well put together.
There was a time when there was stigma attached to male grooming. There was that funny paradox where you had to look groomed but you couldn’t engage in grooming or your masculinity would somehow wither and die, never to be recovered again. Well, no longer! Now that our masculinity is no longer threatened by a dab of moisturiser, we might as well look our best.
How to: decide what works for your lifestyle, then create a routine. There is no point to a Korean 10-step skincare regimen if you’re more of a shower-and-go kind of guy. But even a minimalist can take things up a notch with a dab of good cologne and a regular hair appointment in his calendar. You could also check out our old article on male body treatments.
There is a simple evolutionary reason why we find fit bodies attractive. Then there are other very compelling reasons to exercise, eat well and look after your health. It’s wonderful when your body can do things you want it to do, such as carry someone in your arms, explore the coastline on a bicycle or dance for hours without struggling for breath. It’s going to be even more wonderful when you can still do all these things into the older age, while those less fortunate than you will need a nurse to help them up the stairs.
How to: remember that not all bodies can attain the same look or perform the same feats. We are built differently. Sometimes it’s just a genetic impossibility. Other times it can be unachievable without a very high cost (e.g. very strict diet or exercise regime). You set your fitness goals but don’t obsess over them. A strong and healthy body is a thing of beauty, six-pack abs are just one (optional) expression of it.
There’s that lie that “it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s what’s inside that counts”. But only one part of this sentence is wrong. What’s inside does count and we routinely find people more attractive because of how they carry themselves. To some, it’s about the virtues that make a rounded person along the lines of Rudyard Kipling’s If. To others, it’s about having the charm and confidence of Don Draper. What if you want it all? Very good.
How to: approach personal improvement as lifelong learning rather than as an attempt to ‘fix’ something. Know the difference between confidence and self-esteem. Getting older helps your development but don’t leave it to chance. There are plenty of people who have lived long lives and learned absolutely nothing along the way.
And to wrap it up
Hopefully this article serves to show that when it comes to male beauty, we don’t need to prevaricate or avoid the topic altogether. Caring about beauty in itself doesn’t make you vain and not caring doesn’t guarantee you a great personality. Beauty can be enjoyed and discussed away from the cruelty of marketing forces and reclaimed for what it is – one of life’s great delights.
A word on dating: dating apps have their limitations and one is that they favour one kind of beauty over another. They’re great for those who have a photogenic face or want to display a close up of some body part. They do not convey height and stature, scent, movement, personality, body proportions or state of grooming effectively. So while they can be a useful tool, that’s all they are. If they don’t suit you, there are other ways to meet people.