Lookin' Good

How To Be Attractive When You’re Old And Ugly

There’s more to being attractive than good looks.

Originally Published: 
An older man being kissed by a woman on the forehead.
MoMo Productions/Getty

Getting older can take the handsome right out of a guy. Every day becomes a battle with a body expanding faster than the universe, a face sinking under the weight fatigue, and a wardrobe transforming into a museum of stains. But it’s possible to be a mess and still be — in a very specific light — attractive. For the guys losing battles or struggling on the handsome front, understanding how to be “strategically attractive” allows for the for the drafting of a new plan of attack. Men can be winning to the opposite sex even while losing a war with time.

“Although men place a higher importance on physical looks, women don’t necessarily do that,” says Dawn Maslar, “love biologist” and author of Men Chase, Women Choose. “A woman is a little more discerning. She gets a little deeper.”

Maslar is quick to add that the formerly handsome man’s first fallback is a good sense of humor. That’s because humor disarms distrust in women, which is a tremendous barrier in establishing attraction. That comfort then leads to trust. Oxytocin, which is known as the “bonding hormone,” is boosted by trust. Bonds are forged. “It’s two parts of a whole,” says Maslar. “You have to trust somebody to find something funny.”

Not funny? Many people aren’t. Fortunately, humor has an eccentric cousin: creativity. The ability to show a sense of creativity is observed as exciting and novel. These feelings are associated with the release of dopamine, which is less disarming than oxytocin but still increases feelings of passion and attraction. This is borne out by research. One study recently published in the journal Royal Society Open Science looked at how creativity affected perceptions of men who would otherwise be thought of as “low quality” mates. They found that men who were more creative were perceived to be more attractive, leading researchers to suggest in their conclusion that “the benefits of creativity to social groups more generally enhance attraction to creative men.”

But while being a creative, funny dude is all well and good, it will get a guy nowhere if the presentation doesn’t work. Slacker vibes are a bad look on a bad-looking man — or a formerly good-looking man. They may be indicative of a comfort with oneself, but they’re more likely to register as a symptom of diminished control or social status. (It’s worth noting here that dress codes are context dependent. Sandals and socks are an NFL and Silicon Valley power move.)

What makes a guy look confident? Maslar says it’s a lack of fear. The key is to look comfortable in your skin and your clothes. The effect will be more powerful if the look is singular, but less powerful if it’s weird. Weirdness is threatening. No matter what people say, few are attracted to weirdness. It’s an evolutionary disinclination.

“If you think about the guy who was powerful and came back from the hunt with the beast, that’s the guy who’s attractive,” says Maslar. “But the guy who’s too weird might be ostracized by the group. You don’t want to go with that guy because you’d be alone.”

At the same time, guys don’t want to be so with the group that they begin losing a sense of maleness through feminized fashion trends that fight against biological signals of masculinity. Just because everyone is wearing eyeliner for men doesn’t mean the beauty-challenged should jump in with both feet. The trick is to make the visual statements masculine. “The beard is harkening back to a very masculine expression,” says Maslar. “You can only grow a beard if you have testosterone.”

And studies suggest that women might be driving those choices. A study recently published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior looked at beard growth in highly populated cities. Research found “a role for female choice in shaping large-scale patterns of facial hair grooming.”

So what about those guys who want to remain attractive, but aren’t funny, creative, confident, or bearded? There’s hope even for them. And here’s the big reveal: It doesn’t really matter if you’re attractive if someone loves you. Maslar points to study that looked into the factors that create a long-term, happy relationship. After pouring over what the couples being studied had in common there was only one strong correlation, the ability to maintain positive illusions of each other.

“It’s the years of being together that she’s going to look at,” says Maslar.

Better make them good.

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