Whole industries exist on the premise that physical beauty is vitally important: fashion, cosmetics, plastic surgery, style magazines. Celebrities and supermodels (sleeker than a Lamborghini, more desirable than a villa in the Mediterranean, able to drop men’s jaws with a single thigh) are paid abominably large fees to grace different products. The same media that advertise these products also simultaneously publish articles about the high incidence of bulimia, depression and low self-esteem among their readership. Along with ’10 easy exercises to sculpt your body for summer’. The reason being that people don’t feel attractive and acceptable to others.

We all have a sense of what’s beautiful and what isn’t. All of us can appreciate a sunset, the view from the top of a hill, an old Gothic building, or Megan Gale’s smile. To say that looks don’t matter is to deny that we should care about beauty.

But looks do matter: the next time you are at a newsagent’s, count the number of magazines that have the picture of a pretty girl on the front cover. They tell us what to wear, how to lose weight, how to tone our muscles, how to make ourselves attractive to the opposite sex. How many men’s magazines are there that focus on the female body? To say that looks don’t matter devalues a real attribute. Our idea of beauty may change, but no-one questions that beauty exists.

The question we need to ask is, when do looks matter?

Beauty matters in the first moment of a relationship: attraction. Let’s say you go to a party; you’re the third person there. You see two people of the opposite sex: you’ve never met either of them before. The only thing you know is that one person is physically attractive, and the other isn’t. Neither of them have seen you yet. The question is, who would you rather get to know first? For the moment, don’t think about how you fear they might respond (or not) to you. Just think about who you would be instinctively want to get to know. Hands up if it’s the most physically attractive person!?

This is where looks matter. This gives the physically attractive person the advantage: they have a greater choice of potential partners; they can beat hopeful suitors off with a stick. But having fallen out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down, we who belong to the faceless crowd rely on our regular social life to meet people: in our workplaces, our sports and hobby clubs. Then, once contact has been made, the impact of physical appearance begins to lose its power. Personality and character become more important.

Attraction is like the sensation of being in love (which isn’t the same as loving someone). Being in love is a neurochemical reaction which lasts for up to two years. After then, if you don’t build a relationship on something more solid – like your character – the relationship will fail. Physical attraction may bring us into a relationship – but physical attraction won’t be enough to keep that relationship alive. By the time most people realise this, the relationship is over and the next pretty face is on the scene. So we who are stuck with average looks must keep plugging away at our workplaces, social and sporting clubs.

In his book The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer tells the story “What women most desire”. At the end of the tale, the hero must decide what he wants in a bride: for her to be beautiful and faithless, or ugly and faithful. Of course the two aren’t mutually exclusive. But the point is made: looks have their advantages and disadvantages. But they do matter.

But there’s another reason why I’m discontent. Which is, that it’s a source of immense aggravation to me when people – who are either definitely attractive or definitely unattractive, rarely in-between (or maybe my depression-grey glasses are on) – say that ‘looks don’t matter.’ The attractive say looks don’t matter because they have those looks. (Like only the rich say – with that sleek smugness that makes you want to tear their faces off – ‘money doesn’t matter’.) The unattractive say looks don’t matter because they have to believe it.

Or the attractive may whine about people who only go after looks, and ‘no-one wants me for who I am.’ Aw, diddums. Ever heard of ‘what you win people with, is what you win them to’? If you seek to attract your partner by your physical appearance, don’t expect them to go any deeper. If you dress and act like a trollop or a himbo, don’t think you’ll get much response from people who do look beneath the surface. That’s because these people won’t be very attractive, so have to use their personalities to attract. Of course, there are those people who seem to have it all – looks, brains, charm, character, money … Bastards. Fortunately there’s not too many of them.

For the nth time, looks do matter; they always have, and they always will. On two bases, the logical and the practical. Regarding the former, a sense of aesthetics is something which we all have. Anyone can appreciate the beauty of a sunset (or sunrise, if you’re given to getting up that early), a painting, a stylish car – for me, aesthetically, the Falcon XY GT is the quintessential muscle car. To me, its lines are perfect. Others will disagree, and that’s fine. The point is, we all find certain things attractive, and other things unattractive. So to say that ‘looks don’t matter’ is to deny that innate sense of the aesthetic which we all have.

Unfortunately for me – and my fellow saplings from the ugly tree – physical beauty is the first quality that we notice about others. Obviously. You can’t notice someone’s sense of humour, or courtesy, or honesty at first glance.

Let’s take you – yes, you, the attractive person there. You see someone; you’re attracted to them. You want to get to know them, to see if they’re as good as they are smoochable. So you try to spend time with them. If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, by that time there’s someone else on the scene to whom you’re attracted. It’s also a fact (substantiated by scientific studies) that physically attractive people are more likely to be perceived as more honest, hardworking, considerate, thoughtful, amusing – and so on – than are those who are not as good-looking.

The only way the aesthetically-challenged get a look in, is if they’re thrown into close or frequent proximity with the object of their interests. I recommend working with them, or joining the same club, rather than, say, stalking. The concept of a good character I mentioned earlier, comes in here: no-one wants someone who won’t grant them the courtesy to say ‘No’. Love means acting for the beloved’s best interests, not ‘just wanting to be with them’. Deceptive Hollywood sentimentality. As the (Gary Larsen) canine lecturer said to his class regarding the hissing cat, “Trickery! Trickery! Trickery!’

Looks do matter, but love over-reaches them.

copyright Troy Grisgonelle 2006.