Physical attractiveness: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it changes with time and changing environment

  • Z J R Mchiza University of the Western Cape
  • W Parker Human Science Research Council
Keywords: physical attractiveness, beauty


The term “physical attractiveness” has been defined by Zangwill1 as “the degree to which a person's physical features are considered aesthetically pleasing or beautiful.” Hatfield and Sprecher2 on the other hand defined this term as “that which represents one's conception of the ideal in appearance; that which gives the greatest degree of pleasure to the senses.” While the dictionary3 and Symons4 long emphasised that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Several researchers have outlined specific physical features to signal an individual’s attractiveness.5-12 Among these features are the individual’s facial features,13 hair thickness,5 and body size (i.e. waist versus hip circumference,14,15 body weight and height 16,17). For instance, Singh14 argued that low female waist to hip ratio (WHR, that is typically centred around 0.70) is attractive because it correlates with better health and fertility outcomes. Swami et al.15 on the other hand argued that Pieter Pauwel Rubens, the Flemish painter famed for his exuberant Baroque style, preferred female models that had WHRs and body weights that were much higher than the esteemed figure of WHR = 0.70. Buss18 further argued that some aspects of physical attractiveness are built within cultures, change with cultural standards, become unlearned at certain points in time, with certain physical features signalling individuals’ health and reproductive potential.

Author Biographies

Z J R Mchiza, University of the Western Cape

School of Public Health, University of the Western Cape, South Africa

W Parker, Human Science Research Council

Social Aspects of Public Health (SAPH), Human Sciences Research Council, South Africa

How to Cite
Mchiza, Z., & Parker, W. (2020). Physical attractiveness: beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it changes with time and changing environment. South African Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 33(1), 3-4. Retrieved from