Male Physical Attractiveness Part I or: You Shallow, Shallow Ladies




Note: this contains a review, click here if you’re looking for the official site of The Hollywood Physique.

Applied Evolutionary Psychology: Male Attractiveness

Over the course of running a few blogs, I’ve met some of the most interesting and fun people I know. When I started evolvify, I reached out to them for ideas for products that might be a good fit to advertise here. In general, the response was along the lines of “I have no idea what an evolutionary psychology blog would look like, and I’m not sure if I even know what evolutionary psychology is”. It seems that there’s not a huge market for “applied evolutionary theory” when spoken of in the abstract. Shocker, right? Yet two people mentioned some guy Clay who was working on some sort of bodybuilding or fitness program that had something or other to do with evolution so it might be a fit. Upon further inquiry, I discovered that this was a Clay that I’ve known for over a year. Note: Clay and Derek are both pictured (shirtless, ladies) in the product link later.

Anyway, shortly after hearing that Clay was working on “some evolution related thing”, I got an email from the man himself. It turned out he had been studying the evolutionary psychology relating to what makes men physically attractive to women for a couple years. And when I say studying, I don’t mean that he just read an article in Maxim. In fact, one of his college professors was none other than one of my Top 5 Favorite Evolutionary Psychologists, Martie Haselton…

In addition to her work on attractiveness, Dr. Haselton is one of the developers of the infinitely insightful Error Management Theory which deals with the evolution of human cognitive biases and heuristics. But I digress…

Clay’s work was focused on a synthesis of the evolved physical cues women find attractive in men and the application of that to bodybuilding. Upon hearing this, I was immediately intrigued. In fact, when we compared notes, I already had three of the journal papers he was using for references in my personal library. So we were quite literally “on the same page” with all of this. A component of this that I’d totally missed was the tie-in to the male Hollywood actors that all men love to hate. You know, the Brad Pitt, Ryan Reynolds, Hugh Jackman, Daniel Craig types with the abs and the shoulders and the swooning adoration of women they’ve never met. Yeah, those guys.

It turns out that those guys happen to develop their physiques to dimensions that match up perfectly to what evolutionary psychology predicts women will find attractive. It’s not clear that the trainers of the Hollywood physiques are consciously aware of the evolutionary relationship of their clients’ physiques and what women find attractive, but the correlation is uncanny and the results are undeniable. Clay developed a combination paleo friendly, whole foods, no supplement training program to build bodies that women find attractive according to Hollywood and the best data evolutionary science has to offer. But let’s take a step back and look at what women find attractive…

Keys to Male Physical Attractiveness

Fist things first: This is article not about “status”. Status is important and I’ll write about how women find it attractive in the future. For now, I’m focusing on physical attractiveness. This topic is particularly important to me for a few reasons.

  1. Men have body image issues too. In fact, fashion advertisers use photos of more muscular men in men’s magazines than in women’s magazines. Men tend to think women find bulkier men attractive than what women generally find attractive (Frederick et al. 2005)
  2. The generally douchebaggy pickup community is often superficially based on evolutionary psychology to a greater or lesser degree. In many instances, it’s actually based on sociobiology. Unfortunately, the roots of sociobiology are in entymology (the study of bugs) and don’t necessarily apply to humans. Further, much of the pickup stuff is based on models of alpha-male dominance found in other primate species that don’t look anything like the social dynamics of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. Finally, I haven’t seen any pickup guru who didn’t say that “looks don’t matter. While it’s true that looks aren’t the only thing that matters, it is absolutely incorrect to say that “looks don’t matter”. To say as much demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Darwinian evolution.
  3. Whether faked or real, status is a subjective social metric. By definition, it doesn’t exist without respect to other individuals.
  4. Status seeking is generally seen as negative and can be inferred whether said status cue is fake or real.
  5. Status is often disconnected from legitimate fitness cues in the modern world because of inheritances, luck (e.g. winning the lottery), et cetera.
  6. Physical attractiveness can be improved by simple means. As we’ll see later, this is even true of facial attractiveness.

Women Have Been More Superficial than Men Across Evolutionary Time

Despite the 20th century encroachment of men into superficiality, and the subsequent backlash by women at having their tactics aped, women have been judging men on the metrics of wealth and physical beauty for millions of years. This isn’t a judgment call, and there are no moral implications intended in that statement. It is a simple fact of evolutionary biology that the sex that invests most in reproduction is almost invariably the most selective about mating. In mammals, this is almost always females. In humans, the biological investment is drastic – 9 months (minimum) for women versus a few seconds for men. Thus, we would expect women to be more leery about mating with men of low mate value.

With status in our out of the question, women use superficial cues to determine the genetic quality of potential mates.

Let’s be clear; this is not necessarily a conscious calculation. Emotions are evolved motivational heuristics that preclude the need for intentional analysis. Instinctual attraction is not a choice. Love is not a choice. Lust is not a choice.  Certain physical attributes simply act to signal the genetic quality of individuals. I’ve previously discussed the relationship of female attractiveness to waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), and similar cues can be applied to male attractiveness. This is merely a standard principle of Darwinian evolution. In particular, Darwin termed this “sexual selection”, and more specifically, “mate choice.” It has been updated and integrated into parental investment theory.

Known Points of Male Physical Attractiveness

There is no doubt that nuances and specifics of male physical attractiveness are yet to be discovered. For now, they can be grouped into three main sensory categories.

  1. Olfaction (smell)
  2. Auditory (hearing)
  3. Physical (vision)

Let’s go ahead and set aside taste, touch, and ESP for today. Numerous studies have been conducted to assess what, if any, role smell, hearing, and vision play in women’s assessments of male attractiveness. All have been shown to have measurable and predictable impact. Perhaps more interestingly, these sensory inputs tend to shift and increase in intensity during the peak fertility of a woman’s cycle. Aside from possible mentions of smell and hearing in passing, we’re going to look at visual cues.

This isn’t an arbitrary decision. Just as in my critique of racism as misguided sensory bias, it makes sense that our mating assessments be made based on our most perceptive sense(s). Most humans are heavily visually biased so the decision is made for us. (Foster 2008) Before proceeding, we need to break things down one further step. Studies have shown significant differences in attractiveness cues between face and body. Since there is little to be done about facial attractiveness outside of surgery (facial plastic surgery may be the number one evolution thwarting measure), we’ll mostly focus on physical cues found in the body.

“We found two factors that captured face and body attractiveness, respectively. Together they accounted for 49.9%… of the total variance in the variables . The first principal component in the male PCA was a body attractiveness factor that loaded significantly on body attractiveness, body sexual dimorphism and body averageness… The second principal component in the male PCA was primarily associated with attractive face traits and loaded significantly on face attractiveness and face sexual dimorphism. This study showed that rated face and body attractiveness contribute independently and substantially, with no interaction, to overall… male attractiveness. Importantly, face and body attractiveness did not significantly interact in predicting overall attractiveness in males or females. These results are critical because they confirm and quantify the assumption that the face and body both contain independent cues to overall attractiveness. Thus, even though our preferences have evolved by viewing the whole person, overall attractiveness judgements are based on separate, unique contributions of the face and body, with no interaction between the two.” (Peters et al. 2007) [emphasis mine]

Caveat: Since the previous study was done, another study found something particularly interesting:

Humans are also good at assessing strength based on the face alone. Even though no part of the men’s bodies was available for inspection in these photos, the subjects were able to successfully perceive strength. Indeed, in our data, upper-body strength independently predicted facial ratings of strength, while leg strength did not. [M]any anthro-pologists might expect that humans would learn to exploit culturally specific cues through exposure. However, our subjects were just as good at judging strength from the faces of men of other cultures as from their own. That is, thousands of times more experience with members of one’s local culture had no effect on the accuracy of the system.” (Sell et al. 2009) [emphasis mine]

Clay doesn’t know I’m subjecting him to this impromptu and highly biased “study”, but see if you can detect a difference in his face in the before and after photos. Granted, his facial expression is slightly different, but aside from that…

Now, in the referenced study, the faces were isolated so even the neck couldn’t be seen, and the bodies were isolated and rated separately. Like I said, showing the pictures like this biases the study, but can you see a difference? It turns out that having a sexy body is contagious enough to at least reach your face.

Sexual Dimorphism: Surprise! Men and Women Look Different

Physical differences between the male and female of a species give a general indicator of the amount of sexual selection that has taken place – the more sexual selection, the greater the physical difference. These are often referred to as ornaments. Common examples of this are the antlers of male deer, the large canine teeth of male gorillas, the audacious plume of the male peacock, and the increased height and upper body musculature of male humans. In strict evolutionary biology terms, sexual selection is broken down into male-male competition and female mate choice.

Technically, these mechanisms often overlap into feedback mechanisms so I’m going to gloss over the minutia of that distinction momentarily. Briefly: In some species, men compete to show off and be chosen by females. In some species, men compete to dominate resources and mating opportunities. In some species, these overlap to varying degrees. To further complicate things, some traits in a single species may be acted on more by female mate choice and others by male-male competition. (Hunt et al. 2009)

Implications of Women’s Mate-Choice

Have you put the pieces together? This is a big point: Like natural selection and artificial selection (breeding), women have literally shaped the physical characteristics of men to their taste over the course of human evolution. That’s right, women find men physically attractive because men are shaped by female mate choice. Which leads to an obvious question…

How do women “know” what to choose?

Sexual selection can seem like a bit of a circular argument at times. However, it’s important to remember that it operates in concert with natural selection. Women who chose men with evolutionarily advantageous genes would have had more successful offspring. In this way, natural selection has a way of shaping the preferences of females over time. Because of the interplay, women will tend to evolve preferences that compel them to choose traits that correlate with “good genes.” Hypotheses on what is being signaled by each physical trait vary.

Since one of the main points women report as attractive is sexual dimorphism (masculinity), testosterone is a likely candidate and is studied often. A man’s ability to produce and regulate optimal levels of testosterone (and all other hormones) is advantageous for survival and reproduction. Cortisol has been the subject of studies of hormones and attractiveness as well, but have not yielded results as strong as those focusing on testosterone (Moore et al. 2010).

One other line of regular inquiry into adaptive benefits of mate choice is fluctuating asymmetry (FA). This the general assumption that symmetry is good, and asymmetry is bad. The locus of asymmetry may vary from trait to trait and may have multiple influences in any one particular trait. Oxidative stress at the genetic level may be responsible for some FA, and individuals with greater capacity for reducing oxidative stress may have survival and reproductive advantages (Gangestad et al. 2010).

Other hypotheses around sexual selection focus on fighting ability between individuals and its technical corrolary resource-holding potential (RHP). Without putting to fine a point on it, being big and strong has advantages in multiple domains. And guess what influences strength? Yes my astute lovelies… testosterone. It keeps coming back to the testosterone.

The proof is in the ____ing

The studies above relating to facial attractiveness versus body attractiveness relied on women’s ratings of attractiveness. There’s value in that, but conscious assessments aren’t necessarily a perfect substitute for how people behave in the real world. In the real world, the most effective measure of attractiveness is… um… apparently the PhDs call it “mating succcess”…

“Overall, body attractiveness was a better predictor of self-reported mating success than facial attractiveness. In line with our main hypothesis, we found a positive relationship between a composite measure of men’s physical fitness (PF) and men’s body attractiveness. This was obtained not only for aggregated attractiveness ratings but also for all 27 female raters individually. This finding is remarkable because individual attractiveness judgments reflect a strong idiosyncratic component, at least for faces. Attractiveness judgments were made fast and effortless. The strength of the attractiveness-fitness relation- ship obtained here suggests that signalling physical fitness may be one of the key functions of male attractiveness.” (Honekopp et al. 2006) [emphasis mine]

Not surprisingly, physical fitness “may be” important for physical attractiveness. You learn something everyday I guess. Thanks science!

Back to Clay’s Evolutionary Body-Hacking Program

I’m already approaching the 3,000 word mark in this article and I haven’t even gotten to the specifics of what exactly makes for a body that women find attractive. Fortunately, Clay has already done all the work of synthesizing this research into a clear physical model ( to be fair, he claims that the trainers and actors in Hollywood did the work for him, and he just reverse engineered it). So rather than talk about the numbers, here are the blueprints representing the intersection of Hollywood and Darwin.

The Hollywood Physique Blueprint (1 of 8)

Why the “Hollywood Physique”?

Clay found that essentially every feature in the research here is demonstrated in nearly every Hollywood actor after one of their scrawny-to-superhero transformations. In other words, although we have no proof it’s intentional, Hollywood trainers are leveraging the same principles in all of the research consciously or unconsciously. The system is designed to sculpt precisely the aspects of muscle necessary to highlight that exact cue and maximize the evolutionary factors most responsible for natural attraction. Most are simply emulating physical features associated with naturally elevated testosterone levels and other indicators of key fitness features related to survival purposes.

The name “The Hollywood Physique for Men” is designed for an audience not limited to the enlightened anthro-evolution nerd readers of evolvify. However, Clay himself is somewhat of an anthro-evolution nerd, but I haven’t yet asked him to change the name to “The Uber Abstract Darwinian Compendium of Hyper-Copulatory Hypertrophy.” While the system itself is built on a foundation of paleo and evolutionary psychology principles, Clay has designed it for a more mainstream audience. In other words, he’s cleverly disguising the stuff we love and bringing it to the masses.

What the Hollywood Physique is NOT:

  • A fitness program designed around evolutionary movements
  • A strength training program
  • A functional fitness program

What The Hollywood Physique is:

  • Methodical, detailed, and specific regarding food and workouts
  • Applied evolutionary psychology
  • 100% Paleo diet friendly
  • Whole food nutrition plan
  • Supplement free
  • A completely aesthetic bodybuilding system designed to strategically achieve a body that’s naturally attractive to women in a short amount of time

How do Andrew and evolvify tie into this?

As I mentioned before, I worked with Clay on this for a couple months before he launched it. However, it’s totally his brainchild. My contributions have been reviews and suggestions regarding the evolutionary theory and minor tweaks (if anything). I had pre-release access to the materials and have gone over everything contained within. I’m not going to comment on any of the training methodology or jargon, but I have seen Clay’s and Derek’s results and they’re pretty amazing.

Here’s the thing… and it’s not a sales pitch, just the info. Clay is just now making this publicly available. He hasn’t even set up a full page selling it quite yet, and he’s not promoting it on a very grand scale at the moment because, simply put, he wants to make sure the information jives with a more intelligent, savvy crowd who are driven and ready to APPLY it and PROVE it works before unleashing it on a wider scale. I’m glad he came to me about this a while ago because it’s allowed us to team up to give evolvify readers to get the first crack at it.

UPDATE (August 2012): I ended up using THP for a couple months shortly after writing this originally, and I’ve since checked in on the progress of others. I can reissue whatever recommendations I had at the beginning. Theory shmeory, it works.

If you’re looking for an aesthetic approach to quickly building muscle that’s based on the evolutionary principles of physical attractiveness, then you can’t go wrong with The Hollywood Physique for Men.

Check Out Clay’s Site »

*don’t miss the individual muscle blueprints and topless Derek!


Foster, Joshua D. “Beauty is mostly in the eye of the beholder: olfactory versus visual cues of attractiveness.” The Journal of Social Psychology 148, no. 6 (December 2008): 765-73. [PDF]

Frederick, David a, Daniel M T Fessler, and Martie G Haselton. “Do representations of male muscularity differ in menʼs and women’s magazines?” Body image 2, no. 1 (March 2005): 81-6.

Gangestad, Steven W., Leslie a. Merriman, and Melissa Emery Thompson. “Men’s oxidative stress, fluctuating asymmetry and physical attractiveness.” Animal Behaviour 80, no. 6 (October 2010): 1005-1013.

Honekopp, J, U Rudolph, L Beier, a Liebert, and C Muller. “Physical attractiveness of face and body as indicators of physical fitness in men.” Evolution and Human Behavior 28, no. 2 (March 2007): 106-111.

Hunt, John, Casper J Breuker, Jennifer a Sadowski, and Allen J Moore. “Male-male competition, female mate choice and their interaction: determining total sexual selection.” Journal of evolutionary biology 22, no. 1 (January 2009): 13-26.

Moore, F R, R E Cornwell, M J Law Smith, E a S Al Dujaili, M Sharp, and D I Perrett. “Evidence for the stress-linked immunocompetence handicap hypothesis in human male faces.” Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society, (September 2010).

Peters, M, G Rhodes, and L Simmons. “Contributions of the face and body to overall attractiveness.” Animal Behaviour 73, no. 6 (June 2007): 937-942. [PDF]

Sell, Aaron, Leda Cosmides, John Tooby, Daniel Sznycer, Christopher von Rueden, and Michael Gurven. “Human adaptations for the visual assessment of strength and fighting ability from the body and face.” Proceedings. Biological sciences / The Royal Society 276, no. 1656 (February 2009): 575-84. [PDF]