Sherlock and the case of celebrity attraction

Some people might know him as Doctor Strange from the Marvel Studios film. Others might recognize the Brittish performer from his work in the “Sherlock Holmes” series, where he acted alongside Martin Freeman. While watching “The Hobbit” movie, audience members might hear the voice of the antagonistic dragon, Smaug, and find his bass rumblings familiar. Whether in a movie or a television series, Benedict Cumberbatch’s performing abilities never fail to enamor me. Most agree with me in regards to his talent on the silver screen, but controversy ensues when anyone mentions his physical appeal.

Jan Moir once wrote an article for The Daily Mail stating, “Cumberbatch may not be classically handsome, but handsome he undoubtedly is.” Upon reading the aforementioned statement, the term “classically handsome” instantly bothered me. Mind you, the Daily Mail published this particular article in 2014, but its age only caused me to feel four years worth of reactionary anger. I asked myself what exactly is “classically handsome” and who had the privilege of defining such a superficial term. My fury towards those who would call Cumberbatch “ugly-hot” and my fierce devotion towards the “Sherlock” actor caused me to embark on a journey of superficial semantics.

Merriam-Webster defines the word “attractive” as an adjective meaning “[to arouse] interest or pleasure.” The word “handsome” as defined by Merriam-Webster means, “having a pleasing and usually impressive or dignified appearance.” English Oxford Living Dictionaries defines the word “hot” as “lustful” or “sexually attractive.” I personally define the term “attractive” as “nice to look at.” In my opinion, Benedict Cumberbatch is nice to look at, though multiple friends of mine insist otherwise. Many attribute Cumberbatch’s appeal to his deep voice or dignified manner, but dismiss his face as a possible factor in determining his overall charm. “His features don’t make sense for his face,” explained a friend of mine in an attempt to convert me. She did not succeed.

For those who dismiss the Cumberbatch debate as being of little importance, I would like to remind readers of a Saturday Night Live skit titled, “Why is Benedict Cumberbatch Hot?” which I recently rediscovered on YouTube. The skit turns the question of Cumberbatch’s physical beauty into a game show featuring a male host played by Beck Bennett and three contestants. Actresses Vanessa Bayer and Aidy Bryant portray two of the contestants, and Cumberbatch himself assumes the role of the third contestant. The game ensues when Beck Bennett asks the question, “Why is Benedict Cumberbatch hot?” and presents the contestants with unflattering images of the actor in question.

“Some people have said I look like a hammerhead shark,” says Cumberbatch in a scripted, self-deprecating jest. “I sort of think I look like Sid the Sloth from Ice Age,” he adds with a pretend pout. After a string of self-inflicted insults, he adds, “Glamour Magazine named me one of their Sexiest Men Alive,” faking embarrassment with a sheepish smile. Though done in good humour, the 2017 video makes fun of a back-and-forth argument which I have been fighting since high school. The long-standing disagreement I have mucked through with my peers sparked a curiosity within me. What makes a person attractive to others? I recalled learning attraction relates to a person’s genetic makeup.

As I came to learn, genes play a small role in determining who a person deems physically attractive. Massachusetts General Hospital researchers conducted a study three years ago in which they discovered attraction relates to a person’s individual experiences. For example, if a person has good experiences dating another who sports a beard, then beards become a positive physical trait associated with future partners. The notion of individual life experiences shaping the laws of attraction counters the previously held belief of a person’s DNA determining their romantic taste. Attractiveness also connects with cultural beauty perceptions, so I explored modern beauty standards in America compared to other countries.

According to a 2017 article published on HealthyWay’s website, American standards of beauty differ greatly from other cultures, especially Asian cultures. For example, Japanese culture does not glorify tanning as a means to a desirable end. Writer Megan Senseney stated, “many Japanese women find it weird that American women would actually want tan skin.” Senseney illustrates the majority of Japanese beach bums purposefully cover themselves up with long sleeved shirts and hats to avoid the sun’s rays. Of course, standardized conceptions of appeal come with their own set of issues and pressures on today’s youth.

Serena Fix, a writer for Motivation’s website, stated in an article posted in May 2018, “I find America’s beauty standards absolutely horrifying.” In Fix’s article, she highlighted body expectations as a source of serious physical and mental health implications. Fix concludes in her article, “The standards we put on men and women in order to be called beautiful or handsome are ridiculous.” I found her article fascinating, but I wanted to know which qualities comprised a handsome face, not a handsome body.

ScienceNewsforStudents provided me with an answer. Alison Pearce Stevens wrote, “Attractive faces…tend to be symmetrical.” Since symmetry registers as appealing, the average person prefers a face where both sides reflect the other. According to Stevens’s article, most people identify average faces as attractive. Psychologist Coren Apicella states “Perhaps average faces are more attractive because they seem more familiar.” Familiar features differ from person to person, depending on the traits typically observed in their immediate environment.

Psychologist Judith Langlois and her team located at the University of Texas also discovered people’s brains process more attractive faces faster. Through the attachment of electrodes on patients, Langlois and her team found people’s brain processed an average face faster than an asymmetrical, conventionally unattractive face. Basically, our brains do not work as hard to comprehend a pretty face compared to someone with unusual features. Even a small detail, such as the distance between a person’s eyes, factors into overall physical appeal.

In sum, all people harbor a beauty bias. Realizing we hold a bias exists helps fight the effects, and recognize Benedict Cumberbatch’s beauty. Unfortunately for anyone who finds Cumberbatch attractive, like myself, Cumberbatch got married to a woman named Sophie Hunter in 2015.

Domenica Castro is a third-year student Communication Studies major who minors in Spanish. DC874612@wcupa.edu

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