Attractive Athletes: Why Are Sports People Good Looking?

Have you ever noticed that athletes tend to be good looking? Not just in terms of their physique, but their facial structure too. If you look at athletes, you'll typically see the following characteristics define their faces:

  • Straight teeth
  • Defined jawline
  • Proper bite
  • High cheekbones
  • Good proportions
  • Good symmetry

Similarly, what you don't often see in athletes is:

  • Overbite or underbite
  • Long face
  • Hooked or crooked nose
  • Poor proportions
  • Asymmetry

While it may seem strange at face value, this phenomenon is much more than a coincidence. There is a perfectly logical explanation as to why athletes are attractive. There are two facets to this explanation, which are intertwined with one another.

Overbite: Understanding the Overbite and How to Correct it

What is an overbite, and what is the best way to treat an overbite? Contrary to popular belief, an overbite is not merely an aesthetic issue, but also impedes the function of the mouth, jaw and airway...

Read More

Underbite: What Causes it and How to Fix it

An underbite occurs where the lower jaw is positioned too far forward in the face and overshoots the top jaw - causing misalignment between the top and bottom teeth...

Read More

Form and Function

The first is that form and function go hand in hand. Essentially, this means that what looks good works well, and what works well looks good. It suggests that a body (or face) that functions optimally will be more attractive than one that does not. But what does this mean with respect to the face, and how does the shape of the face impact athletic performance?

Let's start with the jawline. An undefined jawline is often indicative of an overbite. An overbite commonly results in the following - all of which render the face less attractive:

  • Narrow jaws
  • Crowded/crooked teeth
  • Downward growth of the face
  • Hooked/long nose

And as for how these characteristics impact one's athletic ability? Well, it all comes down to how an overbite affects the airway. In an overbite, the jaws are positioned further back in the face, and the tongue often hangs lower (sitting away from its ideal resting place on the roof of the mouth). Consequently, the airway is either smaller than usual or restricted. This hinders oxygen flow to the body, which ultimately hampers energy production and athletic performance.

Overbite  = restricted airway

Restricted airway = less oxygen

Less oxygen = less endurance

Less endurance = reduced athletic capacity

Being a successful athlete is about reaching peak physical performance. Thus, anyone with a restricted oxygen supply will be at a massive disadvantage compared to those with a greater oxygen supply. This is one of the most common examples of the relationship between form and function and highlights why athletes are typically good looking.

Evolution and How We're Wired

The second facet is about understanding why we find certain traits attractive. Put simply; it is the product of evolution, whereby our primal instinct is to find an appropriate mate or partner. If we cast our minds back to hunter-gatherer times when looking for a partner, the most important criteria would roughly be:

For men:

  • Capable of providing (food and shelter)
  • Will have a long life span (so as to continue providing for family)
  • Strong genetics to raise healthy and resilient children

For women:

  • Strong genetics to raise healthy and resilient children
  • Will have a long life span (so as to continue caring for children)

Let's take the example above of an overbite - which is correlated with reduced oxygen capacity. An overbite  results in the following:

Overbite = restricted airway

Restricted airway = less oxygen

Less oxygen = less endurance

Less endurance = lesser hunting capacity

Lesser hunting capacity = less food

Less food = danger

The point is that we are hardwired to find function attractive as it is positively correlated with selecting the best mate - ultimately ensuring longevity and lineage. By contrast, when we detect poor form/aesthetics, we are hardwired to believe it indicates poor health. This same phenomenon is why we find athletes attractive or good looking.

Why Athletes are Good Looking: Confirmed by Study

All of this was borne out in a study conducted by evolutionary biologist, Erik Postma, who researched the "relationship between attractiveness and performance in professional cyclists". Postma's work concluded that "riders [who completed the 2021 Tour de France] that performed better were [considered] more attractive". His work highlighted that "facial attractiveness signals endurance performance", and consequently, "this suggests that human endurance capacity has been subject to sexual selection in our evolutionary past." It helps us to understand why we find athletes attractive.