Being sexy isn't easy – more choice about who you sleep with just means more problems

A young woman in a park in a tracksuit looks at her phone
"Just going to check my Tinder quickly" Credit: Denis Rozhnovsky/Alamy Stock Photo

Who hasn’t envied the beautiful? As a schoolgirl I fretted over the injustice of my more luminous female peers’ myriad powers – not only did all the boys moon over them, everything in life seemed to go more easily for them. Of course, my jealous former self was bang on: numerous studies have shown that socially, sexually, even professionally the gorgeous – trading on what sociologist Catherine Hakim has called “erotic capital” – do get ahead more easily. The buxomely brilliant and the chiselled broad-chested get paid more because they seduce would-be clients with an aura of desirability and confidence.

But there are significant downsides to being a perfect ten. One is that you never know if people are valuing you for your work or for your looks, which can presumably get depressing after a while. This effect is more pronounced in women: a study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people attributed the success of beautiful women to “luck” rather than ability, while male hunks were seen to possess both.

Attractiveness and success go together like a horse and carriage Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

Even worse, perhaps, is that your chances of personal happiness may be forever dented. A new Harvard study which set out to explain why Hollywood elites have such short marriages found that beautiful people cheat more. They are more likely to be attracted to others and to act on it – safe in the knowledge that they can probably get what they want.

Indeed studies have shown that women think attractive men are more likely to cheat or abandon them – although that doesn’t stop them wanting to marry them. On the upside, men with clearly covetable female partners respond to their missus’ higher risk of infidelity by “attending” more assiduously to their pleasure in the bedroom.

Should we be jealous? I’m not so sure. The hunky and the hot must perpetually experience what the rest of us are only now beginning to grapple with: the glut of choice (or at least its appearance) produced by dating apps and sites. Why commit to one person when there are a whole sea of alternatives, some of them bound to be better? A 2015 cover story for Vanity Fair on the “dawn of the dating apocalypse” pointed to an epidemic of app-enabled sexual “affluenza”. Men, drunk on choice, had no interest in developing meaningful relationships.

Scarlett Johansson's second marriage was yet another of the short-lived Hollywood kind Credit: PAUL BUCK/EPA

A whole branch of psychology has sprung up around the surfeit of choice that now defines Western life across numerous fronts. Economically, choice is a clear good, aligned with political freedom. Psychologically, however, it takes on sinister qualities, hammering away at our happiness and peace of mind.

We started approaching desire like consumers and other people as if they were goods

In The Paradox of Choice, social scientist Barry Shwartz argued that if we were rational, added options could only be good. The reality is different – added options confuse us and make us less satisfied with the choices we do make. The beautiful and famous must indeed be tormented by what they could have if only, say, Gwyneth Paltrow or Kate Moss would clear off to make way for Emma Stone or Scarlett Johansson.

Sociologists of love have observed that as marriage rates plummeted and sexual options grew exponentially in the post-Pill, no-fault divorce West, we started approaching desire like consumers and other people as if they were goods. This, they argue, has led to romantic chaos. Just ask the beautiful.

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