Netflix’s Sexy Beasts, which releases today, promises to go beyond superficial encounters by having contestants meet while wearing makeup and prosthetics to disguise their physical attributes.
The first is Emma, the demon, a six foot tall model from New York City. Asked about her dating expectations and her ideal partner, Emma explains that “it’s all in the chemistry” and that “sexual attraction is definitely a must”.
Throughout the series, contestants talk about physical attributes they wish to see in a romantic partner: Mandrill Bennett is hoping to find someone with “big boobs”; the beaver James explains that it is “the ass first, the personality then”; and pixie Amber connects with her go on her big bicep muscles.
Masks aren’t enough to hide height, size, and skin tone – or the fact that all candidates are conventionally attractive. Although we are shown the pairs hooking up in disguise, the preparation for unmasking proves that expectations of meeting someone physically attractive remain.
In modern times Perfect match, Sexy Beasts asks if people can fall in love “only” based on their personalities.
But how do you really fall in love?
The biology of love can be measured …
Signs of physical attraction may be measured in the brain as biological responses to attractive visual stimuli. Brain imaging has shown that a number of areas actively light up when we see someone we consider attractive. These activated areas are consistent regardless of an individual’s gender identity and sexual preference.
Physical attractiveness is not just based on facial qualities. We judge physical attractiveness based on waist-to-hip ratio and breast size (for female bodies in particular); chest-size radio (for male bodies in particular); and skin tone.
According to evolutionary psychology, heterosexual men tend to seek a partner which signifies youth and fertility. Heterosexual women tend to seek out a partner with a strong immune system who can provide support to young people.
Read more: Is There Really One Perfect Body Shape For Women?
The “neurobiology of love theory”Postulates that love is an emotion that has evolved to encourage beneficial biological behaviors such as sex, reproduction and the survival of individuals and their species.
The general thesis here is that love is a learned conditioned response.
… but it’s not just biology
This explanation of how we understand love is limited.
Social and developmental researchers specializing in relationships (like myself) believe that individuals will assess potential romantic partners based on a compromise between three different desirable characteristics: physical attractiveness, yes, but also kindness and wealth.
In relationships, “kindness” can also be described as warmth and trustworthiness, having an understanding and supportive partner. “Wealth” is about both status and resources, having a successful partner in your profession. Overall, kindness was ranked as the most important criterion, followed by physical attractiveness and then wealth.
Failing to adjust expectations, some people will continually switch partners to try to find someone who can meet all of their expectations.
Read more: Men are from Mars, Women are from … Mars? The way people choose their partners is surprisingly similar (but depends on age)
My research has shown that “not meeting” or “not living up to” partner expectations is a recipe for relationship sabotage.
Sexy Beasts tries to take “physical attractiveness” out of the equation, forcing contestants to rely instead on their judgments about “what’s important” to building and maintaining a lasting relationship. But we cannot change our expectations simply by removing a consideration factor altogether.
How to build a relationship
Watching Sexy Beasts as a relationship expert, I wasn’t convinced that this show’s contestants were connected based on personality alone. The show removes some elements by which to judge physical attractiveness, but it does not allow individuals to judge kindness and wealth.
Social context is an important factor in deciding which characteristics of the partner are important. As with all reality shows, these contestants aren’t motivated by love, but by winning a contest, even if that means going against what is important to them in a partner and a relationship.
The owl, Gabi, is a veterinarian student from West Virginia who talks about her love for dogs, but is matched with a potential dog allergic partner. The dolphin Nina is looking for a “cowboy” – but does not choose the candidate who fits this description.
Panda Kariselle, an outgoing and “nerdy” party host from New Jersey, is looking for a husband. But, on the show, she rejects the bull, Josh, who is “going out to get married” and looking for an outgoing partner with the same “nerdy” interests as him.
To foster connection without physical attraction, we should look at other qualities. Warmth, expressiveness, openness and a good sense of humor are the common factors conducive to long-term relationships. Although individuals can meet and start a relationship disguised as “sexy beasts”, long term commitment requires connection based on personal insight and understanding what we need in a partner.
Hours of work went into creating each of these “sexy beasts”. But that’s nothing compared to the work it takes to make a relationship last.