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The death of the ‘type on paper’

If Love Island is anything to go by, nobody has a physical ‘type’ anymore

Historically, Love Island contestants can be divided into two camps. Those whose type is “tall, dark, and handsome”, and those whose type is “blonde hair and blue eyes” – or, in other words, heterosexual women and heterosexual men.

At worst, these ‘types’ can be coded microaggressions. Diyora Shadijanova wrote about Love Island’s male contestants’ pervasive preference for blue-eyed blondes in gal-dem last year: “though this of course doesn’t include all white women, it does at times feel like a shorthand for ‘white’. Because let’s be honest, most women of colour [...] won’t be born with naturally blonde hair or light eyes due to centuries of evolution and the way genetics work.” At best? ‘Types’ are just plain boring.

This year, however, things in Majorca have been different. Not radically different, obviously – there are still occasional references to wanting a man with “dark features”, whatever the hell that means – but there has been a noticeable shift away from the repetitive conversations about ‘types’ in seasons gone by.

On one occasion, Davide Saclimenti, an Italian man who resembles a chiselled, marble sculpture soaked in aftersun, sagely purred “I don’t fall in love with the colour of the hair.” A couple of episodes later, clad in a turquoise bikini and perspex pleaser heels, Greek bombshell Antigoni Buxton confessed to her fellow Islanders around the fire pit, “I don’t know if I fancy someone until I’ve had a good chat with them, you know?” Meanwhile, Machiavellian main character Ekin-Su Cülcüloğlu put it plainly when token posh boy Charlie Radnedge “pulled her for a chat”, telling him conclusively “I don’t have a type”.

As ever, Love Island is microcosmic of the wider dating scene, and there certainly seems to be some evidence that this rejection of physical ‘types’ is indicative of a broader cultural shift towards more personality-focused dating. It’s evident in the popularity of other shows like Sexy Beasts and Love is Blind, where contestants can’t see the person they’re dating. Kim Kardashian did a total 180 last year when she began seeing comedian Pete Davidson, who bears no resemblance to any of her exes. Plus, a survey conducted earlier this year by OnePoll and dating app Badoo found that 77 per cent of daters want to ditch their “usual type” in 2022 - a phenomenon they dubbed “untyping”.

Megan, 26, tells me that they also don’t have a physical type when it comes to relationships. “I feel like looks are completely irrelevant – I usually go more off someone’s vibe,” they say. They agree that increasing numbers of people are consciously letting go of the idea of dogmatically sticking to one ‘type’. “I think more people are seeing that looks are irrelevant and are realising that attraction can be so spontaneous.”

It may seem surprising that untyping is having a moment right now: dating apps force us to judge people on their looks after all, and an offence as innocuous as an earnest gym selfie can warrant a swift swipe left. Plus, as these apps offer us up an infinite conveyor belt of potential partners, you’d think we’d be more inclined to doggedly stick to our ‘types’ just to narrow down our options a bit. But conversely, it looks as though young people like Megan are swinging the other way. Undoubtedly this shift in mindset has been partly fuelled by the pandemic: over the past two years we’ve had ample time to reflect on what we really want and need in our relationships, and for many of us, this now means adopting a more open-minded and less appearance-focused approach to dating.

Professor Viren Swami is a Professor of Social Psychology and author of Attraction: Explained. He explains that many different factors come into determining whether we find someone attractive or not, but notes that “physical appearance is still probably the most important factor” when we know very little about the other person. “But the flipside to this is the importance of appearance tends to drop off quite quickly once social interaction begins. So once we begin having a conversation and I get more information about you, other things become much more important – things like reciprocity and similarity.”

Dr Swami also points out that often, conversations about ‘types’ are redundant anyway. “Some people might say they have a particular type and say they want someone who's tall, dark and handsome, for example. But studies consistently show that those stated preferences have almost no bearing on what people actually end up going for.”

He stresses that it would be an overstatement to say “looks don’t matter” – “we all want to be in relationships with people who we find physically and sexually attractive and there's nothing wrong with that,” he says – but it seems to be the case that physical and sexual attraction can be borne out of – or made stronger by – fostering an emotional connection first. “Confidence is the number one thing for me – as we’ve seen with the whole ‘being hot is a state of mind’ trend,” Megan adds. “And in lesbian subculture there’s this whole thing around having ‘top energy’. It doesn’t necessarily correspond with how you look, it’s just your vibe and energy.”

“With my current partner, when we first started talking, I had a crush on him and I was emotionally attracted to him – but that physical aspect was not there for me” – Kayla Kaszyca

Em, 24, feels similarly and describes herself as “more of a personality person”. “If I think about what I find attractive, it tends to be things like sense of humour and intelligence,” she says, adding that looks-wise, there’s no common thread running between the men she’s dated in the past. “I’ve literally dated a guy who was five foot tall and another who was 6ft 7in. The only thing they all had in common is that they made me laugh.”

For demisexual people – for whom physical attraction is something that is only experienced after establishing an emotional bond with a partner – this is all old hat. Kayla Kaszyca, co-host of the Sounds Fake But Okay podcast which discusses asexuality, identifies as demisexual. “With my current partner, when we first started talking, I had a crush on him and I was emotionally attracted to him – but that physical aspect was not there for me,” she says. “I did not feel sexually attracted to him until we reached a certain point in our relationship where we had an emotional understanding.”

She believes that as awareness of demisexuality increases, so too will the number of people identifying with the label. “As the years go by, we have an increasingly nuanced understanding of sexualities. I think younger people understand that non-allosexual identities exist,” she says. “We have a better vocabulary for it now, and it’s giving people an opportunity to identify with something they had never heard of before. Because obviously, people can’t identify with a word that they don’t even know exists.”

For people who experience it, it’s evident that physical attraction does matter. Obviously, your relationship is not going to work if you think your partner has about as much sex appeal as Matt Hancock. But can attraction spark after getting to know someone, and wax and wane over the course of a relationship? Can it be spontaneous, unexpected, random? Of course, it can. “I used to love a blonde,” fishmonger Luca Bish wistfully mused the other week, definitively drawing a line under his days of going for women with fair hair (he’s currently coupled up with Gemma Owen – a brunette!). It just goes to show that, really, true love is blind.