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This isn’t limited to lizard folk but humanoid reptiles in general. The most common mistake I see when designing females of a reptilian race is to give them human breasts and proportions, despite them not being mammals at all. X-COM Vipers are a good example of this phenomenon. This isn’t the best example since I remember them being part human according to the lore, but that is beyond the point. According to evolutionary psychology the eye for beauty developed to pick fertile partners. So how does this work for reptilians?

I’d like to establish a clear beauty standard that applies to reptile races. What’s attractive and why?

In humans wide hips make it easier for childbirth, which is why they are a decisive factor in picking a partner. Smooth skin and skin tone is a sign of health while symmetrical features show proper development. Long hair is also a sign of health. Slender waists serve to contrast and highlight other attractive features with nothing but a change of body proportions, essentially tricking the eyes into focusing on attractive features. Even butts, legs and feet can be attractive. I could go on and on about his, but with this logic in mind how would the reptilian eye for beauty develop?

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    $\begingroup$ Are you aware that there is no single beauty standard even for humans? $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Aug 25 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ related: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/146776/… $\endgroup$
    – Willk
    Aug 25 at 16:46
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    $\begingroup$ "Large breasts are better for feeding the child" only in the sense that large breasts allow the woman to choose the father the child from among more potential candidates. The external shape of human breasts is purely eye candy, it has nothing to do with milk production. "In males body hair shows virility", except that of course conspicuous body hair is absent in most human geographical populations; I don't really believe that the subset of Europoid populations with conspicuous body hair are so much more virile than the rest of mankind. All in all, all those are just-so stories. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Aug 25 at 16:49
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    $\begingroup$ If you're writing a novel and describing a point of view, this is a useful question. On the other hand, if you're working mostly in a visual medium, remember that much of the story information is communicated visually and instinctively. You're right that artists portray lizard folk as being attractive by human standards, but this is so the audience can easily understand that the character is attractive (because the expected audience is humans). $\endgroup$
    – Jedediah
    Aug 25 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Jedediah Not necessarily visual but more about context. If you see a lizard casually strutting and all its peers looking at it in awe, the viewer understands from context that the lizard is good looking among its kind without necessarily finding it attractive. I may just be a plain lizard with nothing exceptional to us. The aliens from Mass Effect are a perfect example of this; Turians, Krogan and Salarians don't look all that attractive to us humans but among their kind they have preferences. I remember a scene where they were talking about an Asari dancer and each had a different opinion. $\endgroup$ Aug 25 at 17:12
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If we assume they lay relatively small eggs like most normal reptiles, then hips and breasts are irrelevant, but all the other stuff is. Basically, anything that shows the reptile's good health will be what is attractive. Smooth, shiny, well kept scales would be a sign of good health. As would size, symmetry, and statistically average proportions just like we humans look for.

But when looking at reptiles, every species has things you can look for that specifically indicate good or bad health based on the specific common health concerns faced by that species. Take a Bearded Dragon for example: when a vet examines a Bearded Dragon's health they look at things like swelling in the toes, posture, and a nice wide filled out belly; so, the things a vet sees as signs of good health, in this species, would also be attractive to a mate.

So, if your reptiles follow the logic of a bearded dragon, they may take to things like binding their fingers to make them look straight and skinny, or stuffing their shirts to make their bellies look nice and wide, and I would very much expect scale waxing, buffing, and painting to be a thing for the same reasons we humans gel, condition, and dye our hair.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Conversely, if based on snakes, fingers are Not Healthy. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Aug 26 at 15:53
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Do you get excited by a pretty Bonobo?

Our closest related species are bonobos. While to another Bonobo they might be beautiful, to a human they are at best intellectually interesting. Yet by the argument you are making here, we should be turned on by a Bonobo giving us a come-hither stare.

If you want someone to compare generic reptiles to a sentient reptilian biped, the same comparison must be made. Only the comparisons being made are even more far afield. It's like suggesting that attractive traits in a rat are similar to those in a human.

In the most general terms, attractiveness CAN correlate to health and fitness. While this is generally true, the specifics from species to species are going to be so broad that there is little hope of accurately predicting what a radically different species will find attractive. It is as easy to suggest that people are more attracted to folks that resemble their parents (poor Oedipus). Add to this that we're talking about a fully sentient, sapient species as potentially free of instincts as our own, and there is almost no way to predict what a reptilian species will or won't find attractive. Thus the tendency of writers and illustrators to use the pat analogies of comparing them to humans.

BUT you can make it clear by good writing and skilled illustration that a (reptilian) person is desirable. Add decorative physical traits like crests and frills. Add extensive color, since reptiles as we know them have generally good color vision (better generally than ours). describe them as fit and discuss or show their actions as smooth or fluid. Have others describe them as attractive, naming parts they particularly like ("Whoa. Look at the expectoral muscles on that guy!"). I wouldn't put down wide hips (unless eggs come out somewhere else), since eggs for an intelligent species would likely need to be extremely large to allow early brain development.

For unattractive individuals, do the opposite. Give them dry, flaky skin and chipped decorations. Describe their coloration as "off" and have folks disparage their appearance.

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ Humans are hardly "free of instincts". Less dominated by them, yes. Free, no. (Nice point about the hips, BTW.) $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Aug 25 at 21:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Matthew I'm talking true instincts, not just biologically driven tendencies. Other than a few behaviors by newborns, humans have almost no hardwired instincts, but many VERY deeply ingrained and reinforced behaviors. But I'm a biologist, and going by the strictest interpretation of what an instinct is. It's partly semantics, admittedly. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Instinct $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Aug 25 at 21:48
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Depends on the reptilian type

Turtles, lizards, snakes, crocodiles, are all reptilians. And what may be attractive for one of them may not be for the other. But you can figure out a good standard paying attention to their mating rituals. The male that conquers the female is the "most attractive" (by whatever reason).
This article in the Britannica gives us some examples:
https://www.britannica.com/animal/reptile/Courtship-and-fertilization

Many lizards also have a distinct pattern of head bobs and forebody push-ups. Combined with water vibrations and sprays, male crocodiles also use body movements to court females and warn off other males. In anoles (Anolis) and flying lizards (Draco), males have well-developed and brightly coloured throat fans, or dewlaps, that open and close. Throat fans are used to attract females and play a large role in territorial disputes with other males. Turtles use visual and olfactory displays and tactile cues in courtship. These signals occur in various combinations and are species-dependent. Courtship in snakes and many scleroglossan lizards may also involve the use of pheromones that ensure that courtship and copulation occur between members of the same species. Pheromones may also help to attract a member of the opposite sex and thus illicit the female’s cooperation in the reproductive process. Snakes rely mainly on pheromone and tactile stimulation.


So, a reptilian could be "attractive" because the way it moves (that distinct pattern of head bobs and forebody push-ups), or the way it is coloured, or the pherormones it has, or the smell it produces.

Besides, you can include a cultural bias
If your reptilian civilization is intelligent, they may have some influence and bias in the "natural selection patterns". For example: Among humans, not all the women like to show the breast size they have, and the human males usually choose a wife not because of her fertility. Humans have learned to find "attractive" other things beyond the natural way of organic evolution. The same could your reptilians do.

Besides, if your reptiles are separated in "cultures" in different regions, other particular beauty standards could apply that have nothing to do with the natural organic needs for reproduction.

For example the foot binding process in China:
https://www.worldhistory.org/Foot-Binding/

Or the giraffe woman in the Kayan culture:
https://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2609467/Pictured-The-giraffe-women-eastern-Burma-wear-brass-rings-necks-sign-beauty.html
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Attractiveness is one of the most varied characteristics across life. Run away sexual selection particular can create some truly bizarre features.

There only only a few guidelines you can use.

Generally signs of health are attractive, but this can only give you a few broad strokes. These include;

Signs of a healthy diet

Lack of signs of parasites or disease

Symmetry which shows a lack of developmental problems

Intelligence

there are a few things that are likely to be attractive in a tool using species mostly signs of intelligence;

Mastery of a skill.

The ability to predict and/or manipulate the behavior of others (social standing, humor, romance).

Signs of abundant resources, this can be signs of being well fed, expensive garments or possessions, or signs of lots of free time

What is different between reptiles and mammals

Size.

In reptiles often females are larger than males, this is all but non-existent in mammals with it only occurring in a handful of species, but is roughly 50/50 in reptiles when dimorphism exists at all. Of course it still varies wildly from species to species.

Color.

Reptiles exploit bright colors more often, mammals have crap color vision, so color is only rarely used to attract mates, while it is exceedingly common for everything else. Especially bright colors in males, which is very common outside mammals. Think of the difference between a peacock and peahen, or the lizards below. now there are many with no color difference but color difference is wide spread and probably the easiest to use.

enter image description here

But beyond those few guidelines you can do what you want, frills, spikes, colors, smells, sounds, dances, bowers the field is wide open, if anything it is even more open than for mammals.

I can give you something from my own story(game) that may be interesting and you are welcome to steal it. Since color can vary wildly even in closely relates species I had the coloration of males vary by continent. On one continent males have red sides, on other blue sides, the females however are almost identical (all brown) across all of them with only variation in garments. Since for cultural reasons only females undertake trade, humans find lizard folk racism extremely confusing since they can't tell the difference and the translations of reds and blues makes no sense since most humans have never met a male lizardfolk.

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Since attractiveness is related to reproduction, anything that is considered attractive has to indicate some sort of fitness.

For example in the Egyptian vulture the male is considered attractive if he shows a bright yellow beak, because to achieve it he has to feed on a lot of bovine dung, rich in lutein, which provides the bright yellow color. Therefore the color of the beak shows to the female which male has a strong immune system and which not.

For humans the standard for fitness and attractiveness has changed among cultures and times. In many cultures and times an abundant abdomen was considered attractive, because it showed that the person had resources to eat plenty of food (never a granted thing in most of the world and times). In some other cultures showing off an expensive car or clock now plays that role.

Same can hold for your reptiles: whatever it is, it has to be related to some sort of fitness that gives (potential) advantage for the offspring generated by mating.

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Among social animals, there are two modes of beauty expression.

The first mode is the "survival mode". That is, a specimen displays traits (both heritable and learned skill are possible) that provide survival advantage. Among humans, this can manifest as things you or I would find physically attractive, but also a few things that you or I might not find attractive. Signs of relative health (hair that grows well, skin with good complexion, etc) are in there, along with things that help one to survive in a brutish world (muscles, height, athleticism in general). Even, since we are talking about social animals, things that elevate relative social status. Because at the end of the day, having low social status may either prevent a specimen from reproducing, or provide only inferior reproductive opportunity (too many generations of that risks an organism's line dying out).

The second mode is probably also universal to one degree or another. This is the "gaming mode". In this mode, traits that don't confer survival advantage in any way can predominate. Theoretically, this mode may have its origin in an organism displaying a waste of resources... when that happens, the organism is signaling to potential mates that it can afford to waste those resources and still have enough besides to survive. If the signal is received and understood to be such (this implies that there must be some sort of intelligence in the species), then others will imitate. An arms race develops, and that trait will become exaggerated. Attractiveness standards that develop in this context can become rather absurd. This mode might be responsible for humans being so hairless (if that developed as a standard of beauty at some point in prehistory), but also for Irish Elks becoming extinct.

If these reptiles are sapient and social, likely their beauty standards will encompass both of these modes. However, telling you that won't likely help to develop details.

You should probably decide how much thought you want to put into this, as the rabbit hole can go really deep. Physical measurements are definitely within bounds... height, weight. The length of fingers. Coloration. These need not be similar to human standards... perhaps tallness is unattractive, and shorter stature is preferred. Some of the explanations might also be counter-intuitive, and you can get away with leaving some unexplained. But don't forget about mental/psychological/personality traits. The belief in some supernatural concept might be attractive, or unattractive simply by the virtue of the status that the belief confer (this happens among humans too). These traits can interact with each other in peculiar ways as well... a person might try to artificially imitate a physical trait that is attractive, but the fake version can be fugly. However, if imitating that requires vast resources, then even making the attempt signals extreme prosperity that (if heritable) might make people act as if the fake trait is attractive, despite being really unpleasant from an aesthetic standpoint. A few generations of that and the standard is internalized.

There may even be a connection to certain sorts of body dysmorphia syndromes.

Ultimately, you'd need to decide how similar these reptiles will be to humans, so you can tune these standards in a way that works for your story. Basically nothing is out of bounds, except standards that quickly lead to extinction (even those aren't out of bounds... it's just they likely went extinct prior to the beginning of your story).

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