Are You Ugly?

Being ugly carries with it some serious disadvantages. Physically attractive people can expect to make an average of 10%-15% more money over the course of their lives. They are less likely to be convicted of crimes and are given shorter sentences. Physically attractive political candidates receive about 2.5 times as many votes. All of this stems from the “halo effect”: we automatically attribute positive characteristics to physical beauty.

This fact has led beauty into somewhat of a competitive sport. The trend is best illustrated in the teenage population. The number of children getting cosmetic surgery has gone up 30% in the past decade. Rhinoplasty (a procedure to alter the nose) accounts for 50% of all teen plastic surgeries. It is no wonder that teens feel pressured to take drastic steps in changing their appearance when 31% have at least one body part on which they would like to get surgery. A full 65% are afraid of gaining weight, 44% skip meals as a tactic to reduce or maintain weight, and 20% say they are “rarely” or “never” happy with their body image, according to the teen body image survey.

What is particularly troubling is how frequently self-body image fails to line up with how others perceive us. Take the concept of the ideal female body. The average body mass index (BMI) of fashion models is only 17.1, and they are on average 5’10”. That means they are taller than 99% of all women and rail thin. Many girls and women are basing their concept of ideal on these images. Playboy models, however, have more average features. The women men are paying to see naked are on average 5’6” and weighs 115 pounds, giving them a BMI of 18.5. Before 1980 (and the current obesity epidemic), almost 2/3 of American women in their late teens had a BMI below 20, meaning that men’s real concept of beauty is much more achievable than people think.

While we think we are uglier than we really are at times, we are definitely judged based on our looks. But while people will assume that an attractive person has good qualities, they also will find a person with good qualities more attractive. Beauty is a combination of physical and mental factors. Simply put, it is entirely based on perception.  For example, when women were given a picture of a man with a woman smiling at the man, they found the man more attractive than in a picture where he was alone.  Perceptions of attractiveness spread from people to people and can be reinforced by a multitude of factors.

This extends to positive personality traits making a person look more attractive. The challenge is that it is much faster and easier to look at a person than get to know them. We need to change our way of thinking from seeing the good in the attractive to seeing the attractive in the good. Humans are already predisposed to thinking like this. It only takes some self-awareness to bring it out.

Additional Resources

Mayo Clinic, Body Dysmorphic Disorder: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/body-dysmorphic-disorder/DS00559

Psychology Today, Body Image: http://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/body-image

Vanderbilt University Psychology Department, Cognitive Behavior Therapy as a Treatment for Body Image Dissatisfaction: www.vanderbilt.edu/AnS/psychology/health_psychology/BI_Therapy.htm

The Society Pages, Barbie vs. Woman: http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/11/27/barbie-vs-woman/

Everyday Sociology, Understanding Changes in the “Ideal” Body Size: http://www.everydaysociologyblog.com/2009/08/thinking-like-a-sociologist-understanding-changes-in-the-ideal-body-size.html

BBC, Your Post-Pregnancy Tales: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23348110

The Wall Street Journal, Workplace Bullies Target the Unattractive: http://blogs.wsj.com/atwork/2013/07/31/workplace-bullies-target-the-unattractive/

Priceonomics, Being Really, Really, Ridiculously Good Looking: http://blog.priceonomics.com/post/48869654882/being-really-really-ridiculously-good-looking

Psych Central, Does Our Own Attractiveness Affect Our Dating Preferences? http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2008/08/08/does-our-own-attractiveness-affect-our-dating-preferences/

Psychology Today, Am I Pretty or Am I Ugly? http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-new-teen-age/201202/am-i-pretty-or-am-i-ugly

The Washington Post, ‘You’re not pretty enough’: Dealing with Ugly Self-Doubt: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/youre-not-pretty-enough-dealing-with-ugly-self-doubt/2013/08/09/4928a4c0-f932-11e2-b018-5b8251f0c56e_story.html

Ask Men, How Women Perceive Attractiveness: http://www.askmen.com/dating/curtsmith_300/338_how-women-perceive-attractiveness.html

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