Our cultural obsession with beauty may not be as superficial as it appears. After all, beauty is associated with power and success, and although we tend to think of the preoccupation and pursuit of beauty as more of a modern day phenomenon, there’s a great deal of information to suggest otherwise.
The quest for beauty is widespread and has existed throughout history. In fact, our psychological pull to create personal beauty has influenced our collective desire to achieve it. Our involvement with and attachment to beauty is evident since the beginning of time.
According to the most recent archaeological findings, our desire to create personal beauty can be documented as far back as the Neanderthal times. The Neanderthals were quite resourceful when it came to their appearance. They took marine shells and skillfully sculpted and stained them to wear as eye-catching pendants. They also used violet, red, yellow, and crimson pigments to create cosmetics.
The Egyptians, dating from 4000 BC, had almost as many cosmetic products as we do today. The word “cosmetics” actually originated from the Greek word “kosmetikos,” which means “skilled at beautifying.” The Old Testament even dedicated sections to the notion of beautifying one’s self. According to various references in the Bible, some women used fragrant oils to nourish dry skin, as anti-wrinkle treatments, and to smell nice. Instead of condemning the use of cosmetics and other adornments, the Bible simply highlighted that they be used “modestly” and “with sound mind.” There are other passages that suggest God wanted us to view ourselves as unique and to let us know that he sees us as masterpieces.
So, why has the subject of beauty been such an intricate part of our history?
Studies suggest that beautiful faces actually make us feel good. They activate the dopaminergic regions of the brain, which are strongly linked to our central reward system. Good-looking people are considered more intelligent than their less attractive counterparts. They’re also assumed to have more positive qualities, something known as “the halo effect.” What is perceived as beautiful is considered superior.
Beauty Is Instinctual
This affinity for beauty appears to be innate. One study found that children played significantly longer with dolls that had beautiful faces than with one with faces deemed unattractive. The children in this study were too young to internalize a learned standard of beauty, which may indicate that basic standards of beauty are instinctual.
Evolutionary psychology has long hypothesized that the appreciation of beauty is not acquired, but is a biological adaptation that is a universal part of human nature. This form of psychology also proposes that the primary purpose of being drawn to beauty is survival. From an evolutionary perspective, our chances of survival increase when we choose mates who look good, because looking good likely indicates that they have good genes, good health, good fertility, and ultimately can secure our reproductive success.
But this still doesn’t answer the question why achieving personal beauty is so important to us, nor does it answer what the endless pursuit to become our idealized, beautiful self ultimately does to our self-esteem.
Being viewed as attractive certainly has its perks. Not only are attractive people more likely to be seen as more successful and competent, they are also more likely to earn higher salaries at work. They tend to have prettier friends and attract nicer-looking partners. Many studies have validated these claims by finding that having a pretty face can create a series of lifelong advantages, beginning as early as elementary school. So one can easily see the motivation behind why women want to be considered pretty. Who wouldn’t want to increase her chances to be wanted and feel successful?
Our Beauty Self-Esteem
Our perception of beauty according to model-turned-psychologist, Vivian Diller, is based on three factors: genetics, grooming, and how people reacted to our looks early in life. There’s considerable scientific research to suggest that our ideas about our personal beauty get formed during childhood.
Parents can be very influential in how self-confident a child feels about his or her looks. Praising children on their appearance sends the message that being good-looking is a virtue, especially when you look good in a way society rewards. The message that being visually pleasing is a route to having a rewarding life is a message that gets sent to women – especially – very early on.
When it comes to assessing one’s own attractiveness, women can sometimes be their own worst enemy. While everyone has some degree of normative discontent when it comes to his or her looks, if this focus becomes too obsessive, it can be very destructive. Women who get too caught up in trying to live up to an unrealistic image of beauty or have accepted society’s limited view of what is beautiful can create beauty low self-esteem. If you combine this lowered beauty self-confidence with unfiltered negative self-talk, you can actually impact the image you project to others and influence how attractive you are perceived.
We all know beautiful people who have horrible self-esteem and are treated indifferently accordingly, as well as average-looking women who are happy with themselves and their looks who are perceived more beautifully as time goes on. As a psychotherapist, I definitely notice it’s not always the most beautiful person in the room who is the most self-confident, most fulfilled, or most successful individual.
Increasing Your Beauty Factor
How does one nurture their inner and outer beauty and love who they are and the way they look? I’d like to leave you with some ideas about how to increase your beauty self-esteem, wherever you may find yourself on the beauty spectrum. Beauty truly is as beauty does. It may sound paradoxical, but the less one obsesses about herself and her looks, the prettier she’ll be to those around her. The odds are the attractive person who knows how to concentrate on others, begins to shine as a genuine beauty.
Our outer beauty is not simply a byproduct of how symmetrical our features are; it’s far more complex than that. Yes, in part, it’s about how we look, but it’s also about how we take care of ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, our positive self-regard, and how we share these traits with others. It’s about learning to define our own brand of beauty and celebrating our uniqueness with the world.
It’s important to develop a supportive internal dialogue to take care of yourself, sending the message to your psyche that you matter. When you change the way you feel about yourself, along with your emotions and your judgements, it can redefine how beautiful you are experienced in the world.
The more beautifully you act, feel, and make others feel about themselves, the more beautiful you will appear. So, be kind to yourself and others, be self-confident, and don’t forget to have fun. It’s a winning combination that will activate both your inner and outer radiance and magnificence.
Contributed by Dr. Robi Ludwig