Women give sexy image short shrift in Britain

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BRITISH WOMEN would rather look healthy and confident than sexy or elegant, according to research published today.

In a study of more than 30,000 women worldwide, only one British woman in 20 wanted to look sophisticated or beautiful compared with one in 10 globally - and fewer than one in five wanted to appear intelligent, compared with a third worldwide.

Despite the success of glamorous British women such as Catherine Zeta Jones and Elizabeth Hurley, the desire for sophisticated beauty has not filtered down into the general population, because British culture values cheerfulness and extroversion rather than cool, intellectual elegance, according to psychologists.

"Looking sophisticated or intelligent is not important for a lot of British women in the way it is for women in Mediterranean countries," said Dr Martin Skinner, a lecturer in psychology at the University of Warwick. "The Eighties have left their mark on how women in Britain see themselves. It is more important for them to have initiative and be outgoing. It is part of the entrepreneurial spirit and breakdown of traditional male and female roles."

The study of women, aged 18 and over, in 43 countries including the UK, France, Germany, Russia, Brazil, the United States and Australia showed that British women were more similar to American women in how they wanted to be perceived than to their European counterparts. Just 4 per cent of British women placed a high value on elegance, compared with 31 per cent of French women. And 42 per cent of Britons expressed a desire to look natural, compared with 75 per cent in Germany.

Only 5 per cent of British women questioned - less than half the global average - said their priority was to look beautiful. But appearing feminine still rated highly among 35 per cent of the women interviewed.

"As we approach the millennium, women are more interested in their inner beauty than their physical appearance," said Sarah Geden, consumer PR manager of Avon Cosmetics, which commissioned the research. "Women know they can be strong and determined and be as good as men but they now have enough confidence to be themselves and be feminine again."

Russian women were more concerned than their global counterparts to appear physically attractive, with 20 per cent wanting to appear beautiful, 33 per cent keen to look elegant and 52 per cent wanting to seem feminine.

British women were also less concerned with their career than women of other nationalities, the survey found.

Just 14 per cent of British women said their career was their priority, compared with a global average of 34 per cent.