Does being beautiful get you further in life?

In our appearance-obsessed world where being dissatisfied with the way you look is considered ‘normal’, it can seem as though those with good looks are the ones who make it to the top.  But does beauty really make you happier?

Nicola Marie Stock
Tuesday 09 June 2015 15:37
Comments

Throughout history, people have always been interested in making the most of their looks. But it’s clear that not only is that interest growing, but that the appearance ‘ideals’ which many of us strive toward are becoming more extreme.

Researchers are noting that the ‘unremitting’ pressure to conform to high appearance standards has escalated alarmingly in recent decades. The growth of digital media has even allowed for the same appearance standards to be shared across the world, reducing the diversity that used to be celebrated among different cultures.

This shift in attitudes toward appearance has created a very different world in which being dissatisfied with the way you look is considered ‘normal’. In the early 2000s, large scale studies estimated that between 61% and 82% of adult men and women had ‘significant’ appearance concerns. That figure is now believed to be even higher.

According to studies such as those conducted by Dr Soloman and colleagues, the ideal facial appearance for both men and women is one which is symmetrical, with large eyes, unblemished skin, full lips and high cheekbones. The anxiety of not matching up to appearance ideals can have a range of negative impacts on our physical health, our social relationships and our psychological wellbeing.

Worse still, is the notion that what is beautiful is good. We are informed, directly or implicitly, that beauty is synonymous with success, happiness and fulfilling relationships. Magazine features, TV makeover shows and airbrushed advertisements bring the flaws in our appearance into sharp focus and contribute to the idea that, if only we invested in a few nips and tucks or the latest lotions and potions, we could feel happier too.

It should follow then, that those with ‘good looks’ would naturally go further in life. Yet is that really the case? Although some evidence suggests that physically attractive people are initially viewed more positively by others, research has in fact found few associations between attractiveness and intelligence, ability or success. Thus, beauty may open a few doors, but it takes a lot more than good looks to make it to the top.

Similarly, when meeting someone for the first time, appearance is only central for the first 15-20 seconds, after which other characteristics, such as warmth, eye contact and conversational skills become more important in making a good impression. Research has also addressed the myth that long-term relationships are based on mutual attractiveness, instead highlighting the relative importance of sharing similar interests and values. Further, the majority of people report low levels of satisfaction with their appearance, suggesting that attractive people are no more satisfied with their appearance than anyone else. In fact, those who worry about their appearance and invest more time into looking good often have lower self-esteem and report lower levels of happiness.

What about those whose appearance differs not only from the ideal, but from the 'norm'? Over one million people in the UK are living with a ‘significant disfigurement to the face and/or body’ occurring as a result of a congenital or acquired condition, such as a birth mark, a cleft lip, burns scarring or cancer treatment, according to the charity Changing Faces.

Surveys carried out among members of the public suggest that 9 out of 10 people implicitly assume those with an unusual appearance will be disadvantaged throughout life. However, research carried out at the Centre for Appearance Research indicates that the majority of people adjust well to their condition, often reporting superior wellbeing to that of the general population. Further, the studies demonstrated that the size and severity of the disfigurement has little bearing over the individual’s quality of life. Instead, it is psychological factors, such as the relative value we place on appearance over other personal qualities, which affect our wellbeing.

Today, girls as young as five are aware of how different they look to women in the media, and the pressure on boys and men is increasing too. With progressively high appearance standards becoming unattainable for all, and with people affected by appearance-altering conditions living happy and fulfilling lives, perhaps it is time that we stopped aspiring to appearance ideals, and invested more in our interests and relationships.

Nicola Marie Stock is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Appearance Research, University of the West of England

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in