Beauty Can Be a Beast

My wife and I recently have been watching a TV series that was originally aired on the Hallmark Channel. We enjoy good, clean movies and shows as well as anyone, but both of us admitted that this series has been just a little too wholesome and perfect, even for us. At one point I remarked, “It’s good all the women in this are quite attractive so I’ll keep watching it.” Her reply? “The men aren’t so bad either.” Do we really let the beautiful people of the world influence us that much?

Admittedly, although my wife is one of the most beautiful people I know (in every sense of the word), I have done some window shopping from time to time. You know, you can look but don’t touch. Admit it. All of us, male or female, young or old, are attracted to those we consider to be beautiful. Some of us could even relate to Paul Blart, Mall Cop,[i] in this movie clip:

What makes a person attractive? Because of our historical roots, men and women subconsciously look for different things in the opposite sex. Men tend to focus on someone he can procreate with (i.e. have sex). While women also consider procreation important, they tend to focus more on companionship and support. A survey of over ten thousand people found the standards for beauty consistent around the world. Men look for clear skin, full lips, long lustrous hair, symmetrical features, a shorter distance between mouth and chin, a waist-to-hip ration of 0.7, and of course, a curvy body. Women’s breasts apparently exist in the form they do to arouse men’s attention. All other primates are flat-chested. Larger human breasts do not produce more milk than smaller ones. Men consistently rate women with attractive bodies and unattractive faces higher than women with attractive faces and unattractive bodies. Women, on the other hand, are sexually attracted to men with larger pupils, symmetrical features and those who are slightly older, taller and stronger than they are. Women are guarded and slower to trust than men. In one set of tests, an attractive woman was paid to go up to unknown college men and ask them to sleep with her. Seventy-five percent of men said yes in study after study. When the test was reversed, how many women agreed to sleep with an unknown but attractive man? Zero. Sadly, tests have shown that generally attractive people have significantly higher incomes. Height appears to be important, too, with one study showing that, in America today, each inch of height translates into $6,000 of annual salary. If that is true, the good news for me is, based on my average height, I am significantly overpaid.[ii]

Many of us think if we were just a tiny bit better looking, life would be so much different for us. We would get the better job, we would marry the more attractive spouse, we would have more friends. In short, life would be easier and we’d be happier. The result? Sometimes we become so obsessed with our skin, our hair, and our clothes that we become “plastic,” as illustrated by this scene from Mean Girls:[iii]

I have been enjoying a book lately called, What to Say When You Talk to Your Self.[iv] Its premise is, our success or failure in life is largely controlled by our behavior. Our behavior is determined by our feelings about the task at hand. Our feelings about the task are governed by whether we have a good attitude or bad attitude about it. Our attitude about something just doesn’t happen. What we believe about something will determine our attitude about it, whether that belief is true or false. And our beliefs are based on what we and others tell us about it. In short, if we can control what we tell ourselves about something or someone, we ultimately can control our behavior. Unfortunately, about 75 percent of what we tell ourselves is negative. Or as Marilyn Monroe once said, “No one ever told me I was pretty when I was a little girl. All little girls should be told they’re pretty, even if they aren’t.” I would change that last part to, “even if they have to tell that to themselves.”

In short, our perceptions about ourselves become our reality. Since most of us have been talking negatively to ourselves about ourselves our entire lives, our reality is that we are not attractive enough, smart enough or capable enough to succeed. And we become our own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Someone once said, “The wonderful thing about beauty is that it has so many layers, the outer one being the least important.” Science is now confirming the truth of that statement. Studies out of the University of Wisconsin – Madison have shown that we see a person more attractive when we get to know that person’s other good qualities. In a paper published in Evolution and Human Behavior, co-author David Sloan Wilson concluded that the beauty we see in others “depends at least as much on non-physical traits – whether they are cooperative, dependable, brave, hardworking, intelligent and so on – as physical factors such as smooth skin and symmetrical features. It follows that non-physical factors should be included in the subconscious assessment of beauty.”

In their first study, the participants rated people photographed in high school yearbooks. One participant, for example, who recognized a photo but had had no contact with that particular person for decades, responded in disgust when she recalled the person’s character and described that person as ugly. In a second study, members of a college sports team and total strangers rated the attractiveness of each team member from photographs shown to them. The team members rated a person they considered to be a slacker as ugly, and a team leader as physically attractive, while strangers, not knowing the persons and so judging on photographs alone, rated these two team members as equally attractive. In their final study, students in a summer archeological excavation course rated each other on the first day of class and six weeks later. After the six weeks of working together, students’ perceptions of physical attractiveness changed based on their interactions during the course.

I love this scene from Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs[v] that emphasizes the point that our real selves are more beautiful than our made-up selves.

The main focus of Mean Girls is the harm we can do through gossiping, but it teaches us a lot about beauty as well. There is something beautiful about everyone if we will only look for it. Or as someone once described it, “The sign of a beautiful person is that they always see beauty in others.” Enjoy Lindsay Lohan’s Spring Fling Speech after she wins queen of the dance:

Ironically, isn’t Lindsay Lohan a perfect example of the more we learn about a person, the more (or less) beautiful they become? In her early movies, I found her quite physically attractive. I mean who didn’t love her in the remake of The Parent Trap? But the more I learned about her personal life – the alcohol (and DUIs) and drugs (and repeated stays in rehab), the comments from movie insiders that she was irresponsible, unprofessional and difficult to work with, her bouts with the law – the less physically beautiful she became, at least to me. That said, I’m sure if I had the opportunity to really get to know her, I would find things about her that are truly beautiful. On the other hand, I found Emma Watson to be quite cute when she entered the movie scene in the Harry Potter movie franchise. But she has become more attractive to me through the years. I suspect that part of her increasing beauty was not just because she has matured physically, but she has matured as a person as well. I have been impressed by the non-Harry Potter roles she has played recently, with The Perks of Being a Wallflower being my favorite. I admired her for taking time off from movies to finish her college education at Oxford and Brown Universities. I nodded my approval when, for her role in Beauty and the Beast, she insisted that her character, Belle, be portrayed as a smart, independent woman. She is a humanitarian activist promoting gender equality, including being recently appointed as a United Nations’ Women Goodwill Ambassador. All that and she can sing, too!

I close with this quote from Audrey Hepburn. She calls it her greatest beauty tip: “For attractive lips, speak words of kindness. For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people. For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry. For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day. For poise, walk with the knowledge that you never walk alone. People, more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed. Never throw out anyone. Remember, if you ever need a helping hand you will find one at the end of each of your arms. As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands; one for helping yourself, and the other for helping others. Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter, and those that matter don’t mind.”

Let’s take the time to stop and discover how beautiful the people around us really are – including ourselves.

[i] Paul Blart, Mall Cop

  • Production Company: Columbia Pictures, Relativity Media, Happy Madison Productions
  • Director: Steve Carr
  • Screenwriter: Kevin James, Nick Bakay
  • Starring: Kevin James, Keir O’Donnell, and Jayma Mays
  • Release date: July 17, 2015

[ii] The facts and studies described in this paragraph are summarized from “The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character and Achievement,” by David Brooks (Random House 2011).

[iii] Mean Girls

  • Production Company: Paramount Pictures, M.G. Films, and Broadway Video
  • Director: Mark Waters
  • Screenwriter: Tina Fey (based on the book by Rosalind Wiseman)
  • Starring: Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams and Jonathan Bennett
  • Release date: April 30, 2004

[iv]What to Say When You Talk to Yourself “ by Shad Helmstetter (2011)

[v] Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

  • Production Company: Columbia Pictures and Sony Pictures Animation
  • Directors: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
  • Screenwriter: Phil Lord and Christopher Miller
  • Starring: Anna Faris, Bill Hader, Bruce Campbell
  • Release date: September 18, 2009

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