The Intoxication of Beauty

People all around the world have always aspired to good looks but it seems as if in recent times, the standards of beauty have reached unattainable heights. While obsessing about their looks used to be a woman’s domain, men are quickly catching up in this department. In fact, they are catching up so fast that there was even a word coined for a man who takes good care of his looks with hair treatments, manicures, pedicures and beauty treatments: Metrosexual.

So what is this elusive quality that we describe as beauty? Scientists are of the opinion that the ideal facial structure for both sexes is one which is symmetrical, with large eyes, unblemished skin, full lips and high cheekbones and the anxiety of not matching up to this high standard can have a plethora of negative effects on a person’s psyche and social interactions.

What so important about looking good that has the whole world trying to improve their physical appearance? Does looking fabulous grant a person magical powers over others? Some scientists think it does.  Good looks do seem to open doors that seem firmly shut for others who are less endowed. Earlier, perceptions of beauty differed from country to country.  Asians loved fair skin and long lustrous straight hair, while westerners placed more emphasis on tanned skin, good height and a fit body. As the internet and other technologies make the world smaller and expose people to other cultures, there is a tendency to have the same standards of beauty for all, which roughly translates to being perfect in every way! A tall order for an ordinary mortal.

According to a survey called “Work & Power” done by Elle and, good looks are a trait that both men and women find important these days and not just in personal interactions. Looking good has a positive impact even in the workplace. 58% of attractive female bosses got high ratings for being successful at their jobs, while it was 41% for average-looking females and only 23% for unattractive females. 61% of attractive male bosses got high ratings for being efficient at their jobs, while 41% of average-looking males and then 25% of unattractive males received high ratings.

These statistics may suggest that people place great emphasis on good looks in the work place but actual research on successful people suggests that physically attractive people are initially viewed more positively by others, but later on, other factors take over and are more important than looks. Thus, beauty may open a few doors, but it takes a lot more than good looks to make it to the top. After an initial contact of 20-25 seconds, characteristics like warmth, eye contact and conversational skills become more important in making a good impression in personal and professional interactions.  Research suggests that even in long-term relationships, after the initial attraction, similar interests and values had a deeper impact in the quality of the relationship. 

Still, the anxiety of not matching up to current standards of beauty can have a negative impact on our physical health and our psychological wellbeing which is why people strive so hard these days to look good. According to a survey conducted in 2013, the USA is number one on the list of countries popular for cosmetic surgery, with a total of 1,452,356 procedures, while Brazil came in at number two on the list, with a total of 1,491,721 procedures. These numbers are steadily increasing over the years and India is fast catching up with the rest of the world.

Before you take these alarming statistics to heart because you think you’re just average in the looks department, hold on! Being too beautiful is a problem too. Few of us would consider it to be a problem but it seems it is, especially for women. While attractive men are judged to be good leaders, probably due to the extra confidence that their looks impart to them; attractive women are less likely to be hired for high-level jobs that require authority. The derogatory term “dumb blonde” is proof of this fact.

Even in personal relationships, good looks can sometimes prove to be a hindrance. The online dating website OKCupid recently reported that people with the most beautiful profile pictures are less likely to find dates than those with quirkier, less perfect pics, maybe because very beautiful people often intimidate other people.

At the end of the day, the concept of beauty is a very subjective one. To some, it is a vivacious personality, to others, it is a great smile. To still others, it might mean a beautiful soul. Whatever your concept of beauty might be, just physical beauty can never be a match for a well-read, intelligent, kind and warm person. As Dorothy Parker says, “Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes clean to the bone.”

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