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Physical Appearance and What it Says

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Physical Appearance and What it Says 

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Since a very young age my mother had always reminded me that "appearances can be deceiving". However, for the most part, society does not acknowledge or perhaps cannot acknowledge this tidbit of wisdom. How do we know this? Studies done indicate that infants under the age of six months fix upon faces rated as attractive by adults much more often than faces rated as unattractive by adults. Studies also demonstrate that one year olds prefer to play with strangers who are rated as attractive as opposed to those rated as unattractive. Could this be a learned characteristic? Studies done seem to indicate that mothers of cuter newborns show more affection towards their babies than mothers of less attractive infants. During the above mentioned study, each baby was rated for attractiveness via photographs by a group of college students. The mothers and their newborns were then observed for 20-30 minutes before leaving the hospital. Mothers of cuter newborns showed more affection to their babies by holding them closer, patting them more often and giving them more "baby talk". Mothers of less attractive babies were seen to pay more attention to others around them and be more concerned with things such as "diaper duty" (no pun intended).

What conclusion can be drawn from this information? Appearance matters..

Beginning in the infancy stage and continuing over into the adult stage we rate individuals on their appearance. We are told to treat everyone equal, but we never do. On average, children will be mean to or avoid the unattractive, overweight, poorly dressed and "uncool" population. Unfortunately, this goes way beyond children. Teachers also favor the more attractive students. Studies show that teachers believe that good-looking, well-groomed, and dapper dressed children are smarter than their less attractive peers. From this, some children spiral downward onto the path of a negative self-fulfilling prophecy.

Just for a quick moment think of a man wearing glasses what is the first adjective you think of? Smart? Usually, that is the answer. Do most people unconsciously feel that individuals who wear glasses do so because they have read so many books that their eyes have been damaged and therefore they need glasses to correct the damage?

Interestingly, this is not new. The desire to be attractive has been around since the earliest civilizations. Excavations of bodies reveal that Neanderthals used natural pigments to paint their bodies. Ancient people stained their skin and created intricate jewelry and clothing to enhance their appearance. Women in the middle ages used a poisonous plant known as belladonna to dilate their pupils. Dilated pupils would make women appear more sexually arousing provoking men to find them more attractive. Of course, because it was poisonous it was potentially fatal. Did this stop the women from using it? No, women would use the eye drops, dilate their eyes and then potentially drop dead, but do so looking very, very good.

As a population, we have established what we believe to be the end-all of "attractive". Plastic surgeons have developed the model of perfect facial features and proportions. Plastic surgeons can now determine exactly how far a patients facial features deviate from the ideal face. They are equipped with the perfect measurement to determine what the proper length and angle of a nose should be, the exact distance between the eyes, the precise height of the forehead. The accurate spacing between the tip of the forehead down to the tip of the jawline. Everything to make you flawless. What have they discovered? For women, attractive equals clear skin, high cheekbones, shiny hair, a high forehead, full lips, small jaw, small chin, big eyes and a small nose. For men attractive equals large expressive eyes set in a smooth-skinned symmetrical face, a straight nose and rounded hair and jaw line.

In addition to having the perfect features, facial attractiveness is also based on the principle of symmetry. In a study done in 1994, photographs of male and female students were precisely measured at varying points to determine whether features on one side of the face were equal to the midpoint as the same features on the other side of the face. They then showed assymetrical photographs and symmetrical photographs to groups. Of course, the results pointed to the most symmetrical faces also being chosen as the most attractive. So what are the rest of us to do?

Overall, how does this affect us? Our self esteem is closely tied to our physical traits. Therefore, the more physically attractive we are perceived to be, the higher our self-esteem will be. Of course, there are those individuals who, regardless of whether or not people think they are drop dead gorgeous, still have poor self-esteem. Just as there are those of us who are perhaps not as good looking, yet still have incredibly high self esteem. Unfortuntely, the latter is not the majority. As you might already conclude, this tends to occur more often with women than with men. In addition, physical attractiveness affects not only our self esteem but also how others perceive us. As stated earlier, teachers believe that more attractive students are smarter, students rate attractive professors as being better teachers. Physically attractive people are looked upon as being more interesting, more credible, more trustworthy and more persuasive than unattractive people.

The bottom line once again, appearance matters.

Ok, moving on to the halo effect. The halo effect is the generally positive impression we perceive of someone based on an unrelated attribute. An example of this would be believing that someone who wears glasses is smarter than someone who does not. Another example would be a movie star who might potentially know more about phone service than I do just because she is on TV. What about the athlete who sells us underwear. Recognition, high status, and beauty create positive impressions that extend outward to other areas of our lives. This exists everywhere you look. Judges give lighter sentences to more attractive defendants, good looking people get better jobs, tall men are perceived as powerful, women with smaller breasts are perceived as smarter than women with large breasts. The list goes on and on. Men who are perceived as having "baby faces" were considered weaker, more submissive and more intellectually naïve.

What about body shape? Typically, there are three different types of body shapes: Mesomorph which is represented by large bones and well-defined muscular shape. Typically the mesomorph has a V-shape or wedge shape which starts off thicker at the shoulders and narrows to a smaller waistline. The mesomorph is always in good shape. Endomorph which is typically rounder, shorter, plumper and softer battles weight gain daily. Usually, the endomorph holds a portion of their weight in their abdominal area giving them an apple shape. Lastly, the ectomorph. The ectomorph is usually seen as fragile and delicate with small bones and joints. The ectomorph usually appears taller than they really are because they are so thin and they constantly struggle to maintain their weight.

Of course, everyone is a combination of the three different types. Why is this significant? Because, although body shape is generally considered to be genetic, it can be adjusted by diet and exercise as well as surgery. Therefore, a persons general body shape will also convey a distinct about their personality.

What does excess weight say about a person?  More on that coming soon!

Tonya Reiman

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