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Wednesday, May 18, 2016

What Happens When People Are Told They Are Beautiful . . .


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Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we can’t escape the cultural norms that influence our perception. Few people are ever reminded of their beauty, and even fewer people believe in their own worth. That’s why being reminded how beautiful you are can have a deep impact.

This is beautifully exemplified in a video by young filmmaker Shea Glover. She created a nearly five-minute video as an art project by walking through her high school one day taking shots of objects and people she found to be beautiful.

The people she interacted with and captured on camera couldn’t have been more varied in their appearance. However, many of their reactions to being called beautiful were amazingly similar. Most people seemed to light up when someone unexpectedly told them they were beautiful.

Beauty is influenced by many factors. Some are relatively universal, but others are only found in a small corner of the world. Learning more about perceptions of beauty around the world may help you feel more confident.

The Culture You Grow Up In
The culture we grow up in has a profound effect on what we consider to be beautiful. Our early years shape our understanding of beauty norms, and this applies to both inner and outer beauty. What’s considered beautiful varies wildly from one culture to the next.

A few extreme examples include:

  • Teeth sharpening (chiseling) in Indonesia is considered attractive, not scary, for women.
  • Feet binding to restrict growth began hundreds of years ago in Asia but still happened in China up until a few decades ago.
  • Stretched necks in the Kayan tribe of Thailand are the norm.
  • Women in Iran will wear fake surgical bandages to make it look like they had rhinoplasty.
  • The Maori people in New Zealand consider facial tattoos attractive.

Media and Pop Culture
Pop culture and media continue to shape our idea of beauty. Not just physical beauty, either: attitude and style are factored in as well. Just a decade or so ago thin was in, but with the influence of celebrities like the Kardashians, curvaceous figures are becoming more desirable.

As far as physical beauty is concerned, characteristics of the face and body are inescapable. There has long been a school of thought that facial symmetry is immediately interpreted as more attractive in the mind. Our brain inherently likes balance, and it can also be an indicator of general health—something our ancient ancestors relied on when choosing a mate.

Personality can have a huge impact on which people are perceived as beautiful. Mother Teresa was a beautiful soul because of her humanitarian work. The same can be seen in Glover’s video. She clearly chose some of the individuals because she felt they were beautiful people in the way they acted and treated others.

The Versatile Meaning of Beauty

Not only do people have their own unique perceptions of physical beauty, the term can take on various meaning. Is physical beauty just as valuable as a beautiful, artistic mind? Is either of those more valuable than a beautiful soul that cares for everyone?

It’s an interesting quandary because studies have shown that physically attractive people are immediately perceived as being nice and intelligent. It’s referred to as the beauty bias, and our outward appearance has an influence on people’s first impression.

Hopefully, videos like Glover’s can help open our eyes to the world and people around us as we broaden our idea of what true beauty really is.


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