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Our Perceptions of Beauty and the Contrast Effect

red rose

Image CC courtesy of -Reji via Flickr.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Unfortunately, most of the time our perceptions of our own beauty are negative. If you ask anyone how attractive they think they are, chances are you’re going to receive a modest answer plagued by low self esteem and self-doubt. But do other people think we’re as unattractive as we make ourselves out to be? The answer to that question is most likely no.

We spend so much time thinking about the way we look, pointing out imperfections that seem gigantic to us, but in reality are so small that they’re unnoticeable to others. We look at pictures of ourselves that friends and family have taken and grimace in disgust, then quickly research weight loss secrets, and set up an appointment for the beauty salon.The truth is, other people think we’re more attractive than we do. This is because every individual is obsessing about how they look, while comparing themselves to the hotness and ugliness factor of other people. We strive to be as beautiful as the people we look up to, and we’re glad we’re not as ugly as the people we find unattractive. In truth, a lot of people think we’re gorgeous, but we just don’t see it.

So how is it that sometimes we feel hot, while other times not? This is due to what psychologists call the “contrast effect”. We feel attractive around people we think are ugly, while we feel ugly around people we think are attractive. This is why on any given day of the week you’ll see the salon and spa full of clients. It takes one beautiful person in our presence to make us feel down-right horrendous.

Women are more vulnerable to the contrast effect than men. This is due to the idealized perception of beauty made by media and pop culture. The look women are striving for is what they think popular opinion desires. This is what companies and businesses revolving around clothes, weight loss, cosmetics, and beauty want. Every time you’re feeling down in the dumps about the way you look, the beauty salon will make a pretty penny. Every time you plan on losing weight with the most current and trendy weight loss secrets, those companies are also making money. The salon and spa business depends on your insecurities.

However, don’t think badly of yourself for feeding into this vicious cycle. A lot of the time salons and weight loss plans work, and leave people feeling more beautiful and satisfied with their physical appearance. Those people who have overcome physical insecurities by using those tools are the people we find beautiful and want to be.

The next time you find yourself feeling blue because there’s a hot person stealing your thunder, just remember the contrast effect. Most of the time those hot people are thinking the same thing about you. Find confidence in your own unique traits, and realize that most of your insecurities are created by you. Most importantly, remember other people are not nearly as critical as you are on yourself.

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