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Why beauty is much
more than skin deep

Always more than skin deep…that’s our philosophy, and most likely yours, too.

I know, I know. You probably think I am about to write something breezy and heartwarming here about how “it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s the inside that counts, blah blah blah” and, although this is very true, as you may have noticed, our society can be somewhat cruel when it comes to its unrealistic standards of beauty and emphasis on the outer layers. Do you know what I mean?

In the world I want to live in, it should go without saying that true beauty should start from within, and that being a kind and loving person is much more important than having a “pretty face” (and they’re all pretty in their own way, including yours, yes yours…really).

By and large (or should I say, Extra Small), it is still outer beauty, not inner beauty, that gets the majority of attention, Facebook likes, and (sometimes) higher paychecks. It’s still the models of the world, not the volunteers and model citizens, who are (maybe) irrationally bestowed thousands of Instagram likes and beauty magazines covers (unless you count that time Mother Teresa was on the cover of TIME as a “beauty magazine!”).

But who says we have to tolerate that/adhere to that way of thinking? It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day…and we are all waking up and realizing we have more power than we ever thought possible. Let’s shake things up, ladies, and take back our Universe-given right to be beautiful in all ways.

There is more to being physically attractive than just good looks. Many believe that people are born beautiful or handsome—that static qualities, such as a pretty face, nice hair, or a shapely body are inherited. You either have it or you don’t. Research, however, suggests there is another type of attractiveness—called dynamic physical attractiveness.

What is dynamic attractiveness? Perhaps the Beatles song says it best: “Something in the way she [or he] moves attracts me like no other lover…” In the research that focused on how the expression of a person’s personality, physical grace, and body language impacted perceptions of who was attractive and who was not.

The idea that people have an expressive style goes back to the 1930s when early social/personality psychologist, Gordon Allport, claimed that people have a consistency in how they express elements of themselves in how they walk and talk—and even in their handwriting. We also knew from our research that people who were emotionally expressive—people who spontaneously express emotions (particularly positive emotions)—were more attractive to others. So we set out to examine how expressive style contributed to impressions that someone is physically attractive.

In order to look at different types of attractiveness, college students were put into a lab where they were photographed and videotaped while meeting people or while giving a short speech. They then took the photos and videos, and by masking them to show only the faces, or only the bodies, and had different groups of judges rate attractiveness from only still photos of faces or bodies; another group focused only on the attractiveness of how they were dressed. Other groups of judges rated different degrees of attractiveness, including how much they liked each individual, how much they would want to be friends with them, and how attractive they seemed as a dating partner.

So, what are the implications of this research?

First, personality, and the expression of personality, matters. As we all know, a person can be beautiful on the outside, but not so nice on the inside, and vice versa. Moreover, research suggests that dynamic expressive style might compensate for lack of static physical attractiveness. In other words, there are plenty of people who are not classically beautiful or handsome, but are still very attractive to others.

Second, attractiveness can be “manipulated” to some extent. Dress, use of makeup, and keeping physically fit can affect perceptions of attractiveness. In one of our “charisma training” studies, we found that women who were trained to be better at expressing emotions and positive affect started to give greater concern to how they dressed and when they wore makeup.

As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but attractiveness is complex, made up of both static and dynamic qualities, and both affect perceptions of attractiveness.