Introducing the concept of beauty, and how it is linked to our health
“We must conclude that beauty is, for the greater part, some quality in bodies, acting mechanically upon the human mind by the intervention of the senses.”
With limited things to do we may be stuck on our phones even more so now, scrolling past beauty ads on Instagram or twitter threads of people ‘servin’ looks’. Beauty is everywhere, in the form of nature, people or products we use/see. What exactly is beauty to you?
This month we will be exploring the relationship between beauty and mental health. Whether it is through the internet or in real life, we are constantly bombarded with some notion of beauty – the idealised beautification bar has been raised ever higher for women and men, who will scroll through or see images of ‘perfection’ and compare (and despair).
Research suggests that for women, the emphasis is on slimness (veering on thinness), youthfulness (characterised by firm flesh) and flawlessness (albeit cosmetically and/or digitally enhanced). For men, the ideal is characterised by a muscular, v-shaped body, flat stomach, and narrow hips (Leit, Pope, & Gray, 2001). These idealised standards of beauty have become the norm to which many of us compare ourselves, yet remain unattainable for the vast majority. Sure, there are culturally specific trends but beauty is globally recognised, and has a massive influence on us.
It is also arguably social media, which creates the biggest buzz when it comes to new products and beauty trends. A single post, story or promoted ad teasing something can cause mass hype, racking up countless likes, comments and reposts – and eventually leading to a sell-out.
While companies are more than happy to spend our money on beauty products, with Cosmetics Business estimating that UK shoppers are set to drop £27 billion on beauty by 2022, the way in which products are marketed to us could have a potentially negative impact on our emotional wellbeing.
As with most things, there is a downside, some would even say a dark side to beauty. It could bring about body image issues, jealousy, anxiety, low self-esteem and related psychological disorders to name but a few.
Okay, let us face it. When we meet someone new, a first impression is all about looks; only later do things such as personality, brains and character start to take on meaning.
We all know that aesthetically pleasing people can get preferential treatment, long attributed to the ’halo effect’. This effect is known as a type of cognitive bias or judgment discrepancy, in which our impression of a person dictates the assumptions we make about that individual. For example, people will more readily blame an unattractive person for a crime than an attractive one. Research has also found that beauty, intelligence, and other positive characteristics may go hand in hand.
Our appearances, understanding of beauty within and around ourselves, and mental health are increasingly inextricably, intertwined. Beauty, grooming and mental health have long intersected. Beauty is crucial as a psychological signifier of our mental well-being.
We seem to know ‘beauty’ when we see it, but how do you define beauty?