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Research Shows We Are Less Attractive Than We Think

This is how I like to pretend that I look: blurred out with ideal lighting.  In reality, my parents had to ask if it was me.
This is how I like to pretend that I look: blurred out with ideal lighting from a flattering camera angle. In reality, my parents had to ask if it was me.

I have some bad news. Surprise! You may not be as cute as you think you are.

This may come as a surprise in the wake of Dove’s recent video, “Real Beauty Sketches,” which is now the most watched video advertisement in history. In it, women were asked to describe themselves to a forensic artist to be sketched. The artist wasn’t able to see the participant. Later, a stranger who had previously met the subject, described the woman to the same artist for a second drawing. The results were two very different portraits. The women described themselves in a more unflattering light than the stranger did. The message, presented at the end is “You are more beautiful than you think.”

However, an article that ran in the Scientific American by Osgun Atasoy yesterday asserts that Dove has it all wrong. Scientific research actually supports a different reality. As it turns out, at least one study shows that we are less attractive than we think we are due to what psychologists refer to as “self-enhancement.”

The study referenced in the article was conducted by Nicholas Epley of the University of Chicago and Erin Whitchurch of the University of Virginia. Participants were photographed and then shown several images of themselves the original photo, along with those enhanced to be more and less attractive. Routinely, subjects chose a more flattering image of themselves. Furthermore, they recognized the positively enhanced photos faster, proving that the more flattering picture is truly how they view themselves. (People tend to connect with an image quicker if it matches the one in their mind.)

Our self-inflated view doesn’t end with attractiveness, either. In fact most people believe that they are kinder, healthier and more altruistic than average. For example, most people feel that they are less susceptible to the flu than others. This is a lesson I learned the hard way last winter!

Interestingly enough,we do not apply this preference to others. Test subjects were able to more accurately choose the original photo of other participants. We subconsciously see ourselves through rose-colored glasses because we want the world to see us that way. Additionally, scientists believe that we are more likely to apply statistical knowledge to others, but believe we are exempt.

I don’t think preference for one’s self is a bad thing. It’s a form of self-protection, as I see it. If I believe I’m attractive, healthy, and good, that boosts my confidence which is a pretty important attribute. And I’m not quite willing to write off Dove’s video either. Being asked to describe yourself is an entirely different than be confronted with photos of your own face. Choosing a more attractive version of ourselves really just proves we are optimistic, right? Who doesn’t carry around the best image of themselves in their mind? My mind is like Facebook I store the images I like and toss the rest. That way my visual memory of myself is with ideal lighting, lots of makeup, on a good hair day, and passed through an instagram filter. It may not reality but I prefer it.


Atasoy, Osgun. “You Are Less Beautiful Than You Think.” Scientific American, 21 May 2013.

Benjamin, Kathy. “5 Shocking Ways You Overestimate Yourself.” Cracked, 8 May 2011.

“Dove ‘Real Beauty Sketches’ Ad is the Most-watched Internet Commercial of All Time, Company Says.” New York Daily News, 21 May 2013.

Article Posted 3 years Ago

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