Science Says We Are Lying To Ourselves About Our Own Hotness

If science is objective and beauty is subjective, there is already a problem with this equation.
Publish date:
May 23, 2013
science, self-perception, hotness, beauty is subjective

I started the year by exhorting people to feel vain. It was more than just a clever marketing tie in to xoVain -- it was my resolution to just accept that I am pretty hot.

But science wants to argue this point, or at least a particular study does, which has found that people consistently consider themselves more attractive than they really are.

I can't actually imagine a way that science could do a better job of kicking people in the teeth in our image-obsessed culture. Think you're hot? Science votes not. I can see the headlines now.

Here's how the study worked; Researchers took a photo of a person, modified that photo into "uglier" and "more attractive" versions, and then asked the person to identify themselves from the three photos. People consistently picked the "more attractive" photo.

My first question is just how the hell scientists determined "uglier" and "more attractive," what with beauty being subjective. I know, I know, this is where people are going to start shouting about symmetry and evo bio (which, uh, no). I can buy the symmetry thing, because I am a reasonable human being (most of the time) but the researchers don't say "more symmetrical" -- they say "more attractive." And that sounds like there may be more going on there. Maybe the Photoshopping that goes on in magazines?

The world may never know.

In any event, I just keep thinking about the way recordings of my own voice freak me out. Because I always sound so much higher-pitched and, well, frankly absurd to my own ears when my voice is reproduced. This is because of things like resonance and the way our ear are positioned and *insert fourth grade science here*.

When Lesley and I were podcasting on the regs, I spent a lot of time listening to myself. And it took me a long time to be able to tell our voices apart -- even that was mostly dependent on accent at first.

Photos aren't really all that different. We look at ourselves in mirrors; we see reversed images of ourselves if we see ourselves at all. Given how many people flat-out hate photos of themselves, most people don't really take the opportunity to get intimately familiar with their own looks. For all that we are super image-obsessed in American culture, we focus on other people's images, not our own.

I wonder what else is going on with people in this study. I wonder how they chose participants. I wonder how those participants feel about their bodies and their looks in general. Choosing an ambiguously "more attractive" photo doesn't actually mean that person thinks they are hot.

And even if they DO -- what's the harm in it?

Seriously, what damage does it do for people to think they are attractive? Does it make them less likely to consume billions of yearly dollars on beauty products? I am all for beauty products because I think they are fun. But when people think they NEED those products to be acceptable human beings, I start having issues with advertising and the whole beauty industry. (That's actually why I like xoVain.)

Science is meant to be an objective study. Beauty is meant to be subjective, perceived by the viewer. I'm just not sure that science based on beauty in this framework is reliable. Symmetry might be a thing, but the plain truth is that most other characteristics that go into making people "more attractive" when it comes to Photoshopping involve a heaping helping of racism and ableism. Not to mention the usual disdain for body diversity. There are too many different kinds of beauty for this study to be steady on its feet.

There are so many people who struggle with their self-image. Photos are awesome, but they cannot capture everything that is you, everything that is amazing about a person who is standing there in front of you. If you think you are hotter than you are, I am all for it.

Scientific American reaches a similar conclusions: "Self-enhancement also boosts confidence. Researchers have shown that confidence plays a role in determining whom people choose as leaders and romantic partners. Confident people are believed more and their advice is more likely to be followed."

I think we could all stand a little bit more of that sort of vanity.