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Dating From the Inside Out
by Susan S. Davis

How Physical Appearance Figures in the Dating Arena

Now that the new year has begun, and every one has thought about what they want to accomplish in the coming year, it is more than likely, that many of us have a goal to get into better physical condition. The typical new year’s resolution for this usually goes something like: “Lose weight.” It can be as simple as that.

Aside from the general health benefits of getting into better shape and “losing weight,” one of the other motivating factors, for single people in particular, is in order to become more attractive to people in the dating arena. And while any reason to attend to something healthy, such as dropping a few pounds is good, the best reasons are simply because you want to, rather than to impress someone else.

We should always be careful, when addressing personal appearance that we are not simply altering it or attending to it, for the sole purpose of interesting someone else in ourselves. The reason for this, is that if a you are interested in, desires a different “type” – often trying to become that type, usually leads to disappointment.

Studies have shown, that even when a person reaches physical characteristic goals, the person inside remains the same. Therefore, if a person is trying to escape confronting who they are, by detracting away from themselves with physical appearance, it can serve as the ultimate disappointment. Just as some people use food to comfort themselves, and thus, gain weight, the same can occur for those who deprive themselves of food, just for the sake of losing weight, and conforming to some societal standard of how they should look in order to be accepted.

In Nathan C. Popkins, of Northwestern University’s study, Natural Characteristics That Influence Environment: How Physical Appearance Affects Personality, the research proposes that physical appearance is a major factor in the development of personality, since people form opinions by what they see visually in people physically. In addition, people tend to fulfill the expectations that they believe others have for them.

Whether a person's personality was more influenced by genetics or environment, current estimates in the nature-nurture battle place the weight of each at right around 50% (McMartin, 1995).

Also, much the same way people's personality affects how others treat those people, so too does appearance. On some level, certain elements of appearance can function as personality. However, for the most part, physical appearance, is something one inherits genetically.

An enormous amount of information exists on how physical appearance affects happiness, self-esteem, and success. Logically, appearance can also govern the environment in which people are immersed, and be affected by the opinions of others.

At an early age, before age ten or so, children have begun to recognize how others react to them. Naturally, people react with certain biases to people who look one way or another. Good-looking children are treated as social superiors, because in society, stereotype dictates that popular people are good looking. Conversely, children who are deemed to be not as attractive are often treated as inferior.

For example, one study found that, "If teachers expect different behavior from students of different physical attractiveness, the students . . . develop accordingly to conform to these expectations. The result is very favorable for those students of higher physical attractiveness but very unfavorable for those lower in physical attractiveness" (Patzer, 1985, p. 57).

In both situations, the children began to conform self-opinions to the opinions of those who interacted with them, and eventually changed the ways they dressed to conform to others' preconceived notions.

Recent studies have shown how appearance affects others' opinions. At a very early age, children began to pick whom they would like for playmates by such standards as facial attractiveness and body form (Fisher, 1986). Another study found that across several age groups, subjects consistently ranked photographs of numerous people based on attractiveness with similar results (Ellis & Young, 1989).

As to opinions of others and self-esteem, one study found that when subjects went through an approximately 20-minute long interview with an interviewer that they believed had a low opinion of them, their self-esteem was markedly lower after the interview (Eckert & Wicklund, 1992).

As shown before, poor physical appearance leads to a lowered opinion by others, which, logically, leads to lower popularity, and, "Lack of popularity may undermine self-esteem and self-confidence" (Zuckerman, 1991, p. 220). It has also been found that low self-esteem tends to perpetuate itself. One experiment found that when, unbeknownst to the participants, a task in which success was guaranteed was performed, those with lower self-esteem were so uncomfortable with their successful results that they intentionally failed the task in successive trials to avoid discomfort (Kleinke, 1978). Obviously, there is a strong correlation between self-esteem and personality.

Certainly, how people view themselves, plays an important role in how they interact with others, whom they attract as a result, and how those relationships develop.

In Physical Appearance Impacts Social Relations, Not Personality Development (third one on page) – a study by Purva H. Rawal, of Northwestern University, the fundamental physical reality, our appearance, is addressed, as the author attempts to see how this largely inherited trait, shapes our personality development.

The research surmises that the reverse connection that people assume popular people are attractive. In the study conducted by Eagly and colleagues (Eagly, Ashmore, Makhijani, & Longe, 1991), people who are attractive were judged to be more socially competent and were attributed with tendencies to be more sociable, extraverted, and popular than their less attractive counterparts.

Research has also shown that in many situations, attractive people are more socially competent than those who are less attractive (Eagly et al., 1991). This can be attributed to the fact that they are reacting to others' treatment, i.e., the self-fulfilling prophecy. However, despite the fact that the author outlines the foundation of the self-fulfilling prophecy in behavior and the relationship between personality development and appearance, a causal connection cannot be definitively made in either direction.

One of the most interesting findings supporting the author's hypothesis is that children respond more positively to attractive faces. A baby's preference for attractive people is established within the first three to six months of life, as demonstrated in a study conducted by Langlois, Ritter, Roggman, and Vaughn (1991). The infants look longer at attractive than at unattractive faces.

At about one year, it was determined that the infants took a more active approach in showing more positive responses to attractive than to unattractive people.

The premise of the paper was that people react to another individual's physical appearance, thereby provoking a behavior in the individual that is a response to the initial reaction.

There is no denying, that as a whole, self-esteem amounts to how much people value themselves, feel pride in themselves, and how worthwhile they feel. And how one views themselves physically, is a part of the self-esteem equation.

Feeling good about yourself can affect how you act. Body image is how a person feels about his or her physical appearance. A person who believes in him or herself and has a healthy self-image is more in control of his/her behavior. Our culture’s fascination with transforming the ugly duckling into a beautiful swan, showed positive returns for network television, as well as many plastic surgeon’s offices.

Several individuals who have gone through the process of appearing on physical makeover shows, have reported that they are still dealing with themselves emotionally, and that there are issues in their lives that were never addressed, and that new ones have developed as a result of their physical transformations. Many have difficulty confronting the newfound attention that they never got before, feeling that it is disingenuous.

Still others, have reported that the “casual relationship” phenomenon has developed, in that part and limited time, and situations that lack monogamy, predicated upon physical intimacy, seem to be the norm, since the main attraction to them, now is their outward appearance.

The types of relationships predicted upon physical appearance, generally are focused on fulfilling physical, rather than romantic or emotional needs. While it is all find and good that people have an outlet for their sexual urges, many criticisms can be made of these types of relationships, since a lack of emotion can leave one feeling abandoned, and worse off than if they’d had no involvement at all.

While casual relationships sometime include mutual support, affection and enjoyment, the motives for casual relationships should be examined carefully. One of the main reasons that people get involved in casual relationships is due to the amount of effort, time and money that has to be spent. In comparison to a long-term relationship, a casual involvement can be appealing, for that aspect alone.

It is ironic that the reason motivating so many people to alter their appearance is in order to attract people to date, or even a life partner. Think about it – do we really want to be with someone who has a “type” and is apt to only be interested in us because we conform to a particular, often arbitrary brand? What does this say about the person we’re trying so hard to attract? Doesn’t that set us up for failure, in the long run?

After all, beauty fades. No matter how great you look today, the reality is that eventually, physical appearance will fade. And then what does one do? At that point, we must rely upon our personalities to carry the weight. And if we’ve spent all of our time cultivating good looks, it will be a difficult enterprise, to embark upon a journey to develop ourselves emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

So, go ahead and “get into shape.” But do it to feel better and get healthy, rather than to “attract” someone to you. If you focus on how you feel, rather than how you look, you’re bound to become more attractive, naturally. Because, ultimately, there is nothing more radiant, than a contented individual. And a contented individual, is one that attracts the same types of people that they are. And isn’t that ultimately what we all want to be for ourselves, and to have around us?

Susan S. Davis is a published book author and writer, currently doing research for a romantic screenplay she is writing. Her Dating From The Inside Out column is published every Tuesday.

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