BEAUTY SYNDROME Michael J. Nanko. Ph.D.

1' In this society, we are bombarded awry with books, magazines, television commercials, printed advertisements, movies and beauty contests that instruct us as to what makes for a beautiful person. Billboards and commercials tell us what to wear, how to look and what "beautiful" products to use. We know that people will often go to extremes to do what they can to look more attractive. This ranges from padding breasts to hair removal or hair implantation to wearing life-threatening corsets and to cosmetic surgeries for altering most any aspect of the human body. Every major magazine is now overrun with ads for cosmetic surgery or other alternatives to beauty enhancements. Much research over the past two decades has shown that a person's physical attractiveness mediates or helps to determine many of his or her life experiences. The phrase "What is beautiful is good" was coined by Dion, Berscheid and Walster (7972). They found that the physically attractive we re pe r ce ive d to be mor e so cially de sir able , than per so ns o f lo we r attractiveness. Physical attractiveness has been found to be associated with a host of favorable qualities, such as popularity, likability, competence, persuasiveness, ability to succeed, and as better adjusted in relationships. The attractive people tend to draw or attract material benefits and rewards bestowed by society. These rewards may even be monetary in nature, through better paying jobs, higher tips, etc. (Stillman & Winsley, 7980; May, 7980). The physical attractiveness stereotype is pervasive and can be seen across a myriad of social and psychological contexts. In educational settings, teachers have been found to rate attractive students more favorably than the less attractive on expected potential and on various academic prediction measures (Adams & Cohen, 7976; Clifford, 7975; Ross & Salvia, 1975), and in the area of physical training performance (Martinez, 7987). The attractive have been found to benefit from their appearance in simulated juridic decision-making studies as recipients of more lenient sentences and verdicts than the less attractive (Efran, 1974; lzzett & Fishman, 1976). There is also evidence from the mental health arena that the more attractive an individual is perceived to be - - the more emotionally adjusted they are expected to be. At least a handful of studies have investigated the relationship of physical attractiveness and judged the adjustment of mental patients. Martin, Friedmeyer and Moore (1977) found that patients who were judged to be good-looking were also judged by hospital staff to be better adjusted and have better prognosis. Attractive persons are sought more often as dating partners and they tend to seek friends, date and marry those who are among the more attractive (Berscheid, Dion, Walster & Walster, 7977; Cavior & Bablett, 1972; Murstein, 7972). In the business context, Dipboye, Fromkin & Wiback (7975) discovered that the physically attractive are chosen more readily for job openings.(Add MN PA research here) Moreover, work produced by attractive persons are rated more favorable, competent (Anderson & Nida, 1978; Landy & Sigall, 7974). Other research suggests that an individual may increase his or her own prestige and the impression managed by mere association with a physically attractive person (Geiselman, Haight & Kimata, 1985; Sigall & Landy, 7973; Strane & Watts; 7977).

-2Beauty at what price? Just as the unattractive people are discriminated against as demonstrated in the social psychological literature, so too, are those who are obese. Obesity, or being overweight, is intricately tied into the beauty game in this culture. For the most part, one cannot be fat and physically attractive in this culture. However, one can be physically appealing from the head down which can reduce at least one prejudice. It is interesting, if not criminal, that unattractive persons and obese persons both suffer from prejudice and social stigmas that cross most contexts. These individuals are prejudiced against and receive less social reinforcements at school, work, in dating experiences, and in perceived adjustment. It is not only the lay person that finds the obese and the unattractive as less desirable humans, for example, obese persons are evaluated as more psychologically disturbed by health care professionals and the implicit assumption is that they bring it all on themselves. Physically attractive people, especially women, must look a certain way. Magazines like Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Playboy, and the like, come over loud and clear as to what is sexy and attractive. Today, fat is out and thin i s in . Mo st a ll fa ce ts o f t he m e d ia po r tr ay a tt r a ct i ve pe o pl e as t r i m, sometimes unrealistically so. Ads for health and fitness clubs always portray trim and attractive people in their copy; however, some cognizant advertising executives believe this approach may, under certain circumstances, keep people away. What does this all mean to the populace who strive to be accepted, liked, perceived as attractive, and who want to be desired? To!mach and Scherr (1984) asked women multitudinous questions about beauty and what it means to them. What they got was near-unanimity that all women felt they need to be thinner. Most all stated in some form: "I have to lose weight". The researchers found that even those who looked not at all overweight wanted to lose from 5 to 25 pounds. What was striking in this near-unanimity was women's identification of their self-discontent with body weight; also the gap the answers revealed between the intellectual and abstract accolades to health and tranquility, and the concrete disgust upon looking into the mirror, the feeling that beauty is 10 pounds lighter. These same women were acutely aware of every blemish on their body. (Insert light stats) Most of the women in the above survey reported that beauty is health, intelligence, personality and fitness. But in reality, most all the women were overly concerned with physical appearance spending a significant amount of time preparing their looks via cosmetics, stylish clothing, hairstyling and other tactics. In this society where slenderness is valued as the ideal, children are now being taught that to be loved they must be thin and beautiful. Beauty contests for young children abound now throughout the country. Young girls are acutely aware from their parents and the media about what it means to be attractive. This may mean early introduction of cosmetics and strict dieting during crucial developmental stages. Girls may even be criticized by siblings, as well as parents, for not conforming to beauty standards. They will definitely be criticized at school for being even slightly overweight, overdeveloped, or underdeveloped. For the young person, social pressures for attractiveness can have serious physical and psychological sequelae.

-3One recent study I conducted looked at the attractiveness levels of 50 young boys and 200 girls, ages 72 to 14. The measures taken of attractiveness were part of a study conducted to evaluate the efficacy of a wellness program provided to an intermediate school by a community-based hospital. What was uncovered was startling. There was a significant correlation found between the attractiveness of the student and blood pressure. The lower the perceived attractiveness level by the young person, the higher the blood pressure. This finding was stronger for females than it was for males. Females' blood pressure is usually lower. (Body image, etc. insert) This is the first finding that shows a detrimental physical effect for lowered attractiveness. If future research confirms this result — we will have strong evidence that how a child (especially a girl) perceives herself has actual physical effects; physical effects that are extremely harmful when they comprise long term heightened blood pressure. More negative consequences to beautism may be unfolded in subsequent research. Some could state that fatness is a health risk and we are ruining the health and mobility of our youth by not reinforcing such behaviors and values. However, we must also investigate the issue of damage done to women's appearance and health by amphetamines and dangerous diets, tight girdles, silicone implants, liposuction, and other cosmetic surgeries. There are many means being tried to attain slenderness and beauty. Fat or leanness carried to extre me s can cre ate illne ss o f both mind and bo dy. T his is clear ly evidenced by the incidence in eating disorders (anorexia, bulimia, etc.) in this country. We must question the desperation of the women who find thinness or voluptuousness important enough to subject themselves to drugs and surgical procedures with dangerous side effects. Beauty can hardly be viewed as a life-threatening ailment or situation. Perhaps, the only way to understand the situation is to agree that such conditions are, in fact, perceived by some wo me n as life - thr e ate ning, as so dange r o us that ser io usly damaging interventions are justified, any risk worth taking to alleviate them. Being overweight, (which is not "attractive") based on the attention given to it by the media and health industry could be regarded as America's Public E n e m y Number One. Health, the most frequent rationalization for the preference for thinness, is based on dubious grounds (see Garner et al., 7985). Several studies have challenged the assumption that obesity is a significant health problem and have concluded that the fervor of treatment efforts reflects our prejudice rather than realistic response to the risks inherent t o t h e condition (Bennett & Gurin, 7982). In fact, psychological stress asso ciated with be ing o bese in our culture , rathe r than obe sity per se , co uld contribute in a major way to increased risk of illness, including hypertension. 4-6(10.4-43 Furthermore, the constant fluctuations in weight that come from failed attempts to lose weight may actually pose a greater risk than obesity. Dieting has also been found to lead to binge eating and compulsive eating in some individuals. Wardle (7980) found that binge eating is more prevalent among dieters than nondieters. Binge eating may lead to dangerous consequences, including bulimic bingeing and purging. Some diets which are followed, to reach that wonderful state of thinness, have even been found to be fatal (e.g., Beverly Hills Diet).

-4We must be slim and fit, or fail. It has been persuasively argued in the literature and the media that slenderness is healthier than fatness, and that it frees women to lead more active lives. However, spending many of one's waking hours gazing into the mirror in despair, dreaming about inaccessible hotfudge sundaes, and castigating oneself for giving in to temptation are neither healthy or fulfilling ways to spend time. Living in aerobics and fitness centers can be a lonely way of life as well! "Thin Is Beautiful" is supported by comprehensive treatment of the subject in the Handbook of Psychotherapy for Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia (Garner et al. 1985). This bias is apparently shared by most women who view sle nder ne ss a s the most salient aspe ct of physical attractive ne ss. As mentioned above, there are enormous pressures on women to diet in pursuit of a thinner shape that is more and more unrealistic and destructive. Few women actually possess bodies that can conform to those that the media continuously presents. T he health be nefits of slende rne ss have been overemphasized with not enough attention to the dangers of dieting behavior. It is now quite evident to this writer that anorexia nervosa, bulimia and b ul i ma r e xi a ar e ve r y d ir e c tl y l in k e d t o cu lt ur al a nd Ma di so n A ve nu e projections, and to the persuasive and reinforcing bombardments of these ideal figures as more than desirable - (read) essential for being attractive, wanted, worthy, loved. Y o ung wo me n and gir ls are at highe st r isk fo r anor e xia and it is no t coincidental that they are the ones under most pressure to fit to or conform to the stereotypic thin and beautiful female. The problem of anorexia can be simply stated as an issue of independence or autonomy which is frustrated or impossible. Some argue that it is a sexual issue; others claim that the family is key. The "All American" family and the enmeshed family are two family styles that are frequently cited as producing the anorexic. The control over one's body by the anorexic seems to have little to do with the beauty "syndrome" per se. Except, that is, for the "you can't be too thin or too rich" mentality of the upwardly mobile. With beauty goes power and acceptance in this society. It is a serious issue and we are confused by it. We want to define it precisely, but really cannot. We are willing to go to all kinds of pain to achieve it, but deny any evidence that such pains have been taken. Beauty is often a means by which women reach power and influence, but we do not take either seriously - especially ith the knowledge that their power is sure to disappear. Beautification w is a tireless and exhausting effort for which women receive little credit if they are successful and much contempt if they are not. Beauty and thinness seem to bring its possessors satisfaction and happiness, however, there is clinical and academic evidence to the contrary. This surprise occurs if the individual places too much importance on looks to exclusion of other elements of life Pinsert") (Campbell, 7965). Constant vigilance toward being thinner than one's set point and not being "caught off guard" without make-up and accentuating clothing and constantly worrying about aging is a lifestyle that is difficult to maintain, dangerous, and, in the end, impossible. Children and young adults need role models; teachers and parents that understand the above issues - and who are comfortable with their own body and project a healthy self-concept.

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