With all the hubbub about body positivity that’s come up in recent news – from Jennifer Lawrence taking the offensive against fat-shaming in an ABC interview last month to the outraged feminist blog posts that came in response to the 2013 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show the month before – talking about the importance of appearance has become almost taboo. To suggest that how you look should have any effect on how others feel about you or how you feel about yourself makes you shallow, superficial, vain. It’s all about personality and “what’s on the inside,” right? Wrong.
While society does have unrealistic and unfair beauty standards that need to change, the truth is that appearances still matter. While personality of course trumps looks, looks impact how open people are to your personality. Take it from a girl who wasn’t too cute growing up. To put it lightly, an awkward haircut, transition glasses and bad acne weren’t exactly working in my favor. Unsurprisingly, I wasn’t very popular – not because people didn’t like me (most people who knew me did) but because very few took the time to get to know me.
However, everything changed in college. Contact-clad, eyeliner-equipped and sporting a semi-decent sense of style, people began to compliment me on my appearance – something that never happened in my high school days. Furthermore, although nothing about my personality changed, people were suddenly much more interested in talking to me. People wanted to get to know me, and they liked what they found.
Studies over the years have proven that first impressions happen in the blink in the eye – roughly three to five seconds after seeing a person for the first time. Think about why people dress well for a job interview: Ultimately, it's your personality, skills and intellect that will get you the job. However, you're better off walking in there looking fly as anything so the employer thinks highly of you the moment you walk through the door, rather than walking in there looking janky and having to spend the entire interview proving that you're worth his time.
Why should that logic end outside the office? Think of life as an neverending job interview: If you walk in looking good, all you need to do is confirm everyone's already positive thoughts about you. If you walk in there looking like a mess, you need to spend a certain amount of time correcting a poor first impression. You're starting off at a disadvantage.
Looking good doesn’t make you a better person, nor should it make people like you better. But it does make people more likely to give your personality a chance. More importantly, not only does looking good make others think more highly of you, it makes you think more highly of yourself. Which, in turn, doubles how attractive you seem to others.
A 2009 study in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science showed that women found men wearing Axe body spray more attractive than those without it – just from looking at their photographs. Why? Though the women didn’t know whether the men in the photos were wearing cologne, the men wearing it felt more attractive, which made them appear more confident. That’s the key.
When I realized that people in college suddenly found me attractive, my self-image improved immensely. No matter how silly it sounds, that kind of immediate approval and interest from others boosts a person’s self confidence. Knowing that people’s first instinct was to treat me well made me feel more comfortable and able to be myself. Before long, I became naturally more outgoing and attractive as a person – based on my personality, not my looks.
As much as we love to tout the who-cares-what-others-think mentality, the fact of the matter is that how others treat you affects your self-image. And while we like to think most decent people won’t treat you better solely based on how you look or dress, it does happen, even if only subconsciously.
While personality (i.e. “what’s on the inside”) is still unquestionably what defines us, looks impact your personality and how open people are to discovering it. How you look and how people perceive you because of it both play a part in building your confidence, which in the end is the most attractive thing about you.