Sometimes I find the comments written after blog posts as informative as the articles themselves. I certainly had that experience as I read the lively exchange that followed a piece I wrote here a couple of weeks ago called Beauty Tips for the Body and Soul. The article described the four most common answers to, "What makes a woman really feel beautiful?" a question I used in a survey to research the qualities that most reliably led to the experience of attractiveness. The post described results from the survey; with confidence, flexibility, the ability to smile and a lack of self-criticism topping the list. At the end of the post, I asked readers to tell me which beauty tips worked for them and if they had suggestions for others. Their comments taught me a lot.
Some bloggers agreed with the results of the survey, noting that the list resonated with their own personal experiences. Some offered additional tips, writing that there was much more to beauty than the four items described in the article. Others strongly disagreed, saying I had it all wrong. For example, one person wrote that they associated confidence (a quality on my list) with haughtiness and that it was a turnoff to them. Another pointed toward the important distinction between women who smile (also on my list) versus women who genuinely appear happy, the former having little to do with true beauty, the latter being what it was all about for them.
As I read close to two hundred plus comments, it became increasingly clear that the question asked in the survey could be answered quite differently depending on how it was interpreted and who was responding. As one blogger wrote there is a "gap between perception and self-perception" and "beauty to one person is different than beauty to world at large." Another put it well, when she asked if I meant,"Beauty as one sees oneself? As members of your own gender see you? Members of the opposite gender? A particular person?"
Knowingly or not, these comments highlighted the complicated experience of beauty, a topic discussed in my book, "Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change," and one that I felt deserved a follow-up post here. Clearly there is a distinction between feeling attractive and looking attractive and between looking good to oneself as opposed to looking good to others. And there are even more differences when these issues are discussed by men versus women and by those under 50 or over 50. Below is a compilation of responses I received -- from men, women, young and not so young -- sorted into categories based on these different perspectives. I think you will find them quite enlightening.
- What makes women look attractive (from a female perspective)? Perhaps not surprisingly, the most common response was "youth" -- youthful skin, teeth and hair topped the list. Remember, this is what women say looks attractive, not what makes them feel attractive. Women, especially Baby Boomers, tend to see youth as beautiful and aging as not, possibly the result of cultural pressure to appear younger than their age. Interestingly, this differs, as you will read below, from what makes women feel beautiful. Younger women more often wrote "looking natural" as the key to attractiveness (which may, in fact, be equated in their minds with youth). Women of all ages mentioned a great smile as the next most important feature, adding that a smile had to look genuine to look beautiful. Some wrote that having white teeth and full lips helped. Following a great smile came blue eyes and long lashes, stylish hair, shapely legs, long neck, full breasts and good sense of fashion.
Offer your reactions to these questions so we can continue the discussion about what beauty means to you? And please fan me here, "friend" me on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter. I would like you to be part of the conversation.
"FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change" by Vivian Diller, Ph.D., with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. and edited by Michele Willens, is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances. As models turned psychotherapists, Diller and Sukenick have had the opportunity to examine the world of beauty from two very different vantage points.
For more information on the book, authors, and events, please visit http://www.faceitthebook.com/