Beauty is not enough What really attracts someone

How to get rid of the thought of not being beautiful

I feel ugly.

I can't count how often I've heard this sentence in my life, from others and from myself. In front of the mirror, in the changing room, at home; I've realized how tough I am on myself when it comes to judging myself.

When I stand in front of the mirror, I mostly see things that I don't like about myself: dark circles, nose, body shape, arms that are too thin, too much stomach. If someone tells me that this is nonsense, they may be genuinely meant - but I find it difficult to accept that. As rational as I want to be, whoever contradicts me and as much as I would like to see myself in a different light: I often just don't find myself beautiful.

In my environment, this tendency was confirmed by almost all of the respondents. It's impressive how badly you can make yourself against all common sense. Why is this feeling so strong - and how can it be influenced?

The fairy tale of beauty

If you want to counteract the idea of ​​not being beautiful, you must first put aside a crucial mistake: There is no such thing as beauty. A sense of beauty is, according to science, a very subjective reflex. It is different from person to person.

Our way of judging beauty is strangely ambivalent: all too often we feel the reflex to find something beautiful because we believe we should find it beautiful - only to then notice that it actually doesn't suit our taste after all. Conversely, there are those rare moments when we notice for ourselves that we find things beautiful that are in no way related to the common sense seem to cover. These are possibly those moments when our very own idea of ​​beauty shines through.

“The satisfaction in the beautiful must depend on the reflection on the object; and thereby also differs from the pleasant, which is based entirely on sensation, ”wrote Immanuel Kant in his 1790Critique of Judgement. Last year psychologists from New York University included this thesis in their study Beauty requires thought affirms: There is no beauty without thought. Only when we reflect, compare it with our own experiences, do we perceive something as beautiful or not beautiful. And this reflection can be influenced from the outside. Advertising, for example, draws our attention a lot.

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An example: It is often referred to the theory that symmetrical faces would attract us and that we find them particularly attractive. If you subject this to a reality check, you will find that very few people have truly symmetrical faces - and bodies. And even if we did, it would be difficult for us to name it, because for us humans there are many more factors that make us feel attractive. Symmetry can be a criterion for a sense of beauty, as the cultural scientist Diana Weis says. But it's just not the one criterion.

Anyone who says “everyone is beautiful” is actually speaking a very simple truth. Beauty is not a measurable entity. Just because the media and advertising industry reproduce a certain image of beauty over and over again doesn't mean there is a real grid through which we could fall.

In order to work on our self-image, we have to accept that many ideas of beauty are controlled by others - including those about our own. We tell ourselves we have to look one way or another in order to be beautiful, driven by an entire industry. And when reality does not match this desired image, we subsequently convince ourselves that we are not beautiful.

That's not all. We set in motion psychological patterns in the head that can be very harmful to us.

Our fear of fallibility creates a dark spiral of thought

Our beauty - or what we call it - is very important to us humans, writes the cultural scientist and author Gleb Tsipursky in an article for Psychology Today. He founded an NGO with which he researches how we can feel more comfortable.

As a rule, you judge yourself according to completely different standards than those by which you judge others, says Tsipursky. The reason is simple: our appearance influences our own lives, but the appearance of other people does not. We have learned that it is beneficial to our external perception and is even useful at work to be considered beautiful, writes Tsipursky. It is widely believed that if I look good, I have better cards.

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With ourselves we do not direct our focus on what could potentially be considered beautiful in us; but rather on supposed flaws. Because they could give us a negative external perception, have a bad influence on our lives. Psychologists speak of what is known as loss aversion.

Simply put, we don't see that we have a beautiful eye color because we are too busy judging our dark circles.

We ourselves become our worst enemy in front of the mirror.

We are slowly losing sight of the bigger picture, by which we judge other people, for example. In ourselves, we keep drawing our attention to that one roll of bacon, that one stretch mark. One speaks of the so-called attentional bias. We are far more meticulous and brutal than when judging other people, writes Tsipursky. This is because we have known ourselves the longest.

We ourselves become our worst enemy in front of the mirror. And this destructiveness is constantly gnawing at our self-image. It creates a strong breeding ground for depression of all kinds. If we don't get it under control, this shift in attention could affect us so much that at some point we are no longer able to find anything beautiful about ourselves and reject ourselves. This phenomenon is called dysmorphophobia: the panic fear of being considered ugly and of experiencing negative reactions to one's own appearance.

How we perceive ourselves to be more balanced

Paradoxically, other people are able to judge us in a much more balanced way - they can focus equally on positive and negative traits. It is precisely this balance that, according to Tsipursky, is needed to redefine our own sense of beauty.

His suggested solution: Whenever we stand in front of the mirror and rub ourselves against a flaw, we could force ourselves to immediately focus on something that we find beautiful in ourselves - and give this thing just as much time and energy , with which we otherwise judge alleged flaws.

In practice it could look like this: We struggle in front of the mirror with that one mole that we don't like? Well, immediately afterwards we also deal just as intensively with our collarbone, which we like. When I tell myself that my arms are way too thin, I tell myself immediately afterwards, but I have very nice legs.

Tsipursky formulates questions that we could ask ourselves:

  • How would it affect our self-image if only advertising had an impact on us without loss aversion? Or the other way around?
  • How can we remember to balance our attention when looking in the mirror?
  • What other thinking errors could our loss aversion lead us to?
  • How else could we achieve a more balanced perspective on ourselves?
  • Do we know anyone who could benefit from these ideas?

“Balanced attention will counteract our natural aversion to loss and allow ourselves to see ourselves as others are already doing,” writes Tsiporsky. According to the researcher, we should practice this - and also allow ourselves to accept the perspective of friends and acquaintances as valid, because it is very likely more balanced than our own.

Even if this process takes a lot of time, we might be able to say honestly about ourselves at some point: I feel beautiful right now.


In our series “How to Find Yourself” we deal with how we cope in this fast-moving world. How do I get happier? How do I get rid of harmful thought patterns? For the tricks - we call them psychohacks - we deal with common studies and methods and interview experts.