The Beauty Complex: Self Esteem by Proxy
There is a beauty bias in our culture. There is a belief that beauty brings opportunities, admirers and being the beautiful one in a relationship also has clear benefits, I want to take a deeper look at what is it about a pretty face that is really so attractive to us?
Society puts a high premium on beauty. Beauty sells products, people like to look at it, and it makes us feel good. We like beautiful things. Obtaining and maintaining beauty is a billion dollar industry, with L’Oreal being a perfect case in point. Beautiful is desirable and some try desperately to become it. We exercise to extremes, starve ourselves, go under the knife, take drugs and supplements, spend billions on cosmetics and creams, all designed to make, or keep us beautiful. Beauty is really important to us; why?
Beauty is symbolic of wealth, vitality, health and goodness. If we are not beautiful, or we don’t believe we are, what then? Those of us who have grown up feeling not good enough tend to seek beauty in our partners – seeking out the beautiful, with the unconscious hope, that we can gain beauty by proxy.
Generally, beautiful people are attracted to beautiful people. When a friend of mine sees an unattractive male with a beautiful female, she always says, “He is punching above his weight!” We laugh because we’re thinking the same thing. “What is she doing with him?” “He must be rich, or….(insert large penis joke)”. Whatever the reason, seeing two people that don’t line up aesthetically seems wrong, because beauty generally begets beauty. If we don’t feel beautiful and we are partnered with someone beautiful, does it therefore legitimise our own beauty?
Can you look beautiful but feel ugly on the inside? I believe that you can. In my work, I have seen that dysfunctional ‘beautiful people’ can use their beauty to control others. There is power in beauty. Dysfunctionally beautiful people learn early, that beauty is a commodity that can be used to manipulate others. From an early age they’ve begun the process of using their beauty to get what they want. Some of us establish our talents in childhood and we grow up honing these skills. For the dysfunctionally beautiful, their ‘skill’ is obvious from an early age, they can sense it in the way adults react to them and by the time they reach adulthood, they’ve become masters at using their looks to control others. By this time, it has become so natural to them, they do it without even thinking. Beauty is their lure, it draws people to them and through experience.
I worked with a client a couple of years ago, who was just out of a relationship with a man who exhibited many Narcissistic personality traits. She described him as beautiful, model beautiful, and his beauty meant a lot to her. She disclosed that his attention validated her as a person, because if she could win such a ‘prize’, then this must mean that there was something good about her. It meant that she was worthy and that she was beautiful. She basked in the reflective glory of being with him.
It was borrowed confidence because the moment that he walked out, he took her identity with him. She told me that she had no idea who she was because everything that she had become was all invested in him. Therefore, without his beauty, who was she? Insecure people believe that they need permission. They need their feelings and beliefs to be authenticated and validated by the other. Together, we reasoned that without him showing the rest of the world that she was special, she felt lost because she did not have the internal resources to retain her specialness by herself.
Once upon a time, I had a similar awakening. So huge was that jolt, that it forced me to figure out who I was all on my own. Perhaps the most important lesson for me was the journey that followed to discover my own specialness. From that point onwards, I decided that I didn’t need anyone else to validate my sense of self.
Sometimes the things that we want the most can be the most unhealthy for us. Believing that someone else’s ‘beauty’ can make us feel beautiful is an illusion. In the end, it can leave you feeling ugly. In much the same way as self-worth, you can’t gain beauty by proxy or on appearance alone. True beauty is an inside job.