Is beauty really only skin deep?

What do you think is the most important factor in attraction? Eyes, hair, good sense of humour, age, location, job, what car they drive?


In our society, we are bombarded on a daily basis by so many sources such as adverts, actors, social media, singers, films, magazines and television showing us exactly what we should (and shouldn't) look like! This type of idealised image can lead to many feelings of inadequacy, shame and embarrassment. This can ultimately develop into poor self-image, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, body dysmorphia, eating disorders, increased anxiety and depression.

So what do we really look for? Psychologists have spent years trying to work out why we are attracted to other people and they have developed many contradicting ideas, for example:

Behaviourists such as Bandura believed we learned through observation in a process called social learning theory. Research has shown that when we see behaviours or attributes being rewarded or positively reinforced we build a belief system that this must be the correct action. Therefore when we only see people on television who are muscular or their ideal weight (or less) this affects our core beliefs and causes us to start believing this is how we should all look.

Evolutionary psychologists, like Buss, believe we look for genetic and physical health in order to ensure the survival of our offspring. In a study that looked at 10,000 people across 37 cultures, they found that women looked for men with resources while men looked for women who were young and fertile. Interestingly they also found that both sexes also valued kindness, happiness and compassion equally.

Waltser in the 1960s then developed the theory of "matching hypothesis". This describes how physical attributes are the biggest indicator of attraction in romantic relationships. He believed that we look for people of equal levels of attractiveness as pursuing someone who is "out of your league" is a waste of time and resources!

Social psychologist, Jourard, then offered the idea that self-disclosure is key to romantic success. This is the voluntary sharing of private aspects of yourself with another person. This can let you be known to the other person, reducing mystery and increasing intimacy and trust. People prefer people who disclose more information and will do the same in return (Collins and Miller). Sprecher found that disclosure was positively linked with relationship stability. However disclosed information must be personal e.g. past relationships, rather than neutral e.g. favourite music.

Berg and Archer also found a norm of disclosure where the level of received and given information is expected to be the same. If disclosure is too limited, you learn nothing about them and if it is over personal it could seem indiscriminate and impersonal. Therefore disclosure itself isn't enough it is the type and level that is important.

So which theory do you most believe?

Research into these areas has never found 100% conclusive support for any of them! As humans, we look at all of these factors rather than just one of them. Basically, an attractive wealthy man may tick all of the physical attractiveness boxes but may be dull as dishwater and a woman who is short and a size 14 (yes that's me!) may be intellectually fascinating! You can't base a relationship on just one factor as they are all important in creating a successful long-term relationship.

Therefore, psychologically speaking, the Hollywood ideal person is just that - a fantasy - a person who has a personal trainer, chef, nutritionist and stylist who spends the majority of their time trying to meet that perfect image. But in the real world people want a real person, not a 2D image.

We all have things we don't like about how we look but there are always more things that are wonderful, interesting and fascinating about us. Focusing on these aspects will boost your self-esteem and confidence. One activity I often set for clients is to write a self-compassion letter to themselves. Positive psychologist Kristen Neff developed a theory of self-compassion in which mindfulness, a feeling of common humanity, and self-kindness were key aspects to happiness, positivity and high self-esteem. The task causes clients to focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses and comparisons to others. This allows them to see just how amazing they are despite their "flaws".

So, from now on, try to focus on the positive aspects of yourself and it will boost your self-esteem, confidence, positivity and empowerment allowing your inner beauty to shine brighter than ever!

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Rayleigh, Essex, SS6
Written by Rosslyn Whellams, BSc in Psychology and a Diploma in Emotional Health Coaching
Rayleigh, Essex, SS6

My name is Rosslyn Whellams and I am an Empowerment Coach and Psychology Teacher living in Rayleigh, Essex. I offer a number of client centred, affordable, and effective programs based on CBT. My goal is to help as many people as possible to find and increase their Emotional Empowerment! For more information please visit

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