THE article “Looking good comes with a price” (New Sunday Times, Aug 3) was indeed interesting. I had done research on a similar topic during my postgraduate days and it generated a lot of positive feedback in terms of opinions and ideas during the presentation.
My research topic was “Does physical appearance matter?” Although it was an academic work, I had included opinions of individuals gathered through interviews.
How do we define beauty?
Kalokagathia is a Greek word to describe “the beautiful and good”, uniting the outward appearance with inner qualities. So, one who possesses both qualities (good looks and decency) is considered beautiful.
Beauty is also a harmony of physical features, facial expressions, stature and behaviour of a person, coupled with a balance of emotions, mental abilities and a pleasing appearance.
Academicians use specific terms for the study of physical appearances:
PHYSIOGNOMY: Drawing connections between physical appearance and moral character. For example, high foreheads denote intelligence, big eyes (innocence), firm chins (determination), sharp noses (upward mobility), etc.
PHRENOLOGY: The science of reading heads. For example, bumps and ridges are indicators of psychological tendencies.
What are our attitudes towards physical appearance? Often, the outside appearance is viewed as a measure of character, e.g. pretty girls are treated more favourably on account of their physical attractiveness. Going by appearance seems to be a natural weakness. Wouldn’t it be nice to know, with a glance, whom to trust, love, fear, etc.?
Forming impressions is another natural tendency. We form impressions of others when we interact with them. These can be favourable or otherwise. We attribute positive characteristics to people who are physically attractive and negative ones to those who are not.
Forming impressions is influenced by the following factors:
OUR own culture, educational and personal background;
OUR needs, desire and emotional states; and,
THE method of self-presentation used by the other person.
Studies show that labelling people according to first impressions is part of perception and the communication process. The positive effects of inner beauty becomes obvious in how and what we communicate, and our actions.
We generally become active and develop meaningful lives based on hard work and love. Life’s experiences educate and develop our character and personality towards maturity.
Religious individuals and saints belong to a different category and are described as “beautiful”, mainly because they are good and pious.
Outer beauty has its negative effects, too. It is transient, fleeting and momentary. It could be powerful and destructive.
Besides life’s experiences, attractiveness and likeability are factors that influence our communication patterns. Relationships fulfil our social and psychological needs and attractiveness affects whether we continue communicating with a person. Attractiveness also affects the strength of a relationship. A listener is not only concerned with what is said and how it is said, but also, who said it.
What are the determinants of attractiveness and likeability? Some interesting points are:
SIMILARITY of attitudes and beliefs;
PERSONAL rewards from the other person; and
Next, how do we classify an individual as attractive? This, again, depends on how we look at others. Some may be attracted to those who fit into a circle of friends, others may be inclined towards physical attraction and others may be attracted to those who are knowledgeable, talented and skillful.
In conclusion, physical appearance and likeability are important factors that affect communication and persuasion.
Physical appearance does influence perception and is important in making a good first impression. Outer beauty is a plus factor in communication. However, perceptions can change during and after the communication process. Thus, inner beauty could be the determining factor that is attractive. An individual’s body type and facial features can impose limitations, but all of us have the ability to control attractiveness through grooming, clothing, accessories and style to modify our general appearance.
As Oscar Wilde said: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”
Abel Raj, Klang, Selangor