The ROI of beauty

Empirically, the most accomplished, intelligent people I know couldn’t give two fks about beauty standards.

All the same, it is super popular and desired. Being beautiful seems to serve a purpose beyond health and attraction. I am wondering what that is.

I followed Jessi Kneeland a few years ago after seeing a recommendation on Greatist. Obsessed with HIIT, the fitness-junkie in me rejoiced at finding her, fit as a tennis ball.


In the last year, she switched from being a fitness guru to a body image coach:

“Here are some of the boxes which a modern woman must check in order to be hot. (You’ll notice that many of these are actually “achieved” through effort, skill, time, and money, rather than inborn):
➡️A thin/toned hourglass body
➡️Big perky breasts
➡️Long femme smooth hair
➡️Youthful appearance
➡️Big doe eyes
➡️Kardashian level makeup
➡️Smooth and hairless skin
➡️Well-fitted clothing and high heels
➡️A particular way of moving, speaking and posture.” Source

I think this is a really interesting point: hotness is down to the amount of energy you put into it. My personal experience would be congruent with her ideas.

“Women were taught that our purpose in life was to be desirable enough to “snag” a good partner.”

That is certainly the idea being thrown around by “empowering” publications. I think any woman who was told this and bought it already had issues with her self-respect.

I went through a rebellious phase when I was around 12. Sporting short hair with a touch of pink, I was asked to stay behind after class. The teacher didn’t bring up anything academic. She told me that she does not approve of my image and that women ought to have lovely long hair.

I told her that I don’t subscribe to her standards of what women “ought” and could she please refrain from biting into my after school time unless absolutely necessary.

Being a rebellious teenager seems to be like chicken pox. It’s better to get over it when you are a teenager.

I’m not immune from societal expectations. I do admit to feeling a little ill when seeing some of the casual modelling that goes on on Instagram.

But if I were to feel bad when watching the Oscars for not being a movie star or feel bad when going to a gallery for not being an artist, that would be silly.

It’s best not to confuse societal expectations and your own. But this is where it gets interesting:

“Beauty standards got invented to help women be more competitive in the man-snagging market, and the whole thing escalated endlessly until we all have to look like airbrushed celebrities in order to be “good enough”.

Indeed, what is the point of beauty standards if not to attract a partner?

“I wondered if women who aren’t attracted to men might worry less about looking “hot,” since the whole women-as-beautiful-sex-objects thing was made by and for men, right?”

Basically, she asked LGBT women. As an experiment, this didn’t control for the “looking for a partner” aspect, only for “looking for a male partner”.

“The feedback I got proved this shit has nothing to do with men at all: being gay does *not* seem to offer ANY freedom from the pressures of the male gaze, beauty standards, or insecurities…

It’s not for men. So then what are doing this all for?”

What if we tried to control for “looking for a partner”? Ask married people? Well, they still have to “maintain a parter”, so that’s out.

So why do women do it?

A lot of men do the male equivalent, but it seems that that’s not quite as common.

Is it literally being gullible? These standards are floating out there, so we adapt them with the idea that… That what? It will make us better people? Plug holes in our self-esteem?

Or is it literally just down to being a more attractive partner? But that doesn’t add up because (from what I can tell) a lot of men don’t like women who fulfil the “hotness standards” outlined above.

So, either the purpose of looking hot is to find/maintain a partner, only the method is miscalculated, or there is some other reason. Let’s consider proving your worth as a reason.

Traditionally, men had other ways of proving their worth, e.g. their work. That’s increasingly popular with women. In that case, looks should be less important in today’s society than they were 200 years ago. I have no way whatsoever of testing that.

It’s well known that beautiful people are assumed to be more persuasive, trustworthyintelligent and generally better.

The question then arises: is it worth it?… Cause it is hard work – as Jessi has shown us above.

Curious as to what you think!

UPD: This is a really interesting perspective on gender issues.

26 thoughts on “The ROI of beauty”

  1. “Self Esteem” rises to the top of my understanding of why humans are infatuated with your list of attributes. Acceptance of ones genetic traits isn’t always an easy thing, especially when you are constantly comparing yourself to a fictitious example. Humans come in all shapes and sizes, which in turn determines ones personal persona. “Healthy” is a relative term, accounting for ones genetic composition, lifestyle, personal perspectives. Finding peace within this architecture requires a true self inventory of ones “Self Esteem”


    Liked by 1 person

  2. The more advanced humanity appears to get, the more simian and primitive we remain. Imagine if all the world were blind. So much of our social culture is anchored in vision, (so much of our brain is dedicated to visual pattern matching), living in a blind world would surely mess us all up. Or would it? Ask a blind person what they consider beautiful — what would they say? I suspect beauty to the blind may indeed be more beautiful than all the “hotness” of the world combined.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. The notion of dressing a certain way, or wearing a certain amount of makeup, as a means to landing a partner strikes me as shallow. I’m certainly conscious of my appearance and would never step outdoors looking like a shlub, but I dress for myself and I would volunteer that most of my female friends, gay or straight, do as well. If another woman appreciates the way I adorn myself, that’s terrific. But, for me, it’s about pride in appearance, not date bait. That, quite frankly, has never occurred to me.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. There’s no specific purpose behind it. It’s all about feel for me. Whatever i feel on any given day is what I wear. Some days that might be a red top, other days it’s a black top. Some days it’s a long summer skirt, other days it’s a short skirt and tights. If I feel like wearing boots with heels, that’s what I wear. If I feel like wearing flats, that’s what I wear. If I’m feeling like a Spanish girl, I’ll wear a lace shawl. Whenever I get dressed to step outdoors, I never give a thought to what anyone else might think. If someone makes a favorable comment on my attire, that’s very nice. Compliments are lovely. But as long as I’m satisfied with the way I’m dressed, I’m good to go.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I suppose this all makes sense. I am the same.

        There are people though that spend countless hours putting outfits together. Getting make up that will cover up their imperfections the best possible way. Exercising until they see ridges of muscle. I am wondering what the most common motivation behind that is.


  4. The “concept” of beauty is a socially constructed one, but does have other basis. Because we are a social species who want to be accepted and fit in (a natural need) we are easily persuaded by socially constructed ideas. We’re naturally sheep.

    These things you list are western ideas of beauty. There are many cultures who have different beauty standards. But I do believe physical traits are more or less instinctual as well.

    I can vouch myself that I’m one who sees those who follow beauty standards as unattractive. I’d rather be with someone who loves themselves than someone who loves the idea of being accepted.

    People feel the need to follow beauty standards because they have no confidence to be “themselves”. This is what gets me. When I look at someone who checks all the boxes of beauty, and I see they are trying hard for it, I feel pity for them because they don’t understand beyond the concept. They hate themselves, that’s why they force the change. Sheep.

    It’s even gone as far as when I am attracted to someone for their non-standard beauty (my idea of what is beautiful) and they change over time to fit in with beauty standards (and believe me most people over to adjust themselves to fit in to some extent) my attraction for them decreases. Changing their hair, losing weight, adapting their behaviors, etc..

    I used to be a fitness junkie with a model-like sculpted body myself so I know what it’s like to try to fit in to standards. I did it to look good and for influence.

    It could also be chalked up the the fact that beauty fills the idea that those who work hard to upkeep their appearance are successful and can work hard to get things done. Also a biological need for people to be attracted to large breasts, big child-bearing hips, and “good” genes -smooth elastic skin, few blemishes, energy, etc..

    People are persuaded (or manipulated) to believe that these standards you list are priority focuses. “Do it and you’ll be liked”. They are mostly subjective conceptions. But most don’t realize that there’s much more to just a visual sensory experience.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “I can vouch myself that I’m one who sees those who follow beauty standards as unattractive.” Lucky woman. To me it gives away a personality trait – conformity, but I do still find that a lot of these people are nice to look at 🙂 Like you said, sheep. But, like you also said, being sheep is part of our nature because we’re social animals.

      “They hate themselves, that’s why they force the change”: what do they hate about themselves? Why?

      “I used to be a fitness junkie with a model-like sculpted body myself so I know what it’s like to try to fit in to standards.” My whaling also comes from personal experience. It is hard work! “Do it and you’ll be liked” – the worst thing is that that’s true.

      “biological need to be attracted to energy” – I think this is a part of it. But aren’t there so many other methods of showing energy? Ones that last. Ones that make a difference to other people’s lives? Or is our brain just short-circuiting on this?


      1. Oh don’t get me wrong, eye-candy is definitely pleasing. The visual sense is the dominant sense so we place lots of emphasis on looks. But it’s not particularly the physical attraction I’m mentioning. It’s personality and mindset.

        While there are “naturally beautiful” people, I think the neediness shows up in their personality. Embracing your natural self is important, although it is easier to embrace a more acceptable set of genes.

        It is hard work and requires dedication; people know you can “get shit done”, pardon my use of common phrase.

        I think that people hate that they don’t conform to the “normal” or “expected” standards, that’s what they hate.

        Yes, there are other ways of showing energy (spiritual, personal, etc..) , I was focusing more on physical and mental energy. The energy you can see when you watch someone go about their business. If they’re full of life, they’re more suited to survival and offspring.


      2. Mmmm. Well they could just turn up with baskets of muffins everywhere they go. Or those football moms – they have their shit together, but they lack the appeal of the dolled up types. I think that there is certainly a truth to what you’re saying, but I can’t be certain it explains why women bother dolling themselves up.


      1. I do not believe this is a woman’s issue only…although you may not have explicitly stated that it was. The urge to be attracted to “good looking” people originates from our DNA in order to propagate the species, and the favoritism works its way up into society in the form of better jobs, faster promotions, better treatment in restaurants, etc. ad nauseam. So unless you want to reprogram our very DNA, you’ll be chewing for a long time. The good new is: beauty is still in the eye of the beholder.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. That’s the thing George: our DNA is our DNA.

        But there is a particular kind of beauty, “hotness”, as JK calls it, that’s accomplished mostly through investing yourself into it. Kardashian make up, toned abs and ass that give away that you spend hours every week doing planks and squats, blowdried hair, etc.

        These things come on top of DNA. These are environmental.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great post, Dr. I wish I could contribute but I’m afraid I’m one of those with self-esteem/feelings of inadequacy issue so from when I was small, I felt like the ugly duckling and all my life, I’ve worked on making myself look better, naturally though… if that makes sense. I don’t know how to apply make up so I don’t know how I am fairing with trying to be beautiful. However, I do go for the clothes and the shoes. In one of my stories, I wrote:

    “Without much of a thought, Juliana put on her russet and white Burberry stripe wool sweater and white Banana Republic slim-straight jeans. She absent-mindedly picked her ballet pink Jimmy Choo, her Romy 85, which was her most boring pair of shoes. Brands made her feel good enough. Grabbing her raspberry Michael Kors tote, she headed out of her room to hit the stores at the Grand Canal Shoppes in The Venetian where she was staying.”

    It is sad, I think… I know, but we want to “accept” ourselves for now, no matter how shallow, until we fix out issue properly and we have true self-esteem.

    That’s just for me. I am sure other people make themselves look good for other reasons. What you have written here are not untrue though, considering me and people I know.


    1. I am curious as to what motivates people to do this. Maybe it is a “social construct”, a way to signal your values and your wealth/energy, gain validation in return and thus feel better (i.e.e maintain self-esteem). I like your story… I’ve done that many, many times 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I do believe so… The other “sales pitches” don’t make sense to me… yet. Looking good for me and not for a man, to feel good, yeah, but because I don’t feel I’m good enough. If a woman accepts herself completely, knows she’s good enough, but dresses or puts on make up “according to what feels good to her”, without the dress, shoes and make up, the slender, toned body, the beautifully flowing shiny long hair, etc. does she feel good still? If truly so then it’s great…

        It seems many of us are more similar than different, after all. 🙂 We must just be aware of what we do to us and “work on it”… I suppose.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s