Coming from different aspects of the beauty continuum as we do, we’ve both had a longstanding interest in beauty and the perception of beauty and how they can impact how people feel about themselves and one another. Two of the biggest things to impact teens’ psyches are weight/body issues and acne, so we decided it would be interesting to conduct an image-based study quantifying exactly how acne can alter others’ perception of teens. The study coincided with National Acne Awareness Month, and the results were very interesting.
Working with the American Acne & Rosacea Society (AARS), we asked thousands of teens and adults to offer their first impressions of teens based only on photos of their face. One face was without acne and one had been digitally enhanced with acne. The results showed that teens with acne are more likely than teens without acne to be perceived as shy (39% vs. 27%), nerdy (31% vs. 17%), and lonely (23% vs. 13%). Perhaps not surprisingly, the opposite also proved true: teens without acne were more commonly perceived as self-confident (42% vs. 25%), happy (50% vs. 35%), and leaders vs. followers (49% vs. 29%).
We were expecting the results of the study to show that having acne would be difficult for teens, which it does, but what we both found most distressing was the extent to which acne can really skew the way society perceives teens. We live in a very visual society and based on the survey results, people do make snap judgments about teens with acne. The results illustrate the fact that unfortunately, acne does play a role in how teens are viewed by both their peers and adults. So, what starts as a purely medical condition can have emotional and psychological implications for young people who are often already dealing with social, sexual and cultural chaos.
Our colleague Dr. Diane Berson, Assistant Professor in the Department of Dermatology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a founding board member of AARS said, “What surprised me most about the survey was confirming the length teens will go to improve their acne and what they are willing to sacrifice.” According to the study, if they could have clearer skin, 59% of teens would go cold turkey on Facebook for one year, 30% would give up dating for 12 months, 13% would take their mom or dad to the prom (now that’s a sacrifice), and 11% would be OK with seeing their grade point average drop. That’s testament to the desperation with which teens view acne and its role as a kind of marker of social stigma—a modern-day Scarlet Letter, if you will.
To us, this indicates a strong and urgent need to connect with teens about what acne is and who develops it so that we can bust the myths surrounding it and foster greater self-esteem in those unfortunate enough to develop it. Human beings of any age have a hard enough separating appearance from intelligence and moral character. How much more difficult must it be for youths who are in the process of slowly (and sometimes painfully) discovering who they are and developing own their body image? By teaching teens that acne is a disease, not a verdict, perhaps we can help foster greater understanding and kindness while making one of the obstacles on the path to adulthood a little easier to climb.
We’re creatures of the physical as well as the mental and emotional, and so it’s not surprising that we are hard-wired to find certain qualities attractive based on their implications for passing along our genes. We’ve talked about this at some length in our book. We know that men are drawn to a certain hip-to-waist ratio and to glossy hair because both suggest that a woman is healthy and fertile. We know that women tend to be drawn to size in a man as well as maturity and material wealth because both suggest the ability to protect and nurture offspring. We might not love the idea that our perception of beauty hinges on ancient evolutionary imperatives, and that’s not what we’re suggesting; there is clearly much more to attraction and romance. But initial, visceral attraction is clearly fueled by primal instincts. We’re not really all that far from the veldt and the savannah, after all.
But when matchmaking takes its first tentative steps into basing the art of the hookup on the science of evolutionary biology, some folks get uneasy. We find it fascinating, because anything that casts new light on why we find some people magnetic and irresistible…well, it’s our raison d’etre. In the latest issue of Time, we found a story about a Swiss company called GenePartner that uses genetic matching to help people find that partner who makes their heart go pitter-pat.
The company partners with several matchmaking websites to test the DNA of applicants and matches people based on their genes for creating HLA, or human leukocyte antigens, a key component of the immune system. The idea was sparked by the famous 1995 experiment in which women who were not taking birth control pills (and so were experiencing their normal hormonal levels) preferred the scent of men who had certain genes that were different from their own. Based on the notion that “opposites attract” has a genetic component, GenePartner thinks that people will be attracted to others with different HLA genes than their own, because the couple’s children stand to inherit a more robust immune system and therefore be more resistant to disease. It’s that survival of the fittest thing again.
The company has developed a computer algorithm that matches the lovelorn with ideal potential mates based on HLA profile. This concept is hardly demonstrated conclusively, but it’s certainly interesting. From a scientific perspective, it may not explain attraction but it could certainly shed some light on why some parents have better luck with healthy offspring while others seem to have nothing but health disasters. What about HLA screening to predict the chances of immune disorders like lupus and multiple sclerosis? Dating is peachy, but that seems more important to us.
If nothing else, this technology could save a lot of people the time and trouble of filling out a long questionnaire or writing up a charming profile while trying to locate that one photo where they’re not making a funny face. Just pony up your $99, get your kit, swab your cheek for a tissue sample, mail it to Switzerland and get your very own GenePartner ID. Sweaty t-shirt not included.
This week, the news media has been abuzz with coverage and analysis of Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office. While that’s traditional, we would like to start a new tradition of feting the First Lady after her first 100 days as the nation’s most visible wife and mother. And who better to start with than Michelle Obama? There’s probably never been a woman in a better position to transform the American image of beauty—on the inside and the outside—than the First Lady.
Let’s break it down according to the four stages of the Beauty-Brain Loop, which we introduced in our book, The Beauty Prescription: Inner Beauty, Health, Outer Beauty and Environment…
Inner Beauty: There has never been a first lady in our lifetimes who has been such a powerful person in her own right. Maybe Eleanor Roosevelt was as strong an influence on culture, but she didn’t have Michelle’s style and grace to go along with the strength and resolve. Ms. Obama exudes confidence and a sense of purpose, but it goes beyond that. Perhaps it’s because of her generation: she’s the first First Lady to come of age in the feminist era when it was no longer acceptable for women to smile in the background while their husbands dominated the podium. Were she not Mrs. Barack Obama, Michelle would still be arresting and no doubt leave a big mark on the world.
But as the wife of the president, she has done more to show her Inner Beauty. She has somehow managed to strike the perfect balance between the brilliant lawyer, the career woman driven to bring positive change to the country, and the wife and mother trying to help her family get through the impossible transition into the White House as easily as possible. As her husband was entering the Oval Office, her focus shifted to her daughters: getting them set up in school, getting them a dog, making sure they had time with their father every day at the breakfast table and doing homework. She was a mother and wife first, a First Lady second. Perhaps that’s why, according to America Online, her approval ratings are higher than the president’s. She knows what matters most to her and gives her joy: her family. That’s where her attention goes. She has already declared that much of her attention will go to helping American families—especially military families. Part of her Inner Beauty is knowing who she is, what she is and what in important to her and apologizing for none of it.
Health: One of the first projects Michelle took on was to plant a “kitchen garden” on the White House lawn with the aid of some DC schoolchildren. She said that its purpose, other than to give her family fresh vegetables to eat, was to promote healthy eating and home gardening. Can you imagine Laura Bush or Hillary Clinton down in the dirt planting carrots? Neither can we. The insistence on being her own person, despite what protocol or tradition might dictate, is as much a part of Michelle’s Inner Beauty as her dedication to Health. And after all, her husband is pretty much shattering tradition as the first African-American president.
The First Lady, because she tends to focus on “soft” issues such as school and healthcare, can have a huge impact on these vital areas of our country. It’s great to see Ms. Obama already working on spreading the gospel of health and living a healthy, balanced lifestyle in what can be the world’s most stressful environment.
Outer Beauty: This is the most obvious difference in Michelle versus past First Ladies. She’s not dainty. She’s bold and beautiful. She’s got curves and she’s not afraid to show them. She’s also got biceps and she’s not afraid to display them, either. And of course, she’s African-American. She is already setting a new beauty standard for black women in this country, a standard that implicity says you can be feminine and stylish but still strong, forceful and proud of your heritage.
Certainly, Michelle has set the fashion world on its ear with her bold style, starting with the still-talked about dress she wore on election night. She’s no wallflower, no Jackie O with pillbox hats. The first Michelle Obama fashion book is about to hit bookstores, and she’s all over the covers of major magazines from Vogue and Ebony to Essence and People. But it’s not just her striking looks or sense of bold style that makes her so magnetic, we think. It’s also that she’s so grounded, so clearly happy. Half of her magazine covers are shots with her family, and she clearly loves being a wife and mother. That makes her gorgeous. There are plenty of women in the world who are more physically stunning than Michelle Obama; there are few if any in the public eye who seem so radiantly happy, balanced and confident in their looks and their lives.
That said, she’s also making it more than OK to be a statuesque, curvaceous, toned, strong-boned lady. She’s taking back some of the territory claimed in recent years by the underfed, size zero waif, and that’s just fine by us.
Environment: What could say more about Michelle’s effect on the Environment than the fact that she still has date nights with her husband, even if they are in Prague? The world’s most powerful man and his wife still find time to snuggle over a romantic bottle of wine? OK, it’s a little less romantic when you add all the Secret Service agents, but that’s not the point. The point is, it sends a message: if the president and First Lady can find time in their schedules for some alone time, can’t the rest of us turn off the TV, quit Twittering and sit down over candlelight with the ones we love?
Michelle Obama seems determined to use her place as an icon for women and African-Americans to make the world a better place. Whether that comes as a result of her total devotion to her family, her dedication to healthful living, her style, her work with families or some other project, she is sending a powerful message to the world through her example: no one can define you but you. It’s an incredibly positive message for self-esteem. During the campaign and after, political pundits have tried to define her as an angry black woman, an America hater, someone who defied protocol and so on. Michelle hasn’t cared, and she hasn’t apologized. She has nothing to apologize for, because no woman should ever apologize for takign on the role and following the path that fills her life with love, purpose and joy.
You go, Michelle. We give you an A+ for your first 100 days as one of the defining new icons of beauty. We can’t wait to see what the next three-and-three-quarters (and maybe more) years will bring.
A few weeks back, we blogged about a new reality show, “True Beauty,” premiering this year on ABC. Supposedly, the show would feature the usual collection of contestants who, while they thought they were being judged on their external good looks, were actually being judged on their “inner beauty.” Well, we’ve seen the premiere episode and it wasn’t exactly what we were hoping for. We applaud the producers, including Tyra Banks, for bringing the issue of inner beauty to the fore, but we had something different in mind. And since we try to be positive on this blog, we’re going to offer our constructive criticisms on how “True Beauty” could become a truer test of bona fide Inner Beauty.
Make the setting more natural. Right now, the show’s setup is pretty typical: take a bunch of people, stick them in a house, and let personal conflict erupt. Instead, we’d love to see the show be more natural and unforced. Follow the contestants around in their personal lives with hidden cameras and audio to see how they interact with others. Inner beauty is about self-esteem and seeing the beauty in other people and the world around you. Do the contestants treat themselves well or engage in damaging self-talk? Do they treat others with compassion and respect? Do they maintain a positive frame of mind? Those are questions you can’t answer in an artificial setting.
Expand the palette of people. This might not be able to happen until next season, but we’d love to see people who aren’t all great looking be on the show. The contestants right now are all varying degrees of gorgeous, and that doesn’t reflect reality. It sends the message that inner beauty only matters if you also have outer beauty, and that’s not a healthy message to send. Add a plus-sized woman, a geekier guy and maybe even a disabled man or woman to the cast next year and we think viewers will relate much better.
Take more time. The first contestant was expelled from the program after one week and after one not-so-beautiful act (failing to hold a door for someone). Even though it follows the the “Survivor” format of “knock ‘em down one at a time,” that doesn’t seem fair. Inner beauty is a matter of thoughts, attitudes and actions over a long period, not one isolated incident. Heck, even the most inwardly gorgeous of us is inconsiderate or mean-spirited from time to time. Again, we know this violates the “who’s going to be booted next” ethos of reality TV, but it would give each person a fairer shake.
We’re not TV producers, and we haven’t thought these ideas through completely, but we think that in general the result would be a “True Beauty” that was more true to its name: a test of the genuine inner beauty of a group of people. It would also send a more positive message to the audience: that real inner beauty is its own reward, even if you don’t win a spot on People’s Most Beautiful list.
Bettie Page, the “pinup queen” of the 1950 and 1960s, died on December 11 at the age of 85. In case you’re not old enough to remember (or weren’t an adolescent boy in the Baby Boom years), Ms. Page was the well-built, scantily clad dream girl of thousands of posters, photos and short films. In an era when overt female sexuality was just becoming something other than lurid and shocking, Ms. Page unashamedly celebrated her curvy form. High art she wasn’t; the sensibility of most of the work that featured her winking image was more in the pulp genre, kissing cousins to the “naughty girl, hard-boiled detective” dime novels of the day. But she became something of an obsession to millions of young men.
But in her totality, was Bettie Page good for women? We could make a convincing argument that she did nothing but support a stereotype of women by posing in settings that were pure cheesecake: wearing a leopard skin swimsuit with two cheetahs, or posing with a black man in face paint and carrying a spear. Hardly the stuff of feminist dreams. But at the same time, a famous series of photos shows Page on the beach in a beautiful, informal style, often completely nude yet completely unashamed of her beauty and sexuality. In many of these photos, she’s absolutely childlike, like a toddler playing nude at the beach because, well, who needs a swimsuit anyway?
It’s these pictures that remind us, as we dwell on the constant meaning of beauty, that even though it’s easy to dismiss Bettie Page as a symbol of the objectification of women, she was also a symbol of the liberation of women’s sexuality. Remember, much of her most famous work was done at a time when it really wasn’t OK for a woman to be overtly sexual. If she did, and she wasn’t ashamed, then she was a harlot. Bettie Page didn’t care what anyone thought of her; she took joy in being a lusty person without a hint of apology. That’s what made people cherish her. If she hadn’t had that innocence and delight, she would have been just another nude woman.
In the end, we think Bettie Page was good for women. She reminded us that even as we work hard to be seen as more than our physical beauty, it’s OK to flaunt what we’ve got from time to time…and enjoy it.
It’s been obvious for many years that the U.S. has become a deeply diverse nation. The election of Barack Obama was, to us, final proof of the fact that we’re getting to the point where we can see a non-white face not only as beautiful but trustworthy, intelligent and wise. That’s a huge step, and here’s another: a company called Thevi Cosmetics is debuting lines of beauty products designed specifically for women from different ethnic groups. Companies have been marketing specialty lines of foundation, eye shadow, lipstick and other prodcuts to African-American women for years, but now this company is targeting the estimated 44 million women in the U.S. of Latino, Asian, South Asian, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern descent.
This is a fantastic development. As we talk about in The Beauty Prescription and this blog, not all colors are for every woman. Color palettes are based on skin tone, eye color and hair color, and women from different ethnic backgrounds have exotic combinations of these elements that demand attention. Well, they’re getting it. Thevi and other companies are using color science to develop new palettes based on undertones like red-brown, red-gold, olive and golden. The reason this is so important goes far beyond giving women from Pakistan, Greece, Syria, Sri Lanka or Brazil the ability to accent their most beautiful features. That’s important, of course, but the real benefit goes deeper.
Essentially, by opening our eyes to wider world of cosmetics, companies like these are saying to women of different non-Caucasian ethnicities, “Yes, you are beautiful, too!” By acknowledging these women, they are contributing to the inner beauty of all ethnic women. Part of inner beauty is seeing beauty in others and knowing that others see beauty in you. In this context, ethnocentric beauty products become tools of recognition and empowerment. That may seem like quite a burden to place on lip liner, but hey, it’s not easy changing the world.
You may recall, a few weeks back, a political uproar over a certain “lipstick on a pig” comment. We’re not going to go into the political side of things because, frankly, that’s not what we’re about. Instead, we want to talk about the power of lipstick. This blend of many different kinds of oils—including a great deal of castor oil (one more good reason not to eat your lipstick)—along with pigments and moisturizers, vitamin E, aloe vera, collagen, amino acids, and sunscreen has its origins in ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt. Women would decorate their lips with either crushed precious stones or (yuck) the red color from the crushed shells of carmine beetles and red ants. Later, in the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I popularized the more recognizable form of lipstick, made in those days from animal tallow.
But it’s not the natural or social history of lipstick that interests us. It’s the effect. Why is lipstick above all other facial adornments associated with feminity and sex appeal? Why do we feel more attractive when we have shiny, deeply colored lips? In part, it’s because of the nature of how we perceive beauty. The smile is the banner of beauty, the only part of the face that’s constantly changing from moment to moment. We begin an encounter with someone by looking at their eyes, but the smile quickly takes over from there. The lips are the exquisite frame for teeth, laughter, and speech. The more alluring and sensual that frame, the more attracted people are to the face around it and the person that lies behind it.
Lipstick has power because it’s the most vibrant color on the face, pulling our attention to the mouth. When it’s richly colored and glossy, it stimulates the hard-wired male attraction to beauty. Evolution has designed men to be drawn to vivid color and shine in hair and skin because in ancient times they were signs of health, youth and fertility. So when you put on that deep ruby shade, you’re speaking in a sexual lingua franca that goes back thousands of years.
And because color also carries subtle messages about personality, you’re also broadcasting something about who you are. What does your lipstick color say about you? We’ll tell you:
Deep red—This one doesn’t take much figuring out. Red is the color of sexuality, passion and intense emotion. It’s no accident that red is the color of the power suit or power tie, and that red roses represent romance.
Pink—Pink (as well as coral, salmon, and fuschia) is a softer color that represents femininity, girlishness, or playfulness. It’s better suited for a casual affair than a formal dinner or social event, though if a pink shade works for your coloring, always go with what makes you look ravishing.
Purple—Purple seems bold and exotic, and indeed it can work best for women with dramatic coloring, but there’s no reason any woman can’t make it work for her. Purple suggests sophistication, regal bearing, and an independent spirit.
Yellow—Yellow? Not so fast. Yellow family colors include amber and orange, which are certainly colors you can try. In general, this family of colors speaks of energy, caution, warmth, cheer and friendliness.
Brown—Whether you’re talking about a russet or a leather hue, brown is the color of melanin, the body’s natural pigment, and so brown shades suggest a natural, earthy quality.
As makeup guru Bobbi Brown says, never choose a lipstick shade based on your skin or hair color. Base your choice on the natural color of your lips. Of course, there’s a lot more to this topic, from SPF protection to lip liners and glosses to the many variations within each color family based on the minerals the color was made with, and so on. If you really want to dig into the topic, we suggest talking with a professional, certified makeup artist. Then let the color of your lips do the talking.