Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
Why O's beauty director likes to set the bar a little lower.
If you hang around models or other people who are far more conventionally beautiful than you (as I often do for my job), or if you're constantly looking at pictures of them (as I frequently am), you might notice (as I occasionally have) that you harbor unfriendly feelings toward your face. "How did my eyes get so small? Where is my perfect little ski-jump nose? And why did my eyebrows never grow back after I plucked them half off in seventh grade?"
The problem with too much looking at others' beauty is that you raise the bar for your own. It's the same sort of trouble you'd invite if you watched only 1930s romantic comedies: After a while you'd think life was meant to be a series of delightful coincidences punctuated by cocktails and droll repartee. Such thinking is called upward comparison, and a recent study at the University of Manchester in England showed that engaging in it regarding your looks results in less satisfaction with your body and unhealthy compensatory behaviors (like eating disorders and cosmetic surgery). Better to engage in comparing downward, the study showed. People who hold themselves up to those they perceive as less attractive are psychologically healthier.
I wasn't aware of this study when I developed my own little trick a few years ago. Sometimes when I feel lousy about my looks (and my usual pep talk about celebrating my assets fails), I picture a face with little piggy eyes, a drooping, fleshy nose, a wet slash of mouth, the whole thing sallow and sagging, really something awful. I prepare myself for this unpleasantness right before I look in the mirror. And then, no matter how bad I thought I looked, what I see is an enormous improvement: Ordinary! Exquisitely ordinary.
For former model Bethann Hardison, rejection was never an option.
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