There are lots of reasons to want to look attractive, and most of them are perfectly healthy and natural. However, some people suffer from a type of beauty-based anxiety that can negatively affect their physical and mental health, and even lead them to pursue cosmetic surgery for the wrong reasons.
University of Buffalo Department of Psychology assistant professor Lora Park, PhD, has been studying appearance-based rejection sensitivity (ARS) for several years. In 2007, she examined the effects that this kind of anxiety, which is characterized by fears and expectations of being rejected because of physical attractiveness, can have on one’s well-being. She found that those with high ARS were more likely to base self-worth on their appearance, have low self-esteem, be highly neurotic, and consider themselves unattractive.
“Both men and women who reported being sensitive to appearance-based rejection were preoccupied with their body and weight in unhealthy ways,” Park explained in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, noting that this personality-processing system can harm physical health as much as mental health. “They avoided eating when they were hungry, exercised compulsively and engaged in binging and purging.” Those with high ARS were also found to compare their attractiveness to others more other than those with low ARS.
In fact, those with high ARS feel “lonely, rejected, unwanted and isolated” when simply listing what they don’t like about their appearance, regardless of what physical features they listed.
Earlier this year, Park teamed with other psychology researchers to examine how appearance-based rejection sensitivity influences an interest in cosmetic procedures. They found that those with higher ARS, when asked to recall either a positive or negative comment that had been made about their appearance in the past, were more likely show greater interest in plastic surgery after writing about a negative comment they received (compared to those with lower ARS).
“Sensitivity to appearance rejection may therefore be a key psychological variable to consider when examining responses to teasing related to appearance, especially with regard to feeling rejected and expressing interest in cosmetic surgery,” Park said in the journal Body Image. This could be especially important information for plastic surgeons to consider when discussing surgery motivations with their patients, who need to understand that cosmetic surgery can enhance their appearance but cannot change their life or change who they are.
Appearance-based sensitivity isn’t untreatable, and Park assures that “a reminder of one’s strengths or close relationships [is] enough to reduce the damaging effects of thinking about negative aspects of one’s appearance.” Self-affirmation and close relationships can be powerful tools in helping people cope with such overwhelming and potentially self-destructive insecurities over their physical appearance.
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