How to help someone with poor body image

How To Help a Friend Struggling With Body Image - Office of Health Advancement

Posted by Natalee Wheeler on March 26, 2020

“I just look so ugly in this! I can’t believe how fat I am! I just wish I looked more muscular.” Sound familiar? Maybe you’ve heard a friend say this a time or two, or maybe you’ve said it to yourself. Body image is something we can all struggle with throughout our lives. It can also be hard for us to see our friends and loved ones struggling with body image. We may love and appreciate them for the humor, brightness, generosity, and kindness they bring to the world, but they may be blinded by negative body image and unable to see past the image that they see in the mirror.

So, what can you do to help a friend who may be struggling with their body image? Here are a few tips to get started!

1. Compliment them on something not related to their body.

Remind your friend how much you love and care for them based on other things. Maybe they make you laugh really hard, are generous and give selflessly, or are excellent at listening to people. Focusing on their personality reminds your friend that they are more than their appearance.

2. Ask them about other things going on in their life

Maybe your friend is going through a bad breakup, hard times with family members, or struggling with some larger mental health issues. Being there to support your friend and listen to them is important because it helps them feel validated and less lonely.

3. Reframe and challenge negative thoughts

If a friend is saying negative things about their body or the desire to achieve a certain look, ask them why they feel that way. If they say they’ve been spending 2 hours at the gym everyday, ask them why they want to work out so much. Helping them recognize when they are being negative towards their body can help them understand that how they feel about their appearance doesn’t determine their worth as a human being.

4. Follow encouraging and positive social media

It can be such a downer to see “perfect” photoshopped insta-fit models all over the place. If you find yourself or friends becoming sad or upset due to social media that you follow, unfollow them and seek out positive accounts instead. Check out our blog’s body positive social media accounts post!

5. Practice self care together

Going to the movies together, taking a hike in the mountains, grabbing a cup of coffee, checking out a new band, or trying the new restaurant in town can be a good way to take the focus off of how your friend may feel about their body.

6. Listen non-judgementally

Sometimes your friend may feel like they look absolutely terrible, and its okay for them to express that to you. It isn’t realistic to feel 100% confident in our bodies at all times. But, if your friend is struggling more often than not, they probably need a solid support system. Pratice active listening skills and refrain from giving them unsolicited advice or saying things like, “well, I think you’re gorgeous”. This might invalidate people’s feelings or emotions. Learn more about active listening and empathy here:

7. Know your resources

Maybe your friend needs help from a professional. Did you know that we have a nutritionist and wellness coach available at the Office of Health Advancement? At MSU, we also have Counseling and Psychological Services that can help students and get them free counseling for mental health concerns.


Get together with your friend and create a list of people that you both admire: people who have contributed to your life, your community, or the world. Consider whether their appearance was important to their success and accomplishments.


Listen non-judgmentally. Sometimes your friend may feel like they look horrible, and they may just need you to listen to them. If they are open to it, help them challenge negative body thoughts. Every time your friend says something negative regarding their body, try to reframe it into a positive or encouraging statement. For example: If your friend says “I look like crap right now!,” then you could say, “Maybe you don’t love the way you look right now, and that’s okay, but you mean so much more to me because of what a great friend you are!”

All You Need To Support Someone With Body Image Issues

We can’t magically grant body peace to those we care about, but we can help them build self-acceptance, by encouraging them: “come as you are!“

The idea of body image is tightly wound within, but also extends beyond, eating disorders. Our body image affects everything from the clothes we buy to the food we eat. Issues with body image can even impact our sociability and mood. 

Without even knowing you, we know that you are worth much more than whatever shows on the outside.

Reaching out to help someone with body image issues can be challenging. Those with body image issues, or any struggle, may be sensitive or have a hard time acknowledging their challenge. So patience, mindfulness, and kindness are all important aspects of helping someone who is struggling.

Learn to recognize when someone is struggling with their body image, what it feels like to them, and helpful ways you can support them, below.

(click to be taken to a section, or read through!)

  • Signs of Body Image Issues
  • Triggering Topics
  • Things You Can Say To Help
  • Things You Can Do To Help
  • Things Not To Do
  • What It Feels Like To Struggle With Body Image
  • Celebrity Spotlight
  • Body Positive Songs

Recognize signs and triggers

You may want to help a friend, but it can be hard to tell whether someone is actually struggling in the first place.

Anyone can struggle with their body image, whether they’re a man or woman (or non-identifying), whether curvy or slender, whether athletic or sedentary.

If we want to show support, it’s important to recognize some common signs of body image issues — so we don’t make assumptions based on preconceived notions.

Some common signs of body image issues

How do we recognize body image issues? What sorts of triggers should we, as supporters, be mindful of?

Here are some hints that someone you care about may be struggling with their body image:

  1. Showing reluctance to eat or expressing guilt when eating
  2. Withdrawing from social situations, whether it’s meals or regular get-togethers
  3. Counting calories
  4. Using substances that are known to help one lose weight, such as diet pills, excessive amounts of caffeine, or cigarettes
  5. Periods of restricting food or eating large amounts at once
  6. Trying to hide when or what they’ve eaten
  7. Constantly weighing or measuring themselves
  8. Wearing baggy clothing to hide their appearance
  9. Constant self -deprecation about their attractiveness
  10. Frequently commenting on others’ bodies (positively or negatively)

Potentially triggering topics

And here are some topics, phrases, and settings that may feel triggering to someone concerned about their physical appearance: 

  1. Going out to eat
  2. Shopping for clothes or trying on clothes
  3. “Maybe something else would be less fattening.
  4. Fat talk or fat shaming about yourself or others
  5. Personal tips on dieting or watching weight
  6. “You’re so skinny, you should eat more.”
  7. Family gatherings that involve eating around others, such as Thanksgiving
  8. “You look great, stop worrying.”
  9. “You look unhealthy/sick.”
  10.  “You look great what diet/exercise are you on?”
First person perspective on body image struggles – UC Berkeley students.

What you can say to help:

“There is never a need to apologize for your body.”

“Could you say that again, but in a way that values your body more?” (when they speak negatively about their body)

“You don’t have to put more demands on your body. It’s the only one you’ve got.”

“If someone thinks you’re not good enough because of how they perceive your appearance, they don’t understand how life works.”

“I am friends with you for who you are, not for how you look.”

“I love you so much and think you are amazing if you’re 80 or 800 pounds. ❤️”

How else can I help someone with body image issues?

It’s understandable that you’re concerned and want to help someone you care about. But sometimes a direct conversation is a hard place to start!

Below are some common ways to show support, without putting your friend on-the-spot — and a list of behaviors that can do more harm than good.

7 ways to support someone with body image issues

1. Show support with meals

A friend or family member struggling with body image issues may feel uncomfortable eating, especially in public. Make sure to be understanding and kind during meal times or around food.

2. Show support outside of meals

Withdrawal from social events is a common byproduct of body image issues. Make sure you don’t leave your friend out and that they know they’re still wanted at hangouts.

3. Be patient and actively listen

It’s dangerous to assume that you know exactly what they’re going through. If they feel open to talking, make sure you listen and stay patient – remind them you’ll be here through their body acceptance journey.

4. Understand their boundaries

Part of helping is knowing how comfortable they are with you helping. There may be denial or resistance, and you should respect the boundaries they set.

5. Ask what they need

The best way to help someone is to ask what they feel they need first. When you understand what they want help with, you’re better equipped to support them.

6. Be encouraging and build them up

It’s easy to become discouraged when you’re battling body image issues. Acknowledging that you see their efforts is important – as well as reminding them that you love them no matter what they look like.

However, the most important thing you can do, is make them feel valued for things unrelated to their physical appearance. Compliments on non-physical attributes go a long way to take the focus off their body entirely!

7. Encourage them to talk to someone

Remind them that they don’t have to talk to you, but that it can really help to talk to someone. If they don’t feel comfortable talking in person, there are anonymous places to talk online, where people are trained to help rather than make someone with body image issues feel worse.

5 things not to do

1. Don’t force them to eat or exercise

You can’t force someone to engage in behaviors you think are best for them. Making them eat or exercise when they don’t feel ready will do more harm than good. And even if they don’t comply, the pressure may add to existing feelings of shame and paralysis.

2. Don’t pressure them to be confident

Simply stating that they’re beautiful or that they have nothing to worry about won’t magically make them believe it. They may even worry that their concerns are annoying you — and that you may just be placating them with your reassurances. Be mindful in your compliments, and genuinely affirming rather than smothering.

3. Don’t make ultimatums

If this person is benefitting from your support, don’t threaten to leave if they don’t get better. This may make them feel abandoned and frightened, as it’s not their choice to have body image struggles to begin with.

4. Don’t ignore the issue

Body image issues are different for different people. You may not be equipped to support your friend, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore what’s going on. Remind your friend you love them no matter how they look or what they’re going through – and do encourage them to seek help if they feel they need it.

5. Don’t blame them

This isn’t their fault, and most of the time they know that they’re struggling with something. Don’t guilt trip them or blame them for what’s going on. Nobody chooses to have an eating disorder or to hate their body. It may even help to reassure them of that.

If talking is too hard, you can still be supportive

If some of these ways to help seem overwhelming, here are some songs and people that promote body acceptance – just sharing them with a friend can show that you understand and want to help. And it may help your friend to see that their struggle is relatable to so many others.

Can’t find the words to help? Try sending a body-positive banger!

Music is a non-threatening venue to try on and accept new attitudes and emotions. Someone struggling to love themselves may find it easier when singing along to a body-positive song.

You might get a boost from singing along, too!


“Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Don’t say it cuz I know I’m cute.”

“I’m like Chardonnay, get better over time.”

“No, I’m not a snack at all, Look baby, I’m the whole damn meal”

Lose Control,
Missy Elliot

“I got a cute face, chubby waist, thick legs, in shape… make you do a double take.”

Coconut Oil,

“I thought I needed to run, and find somebody to love, but all I needed was some coconut oil.”

“Don’t worry about the small things, I know I can do all things.”

All About That Bass,
Meghan Trainor
Just The Way You Are,
Bruno Mars
I’m Coming Out,
Diana Ross
Me Too,
Meghan Trainor

“If I was you, I’d wanna be me, too.

Just Fine,
Mary J. Blige

“So I like what I see when I’m lookin’ at me, When I’m walkin’ past the mirror.”

“Got my head on straight, I got my vibe right, I ain’t gonna let you kill it. I won’t change my life, my life’s just fine.”

Celebrities struggle with body image, too!

Case in point: Jameela Jamil

If you care about someone struggling to accept themselves, try reminding them of all the celebrities who also fight for body peace. It helps to see how many normal and even successful people go through this!

One such person is Jameela Jamil, star of The Good Place, and body acceptance warrior!

Jameela has called out celebrities who endorse fad diet products, advocated to end photoshopping, and even opened up about her own struggles with body image.

As a survivor of an eating disorder, as well as chronic health problems, she uses her platform to advocate for a healthier and more positive view of body image — one in which we don’t focus on each others’ bodies at all.

In that vein, one of the most recent movements Jameela started is the “I Weigh” Instagram account, which encourages women to weigh themselves by their self worth, rather than a number on a scale.

She says she was “fucking tired of seeing women just ignore what’s amazing about them and their lives and their achievements, just because they don’t have a bloody thigh gap.”

The instagram account has become increasingly popular. It now has more than 249,000 followers and features more than 2,000 user-submitted posts from women.

“The concept of plus-size is so derogatory and weird. What does that mean? Plus the normal size? It shouldn’t exist anymore.” And she’s right – why are we talking about each others’ sizes in the first place?

What it feels like to struggle with body Image

Below, we’ve included some first-person perspectives on what it feels like to have an eating disorder, body dysmorphia, or just plain struggle to accept your body as it is.

From Sarah Girard, a former student athlete who shares her experience at Swarthmore College. She points out things we accept as normal, but which hurt those struggling to accept their bodies:

excerpted from Sarah’s detailed and eye-opening account, here

From a mom’s perspective, about making progress for her daughter’s sake:

via (Supportiv note: this goes for men and non-binary folx as well!)

Body positivity is for everyone

Some people don’t worry as much about their bodies if they haven’t experienced judgement for their appearance, but body acceptance is important for everyone – man, woman, nonbinary, cis, trans, child, adult, etc.

For instance, society has certain expectations for men’s bodies, too, and that can make body positivity difficult!

Everyone can use a little more body acceptance in our world today — or better yet, people shouldn’t be judged on their physical appearance at all.

Without even knowing you, we know that you are worth much more than whatever shows on the outside.

To talk about body image issues, get some support, or just meet people who get it, hit Chat Now to join an anonymous peer support chat.

Written By: Angie Won February 23, 2020

What is dysmorphophobia and is it possible to fight it? notice. Afisha Daily spoke with a woman with body dysmorphic disorder, as well as with a psychiatrist and psychologist, about the borderline between self-dissatisfaction and mental illness.


28 years old

I had problems with the perception of appearance at the age of eleven. I wanted to adorn myself, dress up in fashionable clothes, but my mother did not spoil me with fashionable things and forbade me to put on makeup. It was a tragedy because I couldn't even hide my pimples. It seems to me that if at that age I had learned to love myself, there would be no dysmorphophobia.

At school, I realized that I was dumb. Classmates did not let me forget that my nose is like that of Baba Yaga, and my legs are crooked and short. For the rest of my life, I remember the situation when we played "weak", where you had to complete a task or get a kick, and the phrase sounded that it's better to get a kick than to kiss me. Since then, I began to increasingly look for flaws in myself and find them. nine0003

I started going to a psychotherapist when I was a teenager, but because of my age I didn't take treatment seriously. My mother also took me to medical hypnosis: there they calmed us down with a speech, and then whispered some kind of suggestion about loving yourself into each ear. I never slept there and mostly thought about myself. As an adult, I again began to go to a psychotherapist, to whom my mother also sent me. Then depression and social phobia were added to dysmorphophobia. The doctor said some banal things about how we are all beautiful and we need to love ourselves, and once said that I have an iconic face. Now I continue treatment with a psychotherapist: I drink sedatives, antidepressants, neuroleptics - mainly so as not to be nervous and not take everything to heart. nine0003

I can't talk about my ideal of beauty - it causes great mental pain, I get angry. My sore spots are my whole face, as well as my eyes, chin, nose, short crooked legs. I didn’t do plastic surgery, because it seems to me that this is a betrayal of my parents: I’m very afraid of offending my mother, because everything that doesn’t suit me in appearance came from her.

Sometimes I may cry in the street because I am ugly, when a woman "must be beautiful." It is very painful to meet this message in films or literature. Now I cry less often, but before I could not listen to romantic music, read poetry, because they were written for beautiful people. The word "beauty" for me is a trigger (a word or an event that makes a person experience psychological trauma. - Note ed. ).

I constantly convinced myself that I was a slim blonde, I imagined myself to be her. It seemed that life was easier for them, and I would never become like that. At some point, I became addicted to mirrors: I had to look every second to see if everything was in order with my appearance. I don't use webcams and I can't stand uninvited guests - I'm afraid that someone will see me at the wrong time.

Dysmorphophobia brought me to misandry. I was very angry with men, because it was because of their greed and lust that terrible standards of beauty arose, because of which I feel ugly. Everything would not be so tragic if it were not shouted from behind every corner that a woman must be attractive "meat". nine0003

I love kind words, even if it's outright flattery - it means that you are somehow important to the person. I feel better from simple compliments, and criticism always hurts. Once I met a young man, and on the first date he gave me a "compliment": he said that I had a nice smile, despite my ugly face. It was a low blow, especially since it was said at the moment when I almost stopped considering myself a freak. After this incident, I began to have reactive depression (formed as a response to the experienced situation. — Note ed. ). Then there were thoughts about suicide as the only way out. And at that moment I decided never to have children, so as not to spread "ugly genes. "

Now it is much easier for me, because I have a beloved man. He never made me remarks about my appearance. He always says that I am beautiful. It is very important for me. I continue to carefully monitor myself: it would be easier to score, but I can't. I also stopped being afraid to have children, and if I have a child, I will do everything to make him feel in the first place. I realized on my own - only love heals. nine0003

In modern terms, body dysmorphic disorder is an excessive preoccupation with one or more subtle physical defects. The disorder is usually accompanied by stereotypical behavior (actions that are regularly repeated regardless of the context. - Approx. ed. ): people look at themselves in the mirror, take care of themselves excessively, pay close attention to certain parts of the body, compulsively compare themselves with those around them, constantly looking for confirmation that they have a flaw. A person suffering from dysmorphophobia is always sure that he has some kind of defect. nine0003

According to epidemiological studies, the prevalence of the disease in society ranges from 1.7 to 2.4%. Obvious symptoms usually appear at the age of 13–20 years and are observed with the same frequency in men and women.

If men are characterized by concern about insufficient muscle mass, then women are more likely to pay increased attention to minor skin defects and certain parts of the body (the shape of the lips, eyebrows, nose, anatomical features of the hips, abdomen, legs, and so on). nine0003

Adolescents are primarily at risk, since it is at this age that an active process of self-identification begins. Through appearance, a teenager becomes aware of himself, answers the question "What am I", identifies with a social group that is significant for him. And it is appearance that becomes the basis for painful fixation and increased sensitivity to oneself and one's experiences. Also at risk are people for whom appearance is professionally significant: for example, photo models, TV presenters and all those for whom problems with appearance can become a serious obstacle to achieving professional and personal self-realization. nine0003

It is important to understand that the identified defects or shortcomings are imaginary, imperceptible to others. According to one of the hypotheses, the appearance of the disease is associated with a violation of the global perception mechanism - in other words, a person perceives only individual details, since the ability to see objects as a whole suffers.

There is a big difference between the usual complexes, psychological trauma, obsessions and body dysmorphic disorder. Preoccupation with acne, overweight, or obvious physical handicaps during adolescence are common pubertal problems that are not manifestations of a disease state. Sometimes people who lack attention behave the same way. This feature refers to personality traits and is not a manifestation of pathology. nine0003

We can speak of a disorder when a defect becomes so problematic for a person that it changes his whole life. Behavior, everyday habits, thoughts begin to revolve around this topic. That is, there is a painful fixation, a “stuck”, from which it is no longer possible to get out on your own.

The traditional answer to the question "When is it time to see a doctor?" - the sooner the better. However, in reality, this principle is difficult to implement. If something similar happens to one of your relatives, you need to draw his attention to the situation, advise him to consult a psychotherapist or psychiatrist. We can definitely say that if the symptoms of dysmorphophobia distort everyday life (for example, a person stops leaving the house, withdraws into himself, and so on), this is a serious sign that suggests that you need to contact a specialist as soon as possible. nine0003

Treatment for body dysmorphic disorder is usually lengthy and can take months. It includes both medication and psychotherapeutic methods of correction. The first line of therapy, regardless of the severity of disorders, are antidepressants from the group of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Of the psychotherapeutic methods, the methods of cognitive-behavioral and existential-analytical psychotherapy are most widely used.

Dysmorphophobia, that is, the fear of the unattractiveness of one's body, is arranged as follows: a person sees some part of his body as ugly, deformed and strives to correct the defect. The lack may not exist at all, but all thoughts are focused around it. The problem develops more often when two circumstances coincide: external and internal. nine0003

External circumstances include widely advertised standards of beauty, and internal circumstances are associated with the emergence of an obsession in a person: a person sees some kind of defect in himself, starts thinking about it, thereby supporting him. He is no longer able to distract himself from this shortcoming, so it becomes obvious not only to the sufferer himself, but also to those around him. For example, a girl who believed that she had an ugly eye shape wore glasses with dark lenses both in sunny and bad weather, thereby drawing attention to her eyes. nine0003

Dysmorphophobia can be part of anorexia, when a person seems to have some part of his body fat - for example, cheeks or thighs. A person begins to limit himself in food, but this does not help to lose weight exactly where you want. Then it begins to seem to a person that he is not losing weight well enough, so he begins to restrict himself in food even more. In this case, the disorder can even lead to death.

The line between a critical attitude towards oneself and dysmorphophobia is easy to understand. If an attempt to correct the lack of appearance led to success and the person was satisfied with his appearance, then he had a critical attitude. But if, for example, after a nose correction, a person discovers an irregular shape of the ears, this is a signal that the correction of one defect will entail the discovery of new ones. nine0003

In relations with others, a person suffering from body dysmorphic disorder develops a distance. It seems to him that everyone looks only at his shortcoming, they see only his defect.

If a person close to you starts complaining about his appearance to others, the best thing you can do for him at the first stage is to agree that there is a flaw. You can also offer to talk about it strictly at a certain time, no more than half an hour a day. When your relative complains, listen silently. At the end, you can say: "I'm sorry that all this is happening to you." Of course, it is necessary to offer to seek psychological help. nineOl000 you to understand the events.

Image copyright Getty

The features of one's own face can greatly help or hinder a person - and it's not just about attractiveness. People around you usually unconsciously evaluate your appearance according to criteria that you did not even think about, correspondent warns BBC Future .

Imagine that you have a non-identical twin. You got the same upbringing, have the same IQ, the same education, the same hobbies. You are equally sociable, adventurous, interesting. Go to the same sports club for sports, like to eat the same dishes.

Spiritually and intellectually, you are doubles. There is only one difference: your faces. Let's say one of you has semi-childish features with wide eyes. And the other has sharp cheekbones and a more brutal (in some ways even slightly Neanderthal) forehead. nine0003

How will your lives develop over the years? Will you follow the same path, or will small differences in appearance force you to take different paths?

The latter is true. Just by throwing one glance at you, others immediately draw conclusions about your abilities and whether you can be trusted; decide whether you are a leader or a performer. And these biases can influence the most important events in your life, determining everything from your circle of friends to your bank account balance.

(More articles from BBC Future in Russian)

"We like to think we make decisions rationally, but in fact we are often influenced by rather superficial signals," says Christopher Olivola of Carnegie Mellon University. "And in this sense, appearance - absolutely superficial, but very important factor. "

Until now, the tendency to evaluate a person by his appearance ("hypocrisy", as Olivola and his colleagues call it) was taken for granted. But the more scientists understand the impact this has on our lives, the more they begin to wonder if "hypocrisy" should not be considered a harmful prejudice that needs to be fought. nine0003

Physical attractiveness can be considered its main component, especially considering how closely we follow the adventures of celebrities. Back in the 1990s, economist Daniel Hamermesh found that beautiful people can earn 10-12% more than their average-looking counterparts, a trend that can be seen across careers ranging from American football to law and even economics.

Image copyright Getty

Image caption,

Even the smallest differences in appearance can send twins on different paths in life

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"A nasty discovery," says Hamermesh now, a couple of decades later. True, he found at least one exception to the rule - a pretty appearance is not very useful for people who trade in armed robbery. "If a robber can intimidate you to give you money, then he does not have to resort to physical violence," he notes. nine0003

As we have already mentioned, beauty does not always help law-abiding people either: an attractive woman, for example, can be flunked at an interview, believing that her appearance can interfere with her professional activities.

Anyway, we sometimes give too much importance to beauty, forgetting about other forms of "facial discrimination". Alexander Todorov, a colleague of Olivola at Princeton University, set up a curious experiment 10 years ago: he asked subjects to look at photographs of American politicians running for congress and the Senate (given only one second for each photo), and then rate on a numerical scale how they looked like suitable candidates. Even after taking into account other factors, such as age and attractiveness, it turned out that a second of thinking allowed the participants in the experiment to guess the winning candidate 70% of the time. nine0003

A similar result was obtained by later studies, during which they studied how facial features affect the success of the owner (without attractiveness). It turned out that the more powerful a person looks, the more chances he has to get to the post of head of the company - and earn more money at the same time. The scientists also asked the subjects to evaluate the faces of cadets of military schools for authority - and it turned out that subsequently the career went faster for those cadets who received high marks in this experience. nine0003

Image copyright Getty

Image caption

Has your appearance ever let you down?

It is also widely believed that one can conclude from the face that the person in the photograph is honest. When subjects are shown a set of pictures, they tend to agree on which people they can trust—which affects their willingness to lend money to those people. In court, an open face can even help to get away with it: scientists have found that suspects who outwardly inspire confidence are more likely to be acquitted with equivalent evidence. nine0003

It must be admitted that these conclusions are made on the basis of completely subjective assessments. How do people know what traits make a person look bossy, intellectually capable, or dominant? Perhaps we are simply reacting to facial expressions - an open smile or displeasedly shifted eyebrows. Facial expressions certainly matter. But there is reason to believe that we notice other, more permanent features.

For example, Olivola and Todorov in their research used carefully designed computer images of faces with completely neutral expressions to exclude the influence of facial expressions on perception. The scientists asked the subjects to evaluate the faces and, by comparing the ratings of numerous images, were able to create sketches, the features of which most fully reflect one or another character trait. Looking at these sketches, we can conclude that in our perception of a person we are guided by a whole complex of different facial features - from the shape of the eyebrows to the bone structure of the skull. nine0003

Take a look at this photo and see if you yourself look competent, bossy, extroverted, or trustworthy.

Photo copyright, Christopher Olivola Friederike Funk Alexander Todorov

Photo caption,

These faces reflect, in ascending order: (A) competence, (B) authority, (C) extraversion, (D) trustworthiness

that they themselves would never perceive the people around them so superficially. But in fact, as soon as we meet someone, we immediately unconsciously give this person an assessment. Todorov has shown that it takes only 40 milliseconds to form a first impression of a person (it takes 10 times longer to blink once). And this skill is formed from a very early age: three-four-year-old kids, based on their appearance, are already taken to draw conclusions about who is "bad" and who is "good. " nine0003

In principle, there is nothing wrong with such superficial judgments - provided that they basically correspond to reality. There really is a reasonable grain in them: Jean-Francois Bonnefont and colleagues from the French National Center for Scientific Research recently conducted an experiment in which participants played an economic game. They were each given a few euros and had to decide whether to invest in other players - who in turn could either take all the money for themselves (the "unfair" option) or share the profits (the "fair" option). nine0003

Based on just one photo, participants could predict which behavior option their partner would choose - and it turned out that with the help of a photo portrait, they actually guessed more often than if they made a choice purely by chance. The scientist believes that the results of this experience make us think about the curious questions of human evolution: “It is difficult to understand why nature decided to put on our faces the sign “I cannot be trusted. ” In addition, the face can also reflect hormone levels and the health of the immune system. nine0003

But from a practical standpoint, our accuracy in visually evaluating other people's traits leaves much to be desired and may even do more harm than good. "People pay too much attention to appearance, forgetting about other information that they already possess," says Olivola. For example, in games where honesty and trust are important, participants tend to trust a partner with innocent features - even with reliable information that this person has previously been caught cheating.

So, going back to our twins, it's not hard to imagine how the difference in initial perception of appearance can lead you and your imaginary non-identical twin brother down very different life paths. Appearance can determine your fate in a variety of situations: when you come to a party, meet the parents of your bride or groom, get a job or try to get a loan from the bank.

This issue is especially important in today's world, Olivola notes: “With social media accounts, we can form an impression of ourselves even before we start talking to a person, and even before we get to know each other personally. Imagine that you are hiring a new assistant.You are going to look at all the resumes as objectively as possible, but if you catch your eye on a photo, then a grain of bias has already been planted in your soul. This can distort the perception of further information. " Bonnefon agrees with Olivola: "Perhaps, it is impossible to wean people from drawing instant conclusions - we do so automatically." nine0003

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Image caption,

Wide eyes can mean innocence - but first impressions can often be deceiving opposition to "hypocrisy". “If it is necessary to make an important decision, then I try to structure the incoming information in such a way that the person appears at the very end of the process,” Todorov says. “When we interview graduates, I know even before a personal meeting whether I want to work with this other candidate. The most important information is information about past successes and letters of recommendation. " nine0003

Olivola even suggests screening candidates during interviews, although he acknowledges that this may not be the most practical solution. However, the experience of many professional music orchestras shows that blindfold auditions reduce the impact of bias on the outcome: for example, one study found that more women were admitted to orchestras this way.

In his book Beauty Pays, Hamermesh writes that the appearance bias can lead to unpleasant legal consequences - if, for example, you can demonstrate in court that you are paid less than your colleagues who look more attractive. But the preparation and adoption of new laws require money, and the scientist believes that these resources may be worth using to solve more pressing problems. nine0003

"The question is, do we want to spend public funds to protect ugly people when, in my personal opinion, other groups deserve more attention?" he asks. Of course, no one argues that the fight against "hypocrisy" should distract us from the battles with other prejudices like sexism or racism (although in cases where "hypocrisy" is superimposed on them, the negative effect can only increase).

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