Physical attractiveness survey

How attractive we feel has as much to do with our minds as with ourcheekbones. Here's your chance to shed some light on what shapes our attitudes about attractiveness.

Isabella Rossellini, perhaps the world's most beautiful woman, recently published a memoir, titled Some of Me. After reading it, you find that by some miracle you like her even more than before--because she not only knows that she's beautiful, but acknowledges what an incredible gift of fate it is to be so. She manages to look objectively on her life as a beautiful woman, with genuine wit and not a whiff of narcissism. You wind up envying her, not so much because she's beautiful, but because she is truly interesting. And at age 45, she plans to march straight into the future with the face and character that have served her so well.

The same month, a woman of the same age, writer and designer Helen Bransford (better known as the wife of novelist Jay McInerney), published an unwittingly disturbing tale about another face. Her husband, seven years her junior, had just interviewed actress Julia Roberts for a men's magazine. Bransford, a chic, attractive woman, asked him whether he had mentioned her to Roberts. "Oh, sure," he said. "I told her all about you--well, everything but your age."

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Bransford didn't smile at her implicit triumph. Nor did she ask her husband why he thought to conceal her age. Did he think he was protecting her? Or himself? Apparently, the remark triggered an identity crisis--she had come of age in the shadow of another great beauty, her mother--and an uncertainty about her husband's feelings. But rather than explore either, she simply dialed a plastic surgeon. And eventually turned the results into a book, Welcome to Your Facelift. Notice the presumption in the title; misery, apparently, seeks company.

This is 1997, when attractiveness is no longer just a gift or accomplishment, but a source of great confusion. One reason, suggests Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., is that our slow-to-evolve brains haven't quite caught up with our cultural needs. A neuropsychologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Etcoff studies exactly what beauty is and how our nerve circuits recognize it. She has found that beautiful faces, like addictive substances, excite specific reward centers in the brain. Beauty, it seems, has deep biological roots.

Research leaves little doubt about what stimulates this "B-spot" in the brain, at least for men. "It's a young, unmated woman, or someone mimicking one," says Etcoff. "That is, someone with a small waist-to-hip ratio and such facial features as full lips, both of which suggest premium fertility." Where does that leave anyone who is now or ever might be over 30? We're not exactly sure.

Hence, we appeal to you, dear readers. On the pages immediately following is our 1997 Physical Attractiveness Survey. Only you can tell us the role attractiveness plays in real lives, how it fits into the complexities of life, and how it interacts with time. Your participation in the survey will provide important feedback on attitudes towards attractiveness. The collective wisdom of PSYCHOLOGY TODAY readers may also yield insights that can help others struggling with attractiveness issues.

Please complete the survey and return it to the address indicated at the end. The sooner you respond, the sooner we can provide the definitive report on physical attractiveness. And while you're filling out the questionnaire, please be sure to smile. One thing research shows for clear Smiling faces are always seen as more attractive.

PART I. HOW IMPORTANT IS PHYSICAL ATTRACTIVENESS?

1. How important do you think physical attractiveness is in day-to-day social interaction for most people?

a. Very important b. Moderately important c. Slightly important d. Almost irrelevant e. Completely irrelevant

2. What do you consider the most important effects of physical attractiveness for women? Rank these in order of importance, assigning the number 1 to the most important, number 6 to the least.

It boosts self-esteem. It helps a woman accomplish her goals. It helps women form relationships with others. It helps women form relationships with men. It brings happiness. Other

3. What do you consider the most important effects of physical attractiveness for men? Again, rank these in order of importance.

It boosts self-esteem, it helps a man accomplish his goals. It helps men form relationships with others. It helps men form relationships with women. It brings happiness. Other

4. How important is it for women to maintain their attractiveness as they age?

a. Very important b. Moderately important c. Slightly important d. Almost irrelevant e. Completely irrelevant

5. How important is it for men to maintain their attractiveness as they age?

a. Very important b. Moderately important c. Slightly important d. Almost irrelevant e. Completely irrelevant

6. How important would you rate the following measures for maintaining attractiveness?

a. Very important b. Moderately important c. Slightly important d. Almost irrelevant e. Completely irrelevant

-- 1. exercising -- 2. combating stress -- 3. maintaining an active, interesting life -- 4. avoiding exposure to the sun -- 5. applying skin care creams -- 6. using makeup -- 7. coloring hair to cover gray -- 8. wearing clothes that are attractive -- 9. aging naturally -- 10. undergoing cosmetic plastic surgery

7. At what age do you think:

a. women look their best? (circle one grouping)

20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 65 or over

b. men look their best?

20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 65 or over

8. What age do you consider old?

20-24 25-29 30-34 35-39 40-44 45-49 50-54 55-59 60-64 65 or over

9. Personal Attitudes:

a. I wish I were more attractive.

Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree

b. Physical attractiveness is just as important for older people as for younger ones.

Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree

c. Age gives people access to a new kind of attractiveness.

Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Disagree Strongly

d. Middle-aged women are more attractive than the media portray them.

Strongly agree Agree Neutral Disagree Strongly Disagree

PART II. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WAY YOU LOOK?

10. How would you rate your physical attractiveness compared with others your age?

a. Much more attractive b. More attractive c. About the same d. Less attractive e. Much less attractive

11. How would you rate your physical attractiveness now compared to when you were 20?

a. Much more attractive b. More attractive c. About the same d. Less attractive e. Much less attractive

12. Are you generally in a positive mood?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

13. When you look at yourself in the mirror, how satisfied are you about the following aspects of your appearance?

a. Very satisfied b. Moderately satisfied c. Neither satisfied nor dissatisfied d. Moderately dissatisfied e. Very dissatisfied

-- 1. overall facial attractiveness -- 2. general muscle tone -- 3. body weight -- 4. overall appearance undressed -- 5. overall appearance dressed

14. When you look in the mirror, does it affect your mood?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

15. Do you think about how others evaluate your looks?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

16. Compared to 10 years ago, how concerned are you today with others' evaluations of your looks?

Increased greatly Increased moderately Stayed the same Decreased moderately Decreased greatly

17. Does the thought of how others might be perceiving your looks affect your mood?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

18. Compared to 10 years ago, how self-conscious are you today about the following aspects of your appearance?

a. increased greatly b. Increased moderately c. Stayed the same d. Decreased moderately e. Decreased greatly

-- 1. face -- 2. general muscle tone/physical fitness -- 3. body weight -- 4. being in style -- 5. looking older

19. Do you think you look younger or older than you are?

look 10 years younger look 5 years younger look your age look 5 years older look 10 years older

20. About how often do you think about visibly aging?

several times a day daily several times a week once a week monthly or less

21. To what extent do you think the following will be concerns of yours 10 years from now?

a. Extremely concerned b. Somewhat concerned c. Neither concerned nor unconcerned d. Reasonably unconcerned e. Totally unconcerned

-- 1. facial wrinkling -- 2. graying hair -- 3. gaining weight -- 4. losing muscle tone -- 5. losing your health -- 6. having fewer job opportunities -- 7. losing your spouse or partner to a younger person --8. becoming less sexually attractive -- 9. becoming less in control of your life

22. When you form a mental image of what a person ideally looks like at age 50 or 60, to what extent is this picture based on:

a. Totally b. Very much c. Moderately d. Slightly e. Not at all

-- 1. your own standards -- 2. what your mother looked like at that age -- 3. what your father looked like at that age -- 4. what another important person in your life looked like at that age -- 5. images in the media

23. Do you ever lie about your age?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

24. Do you ever think about undergoing cosmetic plastic surgery?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

PART III: HOW DO OTHERS AROUND YOU FEEL?

25. To what extent do these aspects of your personal environment support your view of yourself as attractive?

a. Totally b. Very much c. Moderately d. Slightly e. Not at all

-- 1. your spouse or life partner -- 2. your job or field of work -- 3. your friends -- 4. your children -- 5. your mother -- 6. your father --7. your siblings

26. How important have the following been in influencing your feelings about your looks?

a. Very important b. Moderately important c. Slightly important d. Almost irrelevant e. Completely irrelevant

-- 1. being teased about your looks when you were younger -- 2. being criticized about your looks by your mother -- 3. being complimented about your looks by your mother -- 4. being criticized about your looks by your father -- 5. being complimented about your looks by your father -- 6. your mother being criticized about her looks by your father -- 7. Your mother being complimented about her looks by your father -- 8. being rejected by a date or partner because of your looks -- 9. the general cultural emphasis on youth as a criterion of attractiveness --10. feeling effective at many things you do in life -- 11. being a spiritual person -- 12. having other people in your life -- 13. wearing flattering clothes -- 14. wearing makeup -- 15. thinking about your mother's appearance -- 16. thinking about your father's appearance --17. your father's attitude towards your mother -- 18. your father's attitude towards you

PART IV. IMAGES OF OTHERS AND THE INFLUENCE OF THE MEDIA

27. Do you look at pictures of models in magazines?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

28. Do you compare yourself to the people in these images?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

29. Do you carefully study the features of the models in these pictures?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

30. Does looking at images of beautiful people make you feel insecure about your own attractiveness?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

31. Does looking at images of young people make you feel insecure about your own attractiveness?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

32. Do you compare your level of attractiveness with that of real people you encounter?

Always Frequently Sometimes Rarely Never

33. Would you like models in magazines to be more representative of a range of ages?

Yes No

34. Would you like to see more images of people who are aging naturally?

Yes No

PART V. PERSONAL BACKGROUND

35. How old are you?

Years

36. Are you

Female Male

37. Are you married?

Yes No

38. Have you been divorced?

Yes No

39. Have you been widowed?

Yes No

40. What is your sexual orientation?

Homosexual Bisexual Heterosexual

41. What is the highest level of education you have completed?

High school or less Some college College degree Post-graduate study Graduate degree

42. What is the total annual income of your household?

under $15,000 $15,000-$24,999 $25,000-$49,999 $50,000-$99,999 $100,000-$200,000 $200,000 or more

43. The area you live in is best described as

Urban Suburb Small town Rural

44. In which area of the country do you live?

East South Midwest West

45. (Women) What is your menstrual status?

Menstruating Premenopause Menopause Postmenopause

46. What is your height?

feet inches

47. What is your weight?

pounds

TELL US MORE

For questions 48 through 50, feel free to use additional sheets of paper if necessary.

48. Please tell us about your experiences with and feelings about physical attractiveness. Some points you may want to address include:

How important a role has physical attractiveness played in your life?

Have you experienced changes in appearance that made you aware you were aging?

If so, at what age, and how did that make you feel?

When you look in the mirror, what is your first thought?

49. What is the best way for a person to maintain self-esteem as physical appearance changes with age?

50. What advice/information would you like to pass on to young people about attractiveness throughout life?

This survey was designed to be completely anonymous; however, we would like to be able to contact some of you for more detailed answers. Please feel free to include your name, address, phone number, or e-mail address, if you wish. Thank you for participating!

Name: -- Address: -- City, State, Zip code: -- Phone: () -- e-mail: --Please place your completed questionnaire, along with any additional responses, in an envelope and return to:

Psychology Today--PA 49 East 21 Street, 11th Floor New York, NY 10010

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