Obesely Speaking

The brain and obesity

The Gorgeous Brain

Beauty is a spiritual obligation.
Billi Gordon, Ph.D.
This post is a response to 11 Reasons Being Super Hot Looking is Problematic by Billi Gordon, Ph.D.

We live in a “sizeocracy.”  You cannot be too short if you are a man, too tall if you are woman, and nobody can be overweight, especially women. Madison Avenue would have us believe that fat is synonymous with ugly. Madison Avenue also gave us, “one size fits all.” War is ugly, not people. The time we spend laughing is too short, not people. The walls we build to exclude each other are too tall, not people. People are, and beauty is.

Life occurs in the moment; so does beauty and ugliness. I have seen many of the “beautiful people” be very ugly. I have also seen many so-called ugly people be extremely beautiful.  I have been extremely ugly and extremely beautiful (immodestly perhaps). Beauty and ugliness are capacities we all have. Like all things human, there are individual biases. When it comes to beauty, it is a matter of two things: knowing you are beautiful, and knowing how to present it. Before I was a neuroscientist, I worked in Hollywood as a writer, actor, and model. Hollywood reiterated the lessons I learned about self-presentation and beauty from watching my mother. I remember, growing up, hearing my father and his friends say that if Moses had seen my mother when she was in her 20’s there would have been another commandment. I watched my mother’s weight vacillate over the years. However, no matter what size she was, men always treated her as if she was the most beautiful woman in the room. That is because she acted as if she was because she believed she was, and was used to always being the most beautiful woman in the room.

I saw the same thing in Hollywood, where beautiful people are as common as sunny days. However, there are always those who rise above the rest. Why is that? The answer is simple: we become who we believe we are. The legendary beauties became legends partially because of physical features, partly because of attitude, but mostly because they knew how to present their beauty. They dressed, talked, walked, and most importantly, thought in the way that best facilitated the presentation of their intrinsic beauty. My mother did the same thing. When she was big, she dressed differently, but she still thought of herself as beautiful. She accepted her size and so did others. 

That is because the human brain has a tremendous amount of cognitive load and does not like searching for conclusions. Hence, it welcomes cues on what a person is, from how the person treats his or her self, and how others treat the person.  If a person truly understands where their beauty lies, and presents their self as if he or she is beautiful, others will accept this as well. In addition, if you present yourself as beautiful, and a person’s first impression of you is that you are beautiful, confirmation bias occurs. That is, the brain looks for things to reaffirm its original belief. Therefore, if a person believes you are beautiful from the beginning their brain will look for things to reaffirm that. If they believe the opposite, their brain will look for evidence to support that. The human brain always finds what it is looking for.

More importantly, if you believe you are beautiful, then you will look for things in yourself to reaffirm that beauty, and you will act and treat yourself accordingly. Compulsive overeating and self-esteem are like fire and smoke, one will tell you about the other. If you find your innate beauty and cultivate it, it will increase your self-esteem. When your self-esteem increases it has a positive synergistic affect on your behaviors. This will also help with stress regulation in the brain and feed forward to the physiological consequences of stress, such as glucose metabolism and fat distribution. Feeling ugly is stressful and it erodes self-esteem. When self-esteem decreases it has a negative synergistic affect on behavior, stress regulation and the physiological sequelae. 

Here is where the difficulty lies for most compulsive overeaters. Madison Avenue tells us that because we are overweight we are not beautiful, and to our detriment, we believe them. From the moment you awake you are inundated with messages that say “you are overweight, ugly and less than.” It takes a conscious effort to combat that psychological and emotional assault. The mantra, “I love and accept myself just as I am” is a powerful combatant. It embraces your present circumstance, while allowing for change. 

Most importantly, you have to rethink the concept of beauty. Beauty is not youth. Beauty is not a particular hair color, or a particular size. It is not bone structure or eyes. It can be all of those things or none of those things. Beauty can be wrinkle free or wrinkled. Beauty is a cosmic force that permeates everything in the Universe. It is one of the connective energy agents shared by all things. It is our ability to exist in perfect harmony with our internal and external environments. Beauty is not  physical, mental or spiritual, it is all of those. 


Yes, there is a physical beauty standard and some people are more beautiful according to that standard, just as some people are better athletes, better scholars and better musicians. There is one Kobe Bryant but that does not mean the rest of us cannot play basketball. I ask you, who was more beautiful Marilyn Monroe or Mother Teresa?

 It depends on whether you are asking Playboy Magazine or a starving child. Therefore, the intrinsic reality is that beauty is contextual.  Context occurs moment by moment, so being beautiful is about being in the moment.  

Find the beauty in your soul, and share it with the world. Your soul is your essence. If you do not have a beautiful soul, being pretty is pointless. Pretty is just a Madison Avenue thing; beauty is a Universal force. There is nothing wrong with being pretty, and you can be pretty and beautiful, but the latter is more important. 

It is also important to remember that since the first prokaryote appeared in the primordial sea, until the last star in the Universe sputters and falls into eternal blackness, there will have been only one you. It is your duty to respect that. You are beautiful. We all are. It is our responsibility and ours alone to recognize and honor our intrinsic beauty. Remain fabulous and phenomenal.  

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Billi Gordon, Ph.D., is  Co-Investigator in the  Ingestive Behaviors & Obesity Program, Center for the Neurobiology of Stress, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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