By PT Staff, published on May 1, 2006 - last reviewed on March 24, 2014
Think of professional beauties as aesthetic marvels (and genetic accidents). Don't compare yourself with them. Besides, those whose looks you covet are busy rating themselves against someone even more gorgeous. "I never thought of myself as beautiful," insists Carol Alt, the 1980s supermodel. "There were these girls who would walk into the room and just take over. Nicolette Sheridan in the 1980s—oh my God, forget it."
"It is part of the human condition to see ourselves through the eyes of others," says Ellen McGrath, clinical psychologist and president of The Bridge Coaching Institute. Partners have a big impact on how we view our looks. If we get a steady dose of fondness and acceptance, "it's like being in the glow of a romantic candlelit dinner—we are seen in the best possible light," says McGrath. Being close to a judgmental person makes us view ourselves in correspondingly harsh terms. If you've come to believe that you're unattractive, consider whether your partner may have subtly steered your thoughts in that direction.
Shy people consistently rate themselves as less attractive than others do. "When you focus on yourself, you become more self-critical," says Bernie Carducci, professor of psychology at Indiana University Southeast. If you force yourself to approach others and make them feel wanted, your own insecurities diminish. "Show up at a party with a group of friends and you'll automatically appear more attractive," says Carducci. "It's social capital—it suggests that you know how to lead others and bring them together."
Is your body a static object to be gazed upon or a performing machine? While women tend to think about how their bodies look, men often focus on how well they work, says Stephen Franzoi, psychology professor at Marquette University. "If you think of your body as an instrument, you'll see it as something that you can shape and transform," he says. "This proactive stance shifts the locus of power to you, rather than to other people observing and evaluating your body."
Watch for negative self-talk. "Replace critical thoughts, such as 'my disgusting, fat thighs,' with something more neutral, such as 'my large, muscular legs,'" suggests James Rosen, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Vermont. Give more airtime to other aspects of your self-image. "Consciously think of why you are desirable to other people—perhaps because they respect your competence or because you are warm and interesting. In the long run, these characteristics are more important to attraction than physical looks."
Carducci, a social dynamo who works to overcome his shy temperament, strives to be not only the nicest guy in the room, but also the best-dressed. "My look is part GQ, part discount. One of my favorite outfits is a yellow cotton shirt, a red tie with geometric shapes, tuxedo pumps and a checkered herringbone coat. I'm trying to let people know, 'I'm here and let's have a good time.' When you're in clothes that reflect who you are, you make it easier for others to talk to you—and it's not how beautiful you are, but how approachable you are."
We dread getting older, but there is evidence that people feel more attractive with age. "Older women tend to shed their self-consciousness," says Leslie Goldman, author of Locker Room Diaries, an account of her yearlong ethnographic study of women at the gym. "I have never seen a woman over the age of 60 scurry off into a bathroom stall to change or quickly scan the room before dropping her towel."
On average, attractive people are not happier than their homelier peers. A sense of optimism and hope, gratifying relationships and meaning and purpose in your life have much more influence on your happiness than do your looks. "Don't get me wrong—there are times when I've gotten special treatment because of my celebrity," says Alt. "But I've had my share of heartbreak. I'm divorced. I lost my father and my brother. I don't think the fates decide what will happen to you based on your looks."