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Do You Focus Too Much on Your Looks?

Many people pay a price for excessive attention to appearance.

No author listed, pxhere, public domain
Source: No author listed, pxhere, public domain

Of course, a case can be made for valuing appearance:

  • We’re a visual species, and looking good and appropriate to the situation ensures we don’t get negatively prejudged.
  • Most people feel good when they look good: It’s a feel-good without side-effects.
  • In the COVID era, time spent on looking good—clothes, hair, makeup—are among the things they can’t restrict us from.

That said, too many people devote too high a percentage of their self-improvement effort on their veneer, their gift wrapping, rather than on the product within.

  • Time spent on veneer could be spent on improving skills, knowledge, personality, on outreach to existing or new friends and colleagues. That’s why, for example, Apple’s Steve Jobs wore a black mockneck nearly every day and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg wears a gray t-shirt all the time. He explained why during a public Q&A session:

I really want to clear my life so that I have to make as few decisions as possible about anything except how to best serve this community…I feel like I’m not doing my job if I spend any of my energy on things that are silly or frivolous…Even though it sounds silly, that’s my reason for wearing a grey t-shirt every day.

  • Especially if you’re conventionally attractive, focusing on your facade can tempt you to rely on the superficial than on your substance.
  • You can pay a price for caring too much about appearance. When interviewing candidates for a job as a school psychologist, one candidate’s appearance stood out: She wore a clearly expensive dress suit, alligator shoes, and matching alligator bag. Her hair and makeup were perfect. It all felt too perfect, that she was trying too hard on her appearance, perhaps to cover up a lack of substance. Indeed, everyone on the committee agreed that started her interview with one strike against her. And yes, it turned out that on probing her experience, her substance was nowhere near as sophisticated as was her facade.
  • Excessive focus on appearance can be deceptive when trying to impress people based on the veneer: If a car's paint job is far superior to the car underneath, the person is creating an illusion that masks the reality.

What to do?

Let's say you’ve decided you’ve been too much of a slave to your appearance and are ready to tone it down. Maybe you want to redirect your efforts to self-improvement or even to some recreational activity that feels wiser. If so, you might ask yourself these questions:

  • Do you want to go to the opposite extreme—to schlumpyhood—or, more likely, to moderate? If so, where would you like to save time and/or money?
  • Do you want to donate all but your favorite clothes, shoes, and accessories to Salvation Army or Goodwill so that each day, it’s easier to choose, and you end up wearing one of the things you like best?
  • I know someone who spends at least an hour every morning on clothes, hair, and makeup. Is there anything in your routine that you could cut without feeling unhappy with your looks?
  • Are you ready for a less extreme look? For example, would you like to buy one or two more mainstream, less fashion-forward outfits? Do you want to let some of those piercings close up, or even get a visible tattoo(s) removed?

The takeaway

As with most things, moderation is usually wise, but not always. The question is: Would you be wise to increase or decrease your focus on appearance? Where would the Wise One within you say you should be on the continuum from schlump to fashion-mag-ready?

I read this aloud on YouTube.

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