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Who Spends More Time Enhancing Their Attractiveness and Why

New research on appearance-enhancement behaviors across 93 countries.

Key points

  • In a recent study across 93 countries, 99 percent of participants said they engage in appearance-enhancing behaviors more than 10 minutes a day.
  • The study also revealed that those currently dating spent more time enhancing their appearance compared to those in established relationships.
  • The strongest predictor of attractiveness-enhancing behaviors identified by the study was social media usage.

People across the world and throughout history have enhanced their physical appearance. The prevalence of appearance enhancement indicates that it might serve essential functions—for example, increasing one's reproductive fitness or social status. This is perhaps why so many researchers have endeavored to investigate its roots and roles.

Sabel Blanco / Pexels
Source: Sabel Blanco / Pexels

In a new study published today, 188 researchers (including myself) tested various hypotheses drawn from theoretical frameworks. Data was collected from around 93,000 people across 93 countries. Participants were asked to indicate whether and how often they performed eight common beauty enhancing activities: (1) applying makeup, (2) body hygiene, (3) using cosmetics, (4) exercising, (5) hair grooming, (6) clothing style, (7) following a specific diet, and (8) other (in which participants could describe what other activities they performed). Importantly, participants were instructed to choose the given activity only if they performed it to look better (and not for other reasons, such as health concerns) and to indicate the time spent on a typical day performing the given activity.

It was found that beauty-enhancing behaviors are universal. More specifically, 99 percent of participants reported spending more than 10 minutes a day performing appearance-enhancement activities.

The results largely supported evolutionary hypotheses: More time was spent enhancing attractiveness by women (almost 4 hours a day, on average) than by men (3.6 hours a day, on average), by the youngest participants (and contrary to predictions, also the oldest), by those with a relatively more severe history of infectious diseases, and by participants currently dating compared to those in established relationships.

Kowal et al./ Evolution and Human Behavior
Time spent enhancing physical attractiveness and time spent on social media (controlling for other predictors)
Source: Kowal et al./ Evolution and Human Behavior

The strongest predictor of attractiveness-enhancing behaviors was social media usage. On average, those who spent the most time on social media spent two hours more per day improving their looks than those who spent the least amount of time on social media. Social media often conveys unrealistic physical ideals and this current study shows the effects that these unrealistic standards can have on behaviors.

Other predictors, in order of effect size, included adhering to traditional gender roles, residing in countries with less gender equality, considering oneself as highly attractive or, conversely, highly unattractive, TV-watching time, higher socioeconomic status, right-wing political beliefs, a lower level of education, and personal individualistic attitudes.

In conclusion, this study provides novel insights into universal beauty-enhancing behaviors by unifying evolutionary theory with several other complementary perspectives. The study “Predictors of enhancing human physical attractiveness: Data from 93 countries” led by Marta Kowal was published today in the scientific journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

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