Look good instinct
A natural instinct to look good
IS society becoming more superficial and obsessed with looks and money?
Clinical psychologist Sylvester Lim says “superficial-ness” has always been present in society to some degree.
“Would it be incorrect to say that in our grandparents’ day, or even in the time of Caesar, that men were not driven by looks? Isn’t it as old as humanity that we are first drawn by the outward rather than the ‘inner beauty’?”
He believes there are as many people in the world seeking material wealth as there are seeking spiritual enlightenment.
“Beneath everything else – I believe at the root of it all – in all times during the history of mankind – people seek love, acceptance and peace,” he says.
So he sees nothing wrong in people wanting to go under the knife or having other cosmetic procedures to look good.
On one hand, it appears to be a move towards being superficial or “plastic” but, on the other, it could also suggest that people are beginning to come to a greater appreciation of their physical health (which includes good grooming) and their emotional well-being, he says.
The “instinct” to look good to attract the attention people want is natural, he says.
“Just as animals instinctively prime themselves for their mate, I would wager that, similarly, humans are also driven by this same instinct (though we may deny it) to seek to make ourselves more attractive to enable us to find the most suitable mate in order to ensure the continuation of our species.”
For Lim, the trend of people becoming more concerned about their looks is “not unhealthy” – as long as they are not obsessive about it and don’t go overboard to reach that state of “perfection”.
“Such obsession may be indicative of a lack of liking for oneself,” he says.
He is also not against cosmetic surgery for teenagers, provided it is not an obsession, not born out of self-dissatisfaction or coercion of some sort by the child’s parent.
He says parents who push their kids into having cosmetic surgery or procedures so that they would get the job or a good mate could damage the child’s self-esteem.
“It may imply to the child that he or she is ‘not good enough’ in the eyes of the parents or not up to par with the rest of the world and needs fixing. I feel parents should always be accepting of their children and provide them with unconditional love.”
But if it is teenager who is pushing for the cosmetic procedure, there are questions that have to be asked, Lim says.
Parents should find out why their child wants it.
Could it be due to peer pressure or social pressure? Is it a norm or a trend or is it because the child is feeling inadequate?
Lim draws a distinction between the child seeking cosmetic surgery “because I hate the way I look” and “because I want to look even better”.
If the child is okay with himself and the way he looks but has the means (or the parents have the means) to make himself look better, then “why not”, he reasons.
Developmental psychologist Elaine Yong, however, takes a different view.
She says the teenage years are the age of development and children go through a period of soul searching and self-discovery during this time.
“They are trying to form their identities. Their self-image changes very quickly. Therefore, it will be very damaging for them to think that cosmetic surgery is the way to fix their imperfections.
“It would be better for parents to teach their teenagers about self-acceptance and self-love. Every individual is unique,” she says.
But she agrees that some parents might choose cosmetic surgery or procedures “out of love and the need to protect their child’s developing self-esteem”, such as in cases where the child is born with a cleft palate, has severe acne scarring on the face, and facial or other physical deformities.
But where it is purely to enhance one’s looks, she feels it is better to wait.
If parents hear their otherwise normal-looking girl or boy being made fun of by their peers, what they should do is to teach their child to stand up for himself in a non-aggressive manner.
“In life, a person can’t avoid being talked about by others. What matters is how we deal with the problem,” she says.
As to whether good looks could mean securing that job, Lim says many studies seem to support this. The good-looking ones are more often “forgiven for their transgressions” and appear to have greater influence over others, he says.
But Yong feels that “the good looker getting the job” adage is true only for males!
“Recent research has shown that beauty reduces the chances for females to be hired for masculine jobs. Beauty is only an advantage for females in their applications for feminine jobs!”
On promotions and salary increases, she says that skills rather than looks are more important.
In the world of children, good looks also come into play, says Lim, citing a 20-year study done in the UK called Child Of Our Time. It showed that kids picked friends whom they considered “better looking” and the ones deemed “better looking” had more friends and were described in much nicer terms by their peers!