Imagine a woman walking on the street on a quiet Saturday morning. She is heading for a grocery store. She is just out of bed, wearing baggy pants and a cap low—low enough to cover her nose. She seems a bit in a hurry and certainly is not in the mood to talk. After buying things for breakfast, she promptly disappears to her place.
Back in her place, she takes a shower, puts on the hair, puts on makeup. She brings out a new dress that she bought for today. A friend of hers is getting married today.
She likes what she sees in the mirror. On her way out, her gait has completely changed from the morning. Her footsteps are slow with grace. It exudes confidence. At the wedding, she approaches former classmates to say hi and is happily introduced to new people.
She is the same person from the morning, but, in the matter of a few hours, her attitude has completely changed. What has happened?
A big thing has happened: The change of her looks. And the change of her perception of herself. I believe most of us can relate to her. Regardless of gender or age, we all know what a bad hair day is like, and are happy to look better than we actually are. We know looking good makes us feel comfortable and confident.
Then why does looks affect our mood? After all, we can’t see ourselves. Once you leave home, our looks can be only seen by others. Are they that important? Are we all “shallow and superficial?”
Evolutionary psychologists offer a different (and rather comfortable) answer: We have a strong instinct to look good because it has worked for us for a long time. Scientists have pointed out emotions are our body’s way to coerce ourselves to increase the likelihood of survival and reproduction. For example, emotions like hunger and fear are critical for us to stay alive. With lack of fear, we would cross the street on which cars are running fast, or enter into a lion cage in a zoo. The desire of achievement or wanting of connection with others also has been beneficial for us. If one of our ancestors lacked any helpful instincts and suffered the consequence, we wouldn’t have been here.
The desire to look good is one of them. It helped us to attract a potential mate and secure our position in social groups. It doesn’t mean we consciously care about our looks just to find a mate or broadcast our status(or crush potential competitors); rather, it means in our mind exists an automatic emotional feedback system that even without a conscious effort, we tend to act accordingly to our instincts. That’s why it’s not a pleasant thing to find our midsection getting extra flab, but it’s so satisfying and relieving to find our waist is shrinking.
According to this view, the wanting of looking good is not much about worldliness—it is a healthy, natural feeling that helps us to take care of ourselves and in the end, it is what helped us to get here.
In the previous writing, we saw how health and looks are tightly connected. And we now know why better looks feel better. If we combine these two insights, we realize how health, looks and mood are chained along: The healthier you get, the better you look, the happier you feel.
<Further Readings and References>
– But in her own “mind” the bee, who is isolated permanently from such human knowledge, will always have free will.(73p) On Human Nature Wilson, E. O. 1978. On human nature, Harvard University Press, uCambridge, Mass.