With Little Thanks To Ads And Media, Women Manage To Like Their Looks

Are women in despair about their looks? It’s easy to get that impression. The obesity epidemic now brings frequent front-page attention to the issue of weight, which long has been a sore point for many women. This has overshadowed the fact—made clear in a survey commissioned by Dove soap—that women think more highly of their looks from the neck up than the neck down.

While 22 percent of the women said they’re “very satisfied” with their bodies, 42 percent said the same of their faces. And respondents were more than twice as likely to say they’re dissatisfied with their bodies (9 percent “very,” 14 percent “somewhat”) than with their faces (2 percent “very,” 9 percent “somewhat”). Since people’s faces are more on display than the rest of them, this means women are more satisfied with their looks overall than one would guess from body-centric research. Just 7 percent flatly said they “do not like how they look.” Among those age 18-39, 52 percent “said that ‘looking beautiful’ describes them very well.” Even among the time-worn 40-and-older women, 37 percent said so.

What makes women feel beautiful? Answers reflected the belief (endorsed by 75 percent of respondents) that beauty involves “a woman’s spirit and love of life.” Thus, 54 percent said they feel beautiful “when helping others,” 53 percent when spending time with their kids, 46 percent when they “achieve success,” 46 percent when physically active, and 39 percent when they “do something artistic” or “enjoy a hobby.” Far fewer feel beautiful when shopping for beauty-care items (21 percent) or perusing fashion magazines (17 percent). That’s related, no doubt, to the fact that 71 percent “wish the media and advertising industry could appreciate the different physical types of women as beautiful.”

Fashion-oriented advertisers and magazines are often upbraided for giving short shrift to non-white women. Does such neglect take a toll on the way these women regard their looks? The numbers suggest the contrary. White women were less disposed to say they like how they look (51 percent) than black women (59 percent) or Hispanic women (60 percent). Similarly, 41 percent of black and 38 percent of Hispanic women rated their looks “above average,” vs. 35 percent of white women. When you think about it, this pattern of responses makes sense. Non-Hispanic white women are routinely called on to compare themselves with magazine spreads of ethnic compeers who are certifiably gorgeous. Subjected less often to that dispiriting experience, black and Hispanic women have less occasion to lose confidence in their own good looks.