Pretty Privilege, The Dark Side Of Beauty, And The Art Of Aging Gracefully
Pretty privilege is real, science has proven it. But, there are downsides to being attractive. So how do we maintain high self-esteem while aging gracefully?
Image Of An Attractive Woman In Metalic Makeup Lit With Filtered Lighting Signifying Pretty Privilege
Alison Huff
Christie Hartman

“When a woman is overly identified with her appearance as her imagined source of value, she might sink into depression, anxiety and fear, especially as she ages. In this way, whether a woman is younger or older, if she doesn’t feel a sense of positive identity, she can’t push back against unrealistic pressures.” Dana Dovitch, Ph.D., M.F.T.

Look, I’m gonna be brutally honest with you.

I’m not what one would call conventionally attractive, in my opinion (which, as we’ll find out later on, is not necessarily the truth nor is it unbiased).

Do I have moments when I pass for more than just a midwestern bog witch? I think so.

But rating myself on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m like a 4 on an average day and maybe a 5-6 when I put a little effort into it.

(I like to think that what I lack in physical attraction is compensated for by my scathing wit and humor.)

Saying that, even I have been on the receiving end of privilege for my looks — as hard as that is for me to believe.

In fact, as I discovered, this phenomenon happens often, and pretty privilege — whether we want to admit it or not — is a real thing, exacerbated by today’s social media madness and intrinsic comparison-based culture.

Being physically attractive comes with a fair number of advantages whether we’d like to admit them or not.

Society tends to favor what it finds beautiful and when a person is considered physically attractive by others, that person may find themselves on the receiving end of some pretty major advantages, financial and otherwise, over the course of their life.

At the same time, while it is true that we reward the beautiful, it certainly doesn’t mean they’re living lives free from strife.

While there are benefits to being attractive, there are some disadvantages that may arise from walking around with a beautiful face, not the least of which is dealing with the fallout of aging when your identity is tied heavily to your looks.

Despite our modern era of beauty privilege, we can learn to put our looks in proper perspective and acceptance, and realize where our true value lies.

Article Summary:

Pretty privilege is real. Those that are more attractive get an upper hand in a lot of ways — however, there are downsides to being beautiful. Also, what happens as your looks fade? How can you deal with aging while growing old gracefully?

In this article, I’ll cover:

  • What Is Pretty Privilege?
  • The Advantages Of Being Attractive
  • The Disadvantages Of Being Attractive And The Dark Side Of Beauty
  • How To Master The Art Of Aging Gracefully

What Is Pretty Privilege?

Image Of An Attractive Woman In Metalic Makeup And Pink Hair Lit With Filtered Lighting

What Is Pretty Privilege?

Pretty Privilege also known as beauty privilege, beauty bias or beauty premium — is a term that encompasses all of the social advantages one receives as a result of being physically attractive.

When we encounter someone we find attractive, we sort of automatically assume that they are also smart and successful — even if we don’t know for certain that they are — simply because they are attractive.

“There is something called the ‘halo effect’ which is the notion that when you’re attractive, you likely possess other advantageous qualities,” Lauren Cook told us.

Lauren is a Doctoral Candidate of Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University, an author, and a motivational speaker dedicated to helping others find happiness and joy in their own lives.

“When someone is deemed ‘pretty,’ they are often presumed to be hardworking, kind, funny — you name it.”

It’s weird to think that we’d make these sorts of stereotypical judgments about the people we see, right?

After all, many of us — myself included — likely consider ourselves to be Woke with a capital W and somehow “above” this sort of behavior.

The truth is that while we can be aware of it, we’re not necessarily immune to it — no matter what we try to tell ourselves.

As a result, some advantages of beauty privilege can include: more employment opportunities and better-paying jobs; achieving higher popularity in social circles; receiving fewer convictions or lighter jail sentences.

Athletes might land more endorsements if they’re good looking, and a person’s attractiveness can even help their political success.

The ‘Halo Effect’ of beauty privilege starts early

Screenshot Of A Twitter Post Discussing The Realities Of Pretty Privilege

The halo effect is a kind of bias that makes us form a general impression of someone based on one particular trait, a cognitive bias that starts as early as infancy.

This particular study examined babies as young as just one day old.

Those random babies, fresh from the womb and aged between one and seven days old, were shown pairs of photographs featuring faces that adults had rated as attractive and less attractive.

The researchers discovered that almost all of the babies spent more time staring at the photo of the attractive face than they did the less attractive one.

The researcher who led the study, Alan Slater, suggests that the preference may be an evolutionary response: the prettier the face, the more it represents the stereotypical human.

As we get older, we still think better of those who walk the world with an attractive face.

Another study performed on elementary school students found that students perceived attractive teachers to be nicer and happier, based only on their photographs.

If that’s not a kick in the pants, the students also felt that they would learn more from the attractive teachers, preferring to have them as their teachers.

As for the teachers who were perceived as less attractive, students naturally assumed they’d be more apt to punish them for misbehaving in class.

It should be noted that this bias was equal between male and female students; they both had more positive perceptions of attractive teachers based on photographs alone.

Likewise, elementary school teachers have been shown to expect greater things from the more attractive children in their classrooms.

As children grow up through the school system and move toward college, their own good looks come with the added benefit of higher grade point averages and an increased likelihood of a college education.

So yeah…right about now, it kinda feels like people born with an unattractive face are gonna be swimming against the current. Forever.

“Throughout history, beauty has been a valued commodity, often an over-valued commodity,” licensed psychotherapist, educator, and writer Dr. Dana Dovitch, Ph.D., M.F.T., told us. “Our modern society didn’t invent a reverence for attractiveness, it is simply carrying on a thousand-year-old tradition.”

Tradition or not, this can be especially problematic for those who struggle with their self-esteem.

I spoke with psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree, Director of Relationship Psychology Services at The Vida Consultancy.

“We have an innate need to be accepted and liked,” Madeleine told us. “One way to feel accepted is to look ‘like everyone else.’ With the constant bombardment of images on what we think we should look like, our self-esteem can begin to erode if we feel we cannot obtain a particular look, especially if we already have a weaker sense of self.”

“I think there is too much emphasis on looks,” she added. “I see people not engaging with others because they feel ashamed of themselves, worried they will not fit in.”

In a society that prizes beauty as much as it does, especially with the rise of social media, fitting in can be a challenge for those who can’t fit into a “pretty” little box without the help of an Instagram filter.

Bottom Line: Pretty privilege” is the term given to all of the social advantages one receives as a result of being physically attractive. There are numerous advantages that come with being considered attractive, including more job opportunities, higher salaries, greater popularity, and even reduced jail sentences. (More in the next section ‘The Advantages Of Being Attractive’.)

Biologically-speaking, people are naturally drawn toward more attractive faces beginning in infancy and the cognitive bias known as the “halo effect” leads us to assume more positive qualities about a person based on their looks alone. This bias isn’t unique to our current society; beauty has been revered throughout human history, but the rise of social media has made us far more aware of it.

The Advantages Of Being Attractive

Image Of An Attractive Woman In Metalic Makeup Against A Multicolored Background Lit With Filtered Lighting

As unfortunate as it may seem to those of us who are less than drop-dead-gorgeous, the world at large does indeed reward the beautiful ones.

The advantages of being attractive include:

An be mindful that these were just some of the scientifically studied ways pretty privilege manifests itself in our world.

There are likely many other intrinsic benefits that simply can’t be measured caused by the previously discussed halo effect.

Screenshot Of A Twitter Post Discussing The Realities Of Beauty Privilege

“I truly believe the world is easier for attractive people,” Melanie, a life insurance expert, and mom of four girls told us. “You get noticed and people tend to like you immediately when you’re pretty.”

Melanie went on to share an anecdote about a time when her looks have worked to her advantage.

“I got a new computer when my damaged computer died,” she explained. “The damage wasn’t from something covered under warranty, but the sales associate was attracted to me and somehow I walked out of the store with a free new computer.”

Melanie’s experience is certainly not uncommon.

I spoke with Raquel, a blogger at Pretty Easy Life, who shared her experience growing up in Brazil and later moving to Canada. She told me that in Brazil, a woman’s looks were “valued beyond any other personal characteristic.”

“Growing up there, I was automatically lead to work hard on ‘always’ looking good,” Raquel said. “On top of the social pressure, I was a ballet dancer and physical fitness, grace, and body appeal just followed the dance path, hard work that in fact facilitated looking good all the time.”

Raquel added that she’s received privileges and special treatment because of her looks many, many times.

“Not only in Brazil but in Canada, as well,” she explained. “As easy as it is to consider a prejudice when someone doesn’t get special treatment because of unpleasant looks, I came to terms with it, understanding how biologically, human beings are attracted by beauty.”

Beauty has a number of social advantages but it can also come with economic advantages, as well.

Pulchronomics — which is a term coined by Daniel Hamermesh to describe the economics of beauty — studies the relationship between beauty and overall success in work and earning potential.

He found that people who are perceived as attractive may earn 3-4% more money over their lifetimes, versus those who are perceived as having below-average attractiveness.

Depending on an attractive person’s wage or yearly salary, that may add up to more than $230,000 over the course of their lifetimes.

He also found that even average-looking people enjoy monetary benefits because of their appearance, earning $140,000 or more above their “ugly” coworkers throughout their working careers.

According to a study done by Erik Postma, attractive people may also have more physical endurance. His study involved 80 photographs of cyclists who participated in the 2012 Tour de France, taken the day before the race.

Those who took part in the study (72% of respondents were women) rated each headshot on a scale of 1 to 5 and were also asked to score each rider’s masculinity and likeability.

Performance-wise, the top 10% were rated 25% more attractive than the bottom 10% of cyclists in that race.

Erik notes that this may be the result of a variety of factors, including ties between attractiveness and general health or natural selection.

That said, there may or may not be a definitive link between attractiveness and athletic performance.

A closer look at several studies on this topic has yielded mixed results and further studies are needed to show if there is indeed a clear evolutionary connection between one’s appearance and their athletic performance.

In the realm of romance, however, attractive people are more highly sought after for romantic relationships.

(If you’re tempted to yell out a very loud “DUH!” at that piece of information, I’m right there with you.)

In one study, 92% of men and 84% of women stated that good looks were desirable or essential when seeking out a potential long-term partner.

As my fellow Women’s Health Interactive writer Chrissy Molzner discovered, better-looking women are likely to gather more responses through dating apps than their less attractive peers.

“I would say that men are even more dragged to beauty than women, which is probably biological,” Raquel told us.

Attractive people appear to be more intelligent and some hypothesize that may be true, although some studies have found that attractiveness doesn’t actually correlate to intelligence and attributes the perception of increased intelligence in attractive people to nothing more than bias.

And that all makes a lot of sense when you consider the halo effect we talked about earlier.

There’s also some good news if you’re a hottie who’s into breaking the law.

Attractiveness can also result in fewer guilty convictions and a more lenient recommended punishment — and occasionally even land you on a modeling runway once your sentence has ended.

(If you’re pretty and you know it, please don’t test this out. Orange is not the new black!)

Our looks, whether we like it or not, can play a major role in what we consider to be our personal identity.

“I believe my appearance is a huge part of who I am. I probably believe my appearance is a bigger part of my identity than it should be,” Melanie, the life insurance expert we spoke with earlier, told us.

“I put effort into staying in shape. I don’t put much effort into hair and makeup because I like how I look without it. Also, I feel like spending time on hair and makeup is a waste of time.”

Stacy Harris, the publisher and executive editor of Stacy’s Music Report, considers her appearance to be part of her identity to an extent. 

“I try to dress appropriate to the situation so that attention to my appearance does not overshadow the overriding purpose of any interaction,” she told us.

“As far as effort spent on my appearance, again, my focus is limited to being presentable. I’ve rarely ever worn any makeup, other than lipstick,” she added.

“I have limited dexterity so I could never justify the time or worry about whether I was using the right shade of foundation for my skin type or if rouge [blush] blended properly.”

Bottom Line: Our society and the world, in general, does reward those it deems beautiful. Many women experience advantages and special treatment as a result of their good looks.

Beauty has a number of social advantages but it also comes with economic advantages, as well. Some of the advantages of being attractive include more job opportunities and higher earning potential, possibly having higher endurance and greater intelligence, and even getting lighter jail sentences and fewer convictions in a court of law.

Whether we like it or not, our appearance can play a major role in what we consider to be our personal identity.

The Disadvantages Of Being Attractive And The Dark Side Of Beauty

Image Of An Attractive Woman In Metalic Makeup Lit With Filtered Lighting Against A Colorful Background Signifying Beauty Privilege

“When I moved to Canada many years ago and felt the freedom of ‘not needing to look good all the time or dressed up,’ I realized that looking good and feeling attractive was not being imposed on me by any social pressure, instead, it was all on me…It was very much part of my identity.” — Raquel, former ballet dancer

Being beautiful doesn’t mean that life is sunshine and roses all the time, unfortunately.

“Society is really ugly about beauty,” writer and artist Michelle Grewe told us. “If you don’t feel pretty, you have low self-esteem. If you do feel pretty, you are vain.”

The disadvantages of being pretty are many including: unwanted bias and sexual harassment (especially at the workplace); self-esteem and self-worth issues (especially as beauty fades); and ultimately for some, a direct hit to our emotional states, quality of life and lost time and money directly tied to trying to hold on to that beauty.

Having “Beauty” Doesn’t Mean Life Is Always Beautiful

While beauty can help a person land a better paying job, an attractive person can actually find themselves at a disadvantage when their potential employer is a member of the same sex.

This may have something to do with jealousy.

Sometimes, we find attractive people of the same sex to be threatening and we might judge them as being less talented, almost out of spite.

Okay…maybe it’s not out of spite, per se, but it can be directly related to our own self-esteem.

We may also think that pretty people of the same sex are making their way in the world because of their looks — to say nothing of their skills or abilities.

And, while attractive people tend to be more popular and more easily accepted, members of their own sex might outright reject them because of their attractiveness.

Raquel, the former ballet dancer we spoke with earlier, told us about how her personal relationships with other women were negatively affected by her physical attractiveness.

“My relationship with several women was not easy because of it,” she recalls. Jealousy and envy are part of the price you pay if you look good, even in your own family.”

When it comes to sex appeal, women can be really competitive and when the women you’re “competing” against are beautiful…well, it’s easy to harbor negative feelings toward them.

Gender stereotypes can sometimes come into play where members of the opposite sex are concerned, although this primarily affects women and not men.

Women who seek jobs or are already employed in a typically masculine job role can find themselves on the receiving end of some pretty lame-ass behavior.

In another life — one that didn’t involve writing — I worked in manufacturing.

I loved working with machinery and became an apprentice machinist for a while, learning the ropes on CNC mills and lathes until becoming the one and only “lapmaster” at the company I worked for.

For those outside the industry, I handled the grinding and polishing of ceramic valve inserts on machines that were literally called Lapmaster.

While that role involved a high degree of precision, it also earned me a particularly sexual nickname in the shop. Before anyone freaks out, remember that this was 20 years ago — when we lived in a far less Woke world.

As good as I was at my job — and I was damned good at it — there were a couple of men who made it very clear to anyone who would listen that “a little girl” like myself had no business operating machinery.

After all, they were manly men who deserved their manly positions and I… well, I was just a 20-something pair of tits who should have been working as someone’s secretary.

Was it fair? Hell no. And I’d bet you any amount of cash money that I wouldn’t have dealt with that attitude were it not for my gender.

Luckily, I had a male supervisor who verbally put them in their place but I was still the target of pointed looks from across the machine shop on a daily basis.

Is Being Pretty The Same As Being A Woman?

And of course, there is the ever-present potential for sexual harassment, which is something Michelle, the writer and artist we’ve been speaking to, unfortunately became very familiar with.

“I’m almost certain most of my previous employment was because of my looks and those were short-lived,” she told us.

In one instance, Michelle was hired by a guy at a department store. Just two weeks later, the guy’s girlfriend fired Michelle out of jealousy. “She swears he only hired me to sleep with me and thought we were sleeping together,” Michelle explained.

Her work woes did not end there.

“I had a summer job at the local newspaper in graphic design,” Michelle began. “Every Wednesday, this guy would come in from out of town to pick up a small newspaper, and he’d flirt with me. I hated it. It was like sexual harassment.”

One day, the guy came on a little too heavily and a distracted Michelle accidentally closed an advertisement she had spent four hours working on, without saving her work first.

The next day, she explained what had happened to her productivity the day before.

“I was told it was my fault I’m being sexually harassed because I’m showing too much skin in my t-shirt and blue jeans,” Michelle told us. Her boss required her to wear long-sleeved shirts to work from that point on — in the heat of summer.

“He fired me a week later,” she said.

The hits just kept coming. Another job interview came along, this time to handle bookkeeping at a printing press.

When Michelle arrived for her interview, the man who eventually hired her intended to turn her away before meeting her, pausing a moment, and asking someone else if she was pretty.

When that person responded in the affirmative, Michelle got her interview.

“Nobody had done a bank reconciliation in three years,” she explained. “He was working from three different cash balances (all were wrong), he had been expending assets and depreciating consumables…I cleaned it up.”

Her reward for a job well done? She was fired soon after because she wouldn’t sleep with the man who had hired her.

Michelle also faced some “male macho bullshit” when she was in the military. “They don’t hire based on looks,” she told us, but she equates being pretty with simply being female in that situation.

“I managed to run circles around those people during physical training, and occasionally I’d spit my Copenhagen at their shoes,” she told us. “I probably had a little too much fun with that.”

Based on her experiences, Michelle drew an interesting conclusion:

“Being pretty is really the same thing as being a woman,” she said. “Most of the issues I dealt with were because I’m a woman, and I think being pretty just comes with the territory.”

“I do think the struggle beautiful women face are struggles women face,” Michelle continued. “I have this feeling that a lot of what I went through with the workforce happens to a lot of women who have no idea it happened to them, too.”

“I didn’t like being pretty back then,” Michelle admits. Over the course of her life since her weight and looks have changed. 

“Because I was what I thought was pretty, my self worth is gone now that I’m not that person anymore. The moment you get comfortable with the skin you’re in, it changes, and you have to start over.” 

When your looks are a part of what makes you who you are, there is an increased pressure to remain attractive as we age…and that can lead to far bigger problems than just finding the perfect foundation or eyebrow pencil.

The Real Dark Side Of Beauty

“When society has a rigid and inflexible definition of what is attractive, a woman is held hostage,” Dana Dovich, the licensed psychotherapist, educator, and writer we spoke with earlier, said.

“She might always be comparing herself to a manufactured ideal. If she is able to build a strong inner life, one where she feels a sense of personal pride and value, she can ride out the pressures to be ageless and beautiful with her self-esteem intact.”

“But when a woman is overly identified with her appearance as her imagined source of value, she might sink into depression, anxiety and fear, especially as she ages. In this way, whether a woman is younger or older, if she doesn’t feel a sense of positive identity, she can’t push back against unrealistic pressures.”

“My appearance is a big factor in my identity,” Raquel, the former ballet dancer we’ve been speaking with, told us, adding that it “still is, now that I am past 60 and has been all my life.”

She doesn’t put as much effort into her appearance as she used to but admits that she puts “far more than the majority” of women her age.

That said, she does it for herself and no one else.

“At this point in my life, it makes ME happy to look at the mirror and be pleased with what I see. My wrinkles and white hair just make sense with everything else,” Raquel explained.

Some women who are perceived as beautiful, however, may develop an obsession over it because they equate their attractiveness to their self-worth.

When your looks become “everything,” it’s easy to panic over a grey hair or new wrinkle, or (gods forbid!) an unsightly blemish.

This can result in the development of body dysmorphic disorder, which is when a person becomes preoccupied with what they consider to be physical flaws.

“When someone has body dysmorphia, it includes a frequent obsession about their appearance,” Lauren Cook, the doctoral candidate of clinical psychology at Pepperdine University we spoke with earlier, told us.

“It’s not uncommon for the person to spend hours each day staring in the mirror or scanning for wrinkles, bumps, and the like.”

“They may seek out excessive plastic surgery as a way to combat their changing figure,” she added. “The person feels actively distressed by their appearance and these thoughts take up a significant amount of space and time in their brain.”

The rise of social media may not be helping those who struggle with this.

Social media has certainly contributed to body dysmorphia,” Lauren said. “With filters and editing, and with a higher amount of likes on highly edited photos, people are watching reinforcement for physical beauty appear right before their eyes.”

“They are watching influencers get paid and make a living just by being attractive (#ad) and that can look quite appealing,” she continued.

“While this is not the whole story, watching someone get free products and comments that flatter endlessly, it’s understandable that people either feel inadequate or hopeful that they too can keep up with the beautiful Joneses.”

Taryn A. Myers, Ph.D., the Director of Academic Effectiveness and Associate Professor of Psychology at Virginia Wesleyan University, agrees and thinks that it has also led to an increase in “disordered eating behaviors and full-fledged eating disorders.”

“Everyone can photoshop their images on social media and only present the best ones, so it becomes harder and harder to determine what is realistic for appearance,” Taryn told us.

“There is a whole host of research in the body image world suggesting that the pressure to be attractive, to look like those unrealistic images in the media, is linked not only to negative appearance-related self-esteem but also to feeling bad about yourself in general,” she said.

“In turn, these feelings can be linked to depression and anxiety, as well as decreased performance at work or school due to difficulties concentrating.”

Madeleine Mason Roantree, the Director of Relationship Psychology Services at The Vida Consultancy we spoke with earlier, doesn’t feel that clinical body dysmorphia is related to social media but also said that it doesn’t help.

She told us that clinical body dysmorphia “is likely to stem from an inadequate amount of affirmation in childhood, experiences of being teased or some other traumatic event that affects the young person’s developing sense of self.”

“An unhealthy relationship with appearance starts with things like not being able to go outdoors without wearing make-up (for women) or being groomed (for men),” Madeleine added, “to constantly comparing oneself with others and generally feeling inadequate or shameful about one’s looks.”

“Body dysmorphia is diagnosed when a handful of criteria are met,” she continued, “including preoccupation (thinking daily) about one or more non-existent or slight flaws in physical appearance and repetitive compulsive behaviors, such as mirror checking, excessive grooming, skin picking, reassurance seeking or clothes changing.”

Madeleine added that a person suspected of having clinical body dysmorphia would need to see a specialist for diagnosis.

The relatively recent emergence of “Snapchat Dysmorphia,” which is the unhealthy obsession over one’s social media images, is a phenomenon that has literally led to people seeking plastic surgery that will make them look like the filtered versions of themselves.

This trend is most common in those aged 20-40.

I spoke with Dr. Wendy Kar Yee Ng, a board-certified plastic surgeon in Orange County, Calif. “With the rise of social media and the proliferation of constant photo documentation, modern technology has led [the] way to the current emphasis on attractiveness,” she told us.

“Social media often includes images that have been altered, and viewers can falsely assume that edited looks are achievable.”

She pointed out that a person’s desired results are dependent on the photo filter. “For basic filters that help with skin tone and blending, sometimes these ‘looks’ are indeed relatively achievable with good skincare including helping with skin’s moisture, treatment of pigmentation, and regular use of sunscreen and retinol,” she explained.

“Other filters that include more dramatic changes may be unrealistic and may not be achievable,” Wendy advised. “As a board-certified plastic surgeon, it is my role and my responsibility to ensure that patients pursue cosmetic procedures for the right reasons — and not just for selfies!”

Raquel, the former ballet dancer who’s been sharing her beauty privilege story with us, admits that plastic surgery is something she would consider to maintain her appearance, but she has mixed feelings about it.

“There’s a part of me that resents my need to ‘still’ look good at my age (60), which I know, is not logical,” she told us. “And there’s the other part of me welcoming it. I wouldn’t do [it] now, though, I am afraid of going to an ‘unnecessary’ surgery that offers some risks.”

Stacy, the music reviewer we also spoke with earlier, has no interest in plastic surgery to maintain her looks as she ages.

“I had a rhinoplasty when I was a teenager and, while the cosmetic result was great, I’ve been a mouth-breather ever since,” she told us. “Beyond that, my understanding is that were I to have a facelift, tummy tuck, or whatever, I would have to do maintenance after some passage of time. Does an 80-year-old platinum blonde with no wrinkles think she’s fooling anyone?”

Stacy makes an incredibly valid point.

The Financial Cost Of Being Beautiful

Beyond the mental, physical, and emotional cost, there is also the financial cost associated with maintaining one’s beauty to consider.

The average woman owns 40 makeup products and unless you’re a paid influencer or a master at clipping coupons, that stuff doesn’t come for free.

Over the course of her entire life, a woman spends an average of $300,000 on makeup products. The average woman is walking around with $8 worth of stuff on her face, subject to change depending on where she lives.

I fall into that average, I think; my basic non-bog-witch look is comprised of BB cream or very light foundation with sunscreen, lip balm, and mascara if I’m feeling fancy.

I add a little eyeliner along my top lash line if I’m pulling out all the stops (or if I look hella tired).

It’s a fairly quick routine because I have things to do and places to be. I also have curly hair that requires blow-drying with a diffuser and I tend to run late everywhere I freaking go.

Over time, though, the time we spend making ourselves beautiful (or even just presentable) can really add up. Stacy discovered just how much time she shaved off her own routine after cutting her hair many years ago.

“Once I cut my hair I realized how much time I wasted shampooing, drying, styling and having my hair cut,” she explained. “While I continue to do these things, with the same (old, boring) style — which doesn’t bother me in the slightest — I spend the time saved on less vain endeavors.”

So in terms of maintaining our beauty, as women, we’re paying for it with our self-esteem, our emotional states, our money, and our time.

That’s a hell of a steep cost, any way you look at it.

Bottom Line: While being beautiful has its advantages, it doesn’t mean that life is always going to be wonderful. For those who are attractive, members of their own sex might outright reject them because of their attractiveness — in job situations, friendships, and even familial relationships.

Women, in particular, may also struggle with acceptance from members of the opposite sex if they’re working in traditionally male job roles.

There is also a high price for beauty in terms of its emotional toll on us. An obsession over one’s looks may lead to body dysmorphia when a person becomes preoccupied with what they consider to be physical flaws. In addition, the rise of social media and the constant use of photo filters also presents a challenge when people think they should look like the filtered versions of themselves in real life.

Finally, there is also a high financial cost in maintaining one’s beauty through the use of cosmetics and products, to say nothing of the time spent making ourselves “beautiful.”

Master The Art Of Aging Gracefully By Simply Embracing Your True Beauty

Image Of An Attractive Woman In Metalic Makeup And Bodypaint Of Different Colors Against A Black Background

“True beauty isn’t what we look like — it’s who we are being.” Dr. Kim Peirano

According to a poll from Pew Research Center, 71% of American women feel pressure to be physically attractive, while only 27% of men did.

Even if we don’t necessarily feel the need to be attractive, we do feel the need to look presentable.

“My external appearance is certainly part of my identity, but I focus on it far less than my work, relationships, or internal world,” Dr. Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist and the author of “Aging Joyfully,” told us.

“I don’t put much effort into my appearance. I like to look nice and certainly focus on being healthy, but I’ve always been a ‘wash and wear’ person at heart.”

Particularly for women, though, our sense of our own attractiveness is negatively impacted by what we see in the media and on social media, leading us to feel dissatisfied by our appearance regardless of how other people might actually view us.

“Beauty is really relative,” Michelle, the writer who struggled with sexual harassment in the workforce, told us. “It’s not real unless you’re comparing it to something.”

“One’s self-esteem can be influenced by the pressure to be attractive,” Dr. Wendy Kar Yee Ng, the board-certified plastic surgeon we spoke with earlier, told us.

“With the rise of social media and the proliferation of constant photo documentation, modern technology has led [the] way to the current emphasis on attractiveness.”

We are also our own worst critics where our looks are concerned in general.

This video highlights the differences between how we see ourselves versus how other people see us.

And let me tell you, we clearly get it wrong a lot of the time.

 

How To Finally Get Off The Beauty Merry-Go-Round

Dr. Kim Peirano, a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, explains true beauty this way:

“When we are being our most authentic self, living in our truth, we are fully harnessing our spirit in our body and this is where true beauty and aging gracefully stems from. By being undeniably you, your unique self, we become ageless.”

Raquel, the former ballet dancer from Brazil we spoke with several times throughout this article, plans to age gracefully by keeping her body healthy, mobile, and flexible, keeping her mind sharp, and “accepting, in my heart, that I lost my looks.”

“As my hair thins, my skin changes, my waist widens, I look at my daughter and see the beauty I used to admire in myself,” she told us. “I watch my grandson, who has my eyes, blossom in his life and that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world, not even to feel pretty and attractive again.”

“I had my time, enjoyed [it] immensely and I am ready to age gracefully.”

As she’s grown older, Dr. Carla Manly, the clinical psychologist from earlier, loves herself more now than ever.

“I think this is a result of being proud of the woman I’ve crafted — overcoming hardships, helping others, and building the career of my dreams,” Carla explained.

“I think all of these — plus being more at ease with my physical body — make me feel better now than ever!”

At 43, I absolutely concur with what Carla is saying. There is something truly magical about getting older if you embrace it with open arms.

At this point in my life, I know who I am. I know what I want (and don’t want). I understand my worth. And I love who I am — for better and for worse.

I didn’t feel that way when I was 20, or 25, or even 30. When I turned 40, all of my f*cks just flew away into the sky, never to be heard from again.

Are there things I’d change about myself? Maybe — we all have nitpicky characteristics we’d alter if we could.

But building happiness within yourself, being proud of who you are, and finding joy in life…that means everything, especially as we get older.

As you age (gracefully), you can help to keep your mind sharp by learning new things, taking up a hobby, or getting involved in volunteer opportunities in your community.

Perhaps equally important: don’t neglect the power of social interaction as you get older. Friendships and social relationships are good for your physical health and your emotional health.

Beth Shaw, founder and CEO of YogaFit, said it’s important to engage in life as much as you can. “Classes, clubs, coffee dates, and travel tours are stimulating and engage you with other people,” she said. “They’ll help keep you young and looking forward to the next exciting thing.”

She’s right.

Having a sense of purpose, whether it’s through doing work you enjoy, volunteering, or simply having a blast while doing an activity (like painting, playing music, or writing) can benefit you physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as you age.

In terms of how you look, getting older means it’s more than okay to let your hair go gray if that’s what you want to do! Alternatively, if you want to color your hair, then that’s exactly what you should do.

“A content inside shows clearly on the outside,” Melanie, the life insurance expert we spoke with, told us. “And when you’re happy with who you are on the inside, your outward appearance will age gracefully.”

Michelle, the writer, told us that confidence is what made her most attractive to others. “Confidence is what made me feel pretty (or not care), and it’s what made people think I was pretty,” she said.

Smiling doesn’t actually cause wrinkles (as unfortunate as that is for this poor soul who didn’t smile for 40 years to avoid getting wrinkles) so don’t be afraid to smile — even when the crow’s feet start marching across your face.

That said, laugh your ass off — and do it often.

Laughing not only feels good because it increases your endorphins and the dopamine that flows into your brain, but it can also improve your memory and lower stress levels.

Keep a positive attitude as you get older. Not only can it extend your life, but it can decrease your mental and emotional stress (which as we pointed out earlier, can help you to look and feel younger).

Remember that with age comes wisdom and consider all of the things you’ve experienced in your life.

You may have regrets, as many of us do, but focusing on the present will enable you to live in the moment — and every new moment that comes your way.

Accept that you’re getting older and embrace it for what it means: living a life full of experiences, a set of intertwined stories that are as unique as your own fingerprints.

Bottom Line: There are a number of things you can do if you want to age gracefully. These include taking good care of your skin, eating healthy foods, lowering stress, staying social, and getting enough exercise and physical activity as you age.

Beyond that, though, aging gracefully is also a state of mind. Accepting yourself at every stage of your life is the foundation for aging gracefully. No one is living your life except for you: make the most of it and embrace the wisdom and experience that comes with getting older.

In Conclusion

Pretty privilege offers a number of advantages to those on the receiving end of them, but beauty also comes with its share of challenges.

Whether we’re drop-dead-gorgeous or not, it’s important to remember that we tend to be our own worst critics when it comes to our looks, and others don’t necessarily judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves.

There are several key ingredients to aging gracefully, including maintaining our health through diet and exercise.

If we embrace our age with confidence, from a place of joy instead of fear, we reap the benefits in the long run.

“Aging gracefully to me is becoming more and more in tune with your most authentic self,” Dr. Kim Peirano, doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, told us.

“Wrinkles, skin texture and tone, lip size or butt size have little to do with true beauty, yet we focus on them because they are features we sense that we can control.”

“True beauty isn’t what we look like — it’s who we are being,” Kim continued. “When we are being our most authentic self, living in our truth, we are fully harnessing our spirit in our body and this is where true beauty and aging gracefully stems from. By being undeniably you, your unique self, we become ageless.”

Unlike cosmetics and magical elixirs, inner beauty is free and available in endless supply. We just need to openly embrace who we are and love ourselves at every age.

That’s where the real fountain of youth resides.


Have you experienced pretty privilege or benefitted from your looks? Tell us about the experience and what you learned from it! 

Are you aging gracefully and do you have helpful tips to share with others? We’d love to hear from you!

Share your thoughts with us by clicking on the “Discuss” link/button at the end of this article.

About The Author

Alison Huff
As an extroverted introvert (yes, that’s totally a thing), I often joke that I became a writer so I could speak to the...

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