Self-Reflection in a Funhouse Mirror
There was a fascinating experiment many years ago about attractiveness and pair-bonding. In this study, a number from 1-10 was randomly selected and pasted to each subject’s forehead; the subjects were unaware of their own number. The random number represented the person’s attractiveness as a mate. A couple dozen subjects were then gathered in a room and given the directions to pair with the most attractive (according the number on the forehead) mate they could land.
Even though the subjects never knew their own number, they ended up “mating” with a subject with a similar number. They were calculating their own attractiveness by which numbers rejected them and which were interested.
But that’s not the part that really interested me. When I saw the videos of this study, I observed another, more nuanced behavior. There were some subjects who would be considered fours, threes, or even twos on a real-world attractiveness score who happened to land a high number for the study. These subjects were often more timid in the beginning, their own dating and social experiences bleeding into the laboratory. Even through the “9” on the forehead was attracting many potential suitors, it took time for the internal “3” to fade and for the self-view to shift to match the given reality.
This same discordant event happens out of the lab as well. People often form their own idea of their relative attractiveness to prospective mates when they are in their teens and early twenties and entering the dating scene. It’s more complex than simply looks; attractiveness also encompasses wealth (not just money, but what value you bring to the table), status, character and potential. None of which are static.
So something interesting often happens. You may have a man in his twenties who is still finding his way – no wealth accumulated, car and clothes broadcasting a lesser social status and potential buried under uncertainty. His attractiveness “score” that he internalizes at that point in his life may be a 4, pulling potential mates from the same pool. Ten years later, that same man has a degree, a career and is confident and successful in his professional life. Yet, in dating, he still sees himself as a 4, attracting partners that are no longer suitable. It takes time for the number printed on the brain to match the one projected.
Or, you may have a woman who was overweight and timid through her teens, forming her number from the reactions in the calloused halls of high school. Years later, when pounds are lost and confidence is gained, the perceived attractiveness is often still at the low point set in youth.
Most of us are no longer the person we once were: We change. We adapt. We grow.
Yet we don’t always believe.
The mirror which we use to see ourselves is no normal piece of glass; it is distorted by the messages we received about our value in our childhoods and young adulthoods. We etch that perceived worth inside our minds and often fail to update it when it is no longer relevant.
Step out of the funhouse and see yourself as you truly are without the distortion of the past.
Believe in what you project.
Believe in your value, your worth to others.
Believe in yourself.