Would you call yourself attractive? It’s a tricky question for anyone to answer. If you say yes, you’re a conceited narcissist. If you say no, you’re putting yourself down and being too negative. Everyone struggles with their body image to a certain degree; it’s in our very nature. Even those people you see on social media who appear almost perfect, rest assured they’re obsessing over what they see in the mirror just like the rest of us.
Still, despite the fact that appearance anxiety is a universal human condition we all tend to look at other people and say “if only I had abs like that,” or “if only my hair stayed that straight.” The irony of such remarks is that other people are probably looking at you in the same envious way.
Now, an interesting new study conducted at the University of Barcelona has confirmed that you are your toughest critic. We’re just not very objective when it comes to our own looks and attractiveness.
Using virtual reality technology, researchers demonstrated that participants rated their own body as much more attractive when they were able to view it from a third-person perspective.
In total, 11 men and 12 women took part in the project. Before the VR portion of the study, each participant filled out a survey on eating disorders and a survey on their body shape perception. Next, the Experimental Virtual Environments (EVENT) Lab at the University of Barcelona created three virtual bodies, or avatars, for each participant.
The first avatar was based on participants’ self-reported body measurements to the best of their recollection, the second was based on their ideal body, and the third was made using their exact, legitimate body measurements. Then, each person was placed in a virtual reality simulation to view all three of the avatars twice – once from a first-person perspective and then again from a third-person perspective. Each time the study subjects were asked to rate the attractiveness of the body they were viewing.
“Our results suggest that a change in perspective affected the evaluation of the attractiveness of a virtual body. For female participants, when the same virtual body was perceived from a third-person perspective, it was evaluated as more attractive than when it was perceived from a first-person perspective,” says lead author Dr. Solène Neyret in a press release.
“Importantly, we also observed that the internal representation that people create of their own body is highly inaccurate,” she adds.
An individual’s relationship with their body can be a complicated one. We’re all just playing with the genetic hand we were dealt, and at some point or another everyone gets frustrated with their body. According to the research team, it’s those prior beliefs or biases about our bodies that may be driving people’s tendency to judge their appearance harshly. Basically, you’ve been stuck with your body for so long that you’re just not an impartial judge anymore.
The study also made it a point to note that most male and female participants pretty much described very similar “ideal body shapes.” This suggests that we’re all more easily swayed by society’s notion of a sexy body and attractiveness than we realize.
For many of us, these findings are merely novel and thought-provoking on a conversational level, but others struggle greatly with their body perceptions and experience life-long struggles with related problems like eating disorders.
“By showing their real body to our female participants from a third-person perspective, it appeared more attractive to them than when the same body was seen from a first-person perspective. We believe that this method can be particularly efficient for increasing body satisfaction in patients with eating disorders”, comments Dr. Neyret.
“This method could help patients to understand the biased representation they have of their own body. This knowledge could re-orientate their attention to the real features of their body shape in a more accurate and objective way, that isn’t affected by the negative prior beliefs they have about themselves”, she concludes.