Pretty privilege is taking a toll on our self-worth – here’s how to embrace your looks


Illustration of white, slim women
Pretty privilege is rife (Picture: Getty)

Pretty privilege is something that we all know is alive and well.

On dating apps that put the attention on looks, those who fit into conventional beauty ideals will likely get more matches.

In online content, conventionally beautiful models will be used time and time again over someone that falls into the category of being ‘diverse’.

A study by dating app Plenty Of Fish and social psychologist Dr Sandra Wheatley analysed data from stock image sites, media outlets and search engines.

They found 73% of images accompanied by words relating to ‘beauty’ featured a white woman.

In 88% of those images, the woman was depicted as slim, having long hair, and wearing makeup.

Everyday this content is filtered down through society, further shaping what looks are deemed normal and idealised – meaning many are made to feel inadequate.

The study found that body shape and racial diversity were disproportionately represented too, with only a quarter featuring a woman with minority heritage, and only 2% being plus-size.

Similar statistics were found for ageing too, as only 5% of images showed visible wrinkles. Skin was often perfected, with scars and acne being hidden 99% of the time.

These basic images – used everyday in articles, advertising and social media – reinforce archaic beauty standards.

Speaking to members of the public, 35% said they don’t see themselves reflected in this kind of content.

Over three-quarters said this exacerbates ‘pretty privilege’, a concept which affords certain advantages to those deemed stereotypically attractive. And more than half (69%) believe those who fall into this category will come by dates and friends easier.

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Dr Wheatley says: ‘It’s no secret that  pretty privilege exists in society, ingrained in the interactions we have with ourselves and others daily.

‘However, what is most concerning is the underlying acceptance of it as normal and ongoing, when more needs to be done to challenge and overcome it.’

A fifth of those surveyed feel they’ve been judged when dating someone that doesn’t conform to traditional notions of beauty – with one in four actually letting this stop them from dating someone.

This has impacted upon our collective mental health, as many respondents said they felt inferior, insecure and self-doubting based on looks alone.

Embracing your looks while dating and beyond

Embrace who you are

  • It can be hard work trying to be someone you’re not. Cognitive dissonance makes the distance between a lie and truth feel uncomfortable so channel the energy into believing in yourself. How you look is irrelevant to your value – if you decide that is so.

Perceive others positively 

  • What you think affects how you feel so you may have more control over this than you realise. Focus on the positives in people’s personality over their appearance. Be part of the change to value who we are rather than what we look like, and practice this when you meet someone for the first time or comment on their dating profile by complimenting them on something that stood out to you outside of their appearance regardless of looks.

Remember scarcity does not equal value 

  • The belief that scarcity creates value is limited, especially in the dating game. Potential partners are not scarce so remember to enjoy the journey and remain true to yourself – you’ll have a better chance of finding the right one.

Choose to be brave

  • Trust and love are earned so to get them you have to give them and that takes bravery. Choosing to be brave is a powerful psychological action. So be brave, take control and show potential partners you are worthy of a healthy, happy relationship.

Create a self-fulfilling prophecy 

  • There’s truth in the saying ‘before you can love anyone else, you have to love yourself’. Ask your loved ones to share their favourite part of your personality to boost your self-confidence, and do the same for them to practice your search for sincerity.

– Dr. Sandra Wheatley, Social Psychologist

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