interview Social psychologist: "Beauty is overrated"
MDR KNOWLEDGE: Ms. Rees, why are the obsession with beauty and the "body image", i.e. the self-perception of one's own appearance, such an important topic for you?
Anuschka Rees: Only a third of all women say they are happy with their bodies. Every second person wants to lose weight. Germany is a pioneer when it comes to cosmetic surgery. This is not a luxury problem: feeling bad about how you look has a huge impact. For example, it prevents girls in elementary school from registering. It discourages women from applying for leadership positions or bringing up the issue of contraception. That means, it's not about looking in the mirror and thinking: Wow, I look really great! It's about lessening all of the limitations that low self-esteem has on the lives of so many people.
MDR KNOWLEDGE: For your book, you asked over 600 women about beauty and self-perception. Which results were particularly memorable for you?
Anuschka Rees: A recurring theme was the role of the mother. I found that very interesting. Many women have reported on key situations where their own mother or grandmother would have been tough on them: You are too fat, you have to lose weight, do something about your pimples. You have to realize that the mothers also grew up in this system, sometimes with even more blatant, sexist media messages than today, according to the motto: Do something about your bad skin, otherwise your husband will leave you! And of course they pass all this on to their daughters - not because they want the daughter to feel bad, but because they have internalized: the better my daughter looks, the happier she becomes, the more opportunities she has, the better she becomes she treated in this world.
MDR KNOWLEDGE: So is this problem more pronounced in women than in men?
Anuschka Rees: Absolutely. The statistics show that even with men, appearance has an increasingly negative impact on their life and self-esteem. But by and large, women are still much more affected by it. Simply because women have been systematically taught for centuries that their worth as a person largely depends on their appearance. Sure, more and more men are also paying a lot of attention to their appearance. But still, it seems like it's more of an option for them. As a woman, it is practically impossible not to pay extreme attention to your own appearance. Otherwise there are consequences: body shaming, comments, poorer career opportunities.
MDR KNOWLEDGE: Many media and corporations have discovered the concept of "diversity" and use models, for example, who do not necessarily correspond 100 percent to the current ideal of beauty. Does this help to open up our concept of beauty?
Anuschka Rees: That doesn't solve the problem in my opinion. Sure: the specific ideals of beauty that we have are a problem that we need to address. Diversity and inclusion are important, but we must not forget the basic problem: namely that beauty and appearance are so overrated. And: All of these models may have an aspect that leads a brand to take a stand: Look, we'll do it differently! But these models usually meet all other ideals of beauty. Plus-size models, for example, still have to have special proportions, a great neck, great hair, and perfect facial features.
MDR KNOWLEDGE: Is the body positivity approach a solution? So the motto: Every body, every look has a value; love you the way you are
Anuschka Rees: Of course, that's better than thinking: If I don't conform to the ideal of beauty, it's best not to show myself at all. But at the same time the concept still sends the message: It has a huge, huge significance how you look, you have to find yourself beautiful in order to be satisfied with yourself as a person at all. As if you can only love yourself if you like the look of your own body. That's why I'm not that big of a fan of "Body Positivity". Movement clearly invalidates ideals of beauty, but it also reinforces the importance of beauty in itself. That is the crux of the problem.
MDR KNOWLEDGE: How do we get out of this impasse?
Anuschka Rees: Basically, I think: The burden shouldn't lie so much on the individuals. Sure, we can do certain things to get by in the best possible way at the moment. But basically the burden should be on the big media and also the big beauty companies, who are still taking advantage of women's fears to sell their products. Or if we look at education: It should almost be a duty to talk to elementary school students about it: Is everything that is shown on social media real? Should it be so much about looks? When it comes to politics, for example, we are taught that with women you don't concentrate on the content very quickly, but on what the woman looks like. Of course, upbringing also plays a role, but I think we should also take care of reducing the importance of beauty at the system level.
MDR KNOWLEDGE: So, as the saying goes, should only the inner values matter?
Anuschka Rees: I think you can't expect beauty and looks to be completely irrelevant. A lot of it is also purely biological. But we also have other values that we find good or attractive, but which still do not have this status. No matter how much a woman has achieved, can be a famous politician or activist - it always counts how she looks. She comes up on a magazine cover and it says: How does she manage to look so good at her age? We have simply accepted many such things and no longer question them.
MDR KNOWLEDGE: But the fact that we are all very fixated on looks and beauty cannot be easily changed. Don't I make myself miserable if I decide to swim against the current from now on and evade the beauty dictate?
Anuschka Rees: That's exactly the point. If you derive your worth as a person from your appearance, then you can of course manage to feel good for the moment when you come particularly close to an ideal of beauty. But we should also remember: our bodies are constantly changing, inevitably. We have accidents, we get pregnant, we get older. Even if I manage to feel beautiful now: What if I look completely different in ten years? Trying to be beautiful in order to feel more valuable cannot be a good long-term strategy. But admittedly: I don't have a perfect solution to the question either.
MDR KNOWLEDGE: What do you wish?
Anuschka Rees: I would like women of all ages to be able to see their appearance as just one of many values that determine their self-esteem. That appearance is not that extremely relevant in all life situations. That women don't think: my professional success depends on how I look. This only works if women, for example, do not get comments on their appearance in the media in the first place. That the head of a corporation is not asked in an interview which skin care products she uses. All of those things.
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