October 25th, 2000

Unreasonable Expectations

You often hear about how many young women are driven to eating disorders because of the expectation that they need to look like women in fashion magazines. Sensible people conclude this is absurd, because not only are those models spending hours before a photo shoot getting made up and wearing expensive designer clothes, but they are under carefully idealized lighting and photo conditions. Professional photography is worlds apart from point and shoot home cameras. Beyond that, these models' whole purpose in life is to look good. Tanning, manicures, skin treatment, and diets all help make them look that good. After the photos are taken they are touched, retouched and airbrushed by skilled graphic artists to produce the crisp ideals of physical perfection that adorn magazine covers. How's a mirror to compete?

Until recently, I wasn't fully appreciative of the scope of people with these expectations. There is a web site called where you submit a picture of yourself and fellow web surfers rate your appearance on a scale of one to ten. After rating only a few other people I noticed the that nearly every one of my ratings of other people was considerably higher than the average rating. Now, I think have a fairly discerning eye, and I naturally placed "average" at five. Anyone who I thought was under average got under five, and those that were above got more. Appearance, like many things in statistics, should follow a bell curve, with most people falling between 3 and 7, and few people at the extremes. But fairly attractive people were consistently rated as 2.7 or 3.4, while beautiful people managed a 5.1 or 6. While there were many under 2, not one was above 8. Is our perception of people so skewed and unreasonable that we believe supermodels are average? Do some people just leave a lot of headroom in case their favorite movie star pops up? These averages came from thousands of votes, so it isn't a few people tipping the scale. For kicks, I submitted my own picture (the same one from the Me page). After fifty votes, my score was 3.9, with more votes for 1 than anything else! Now, I don't claim to be the steamiest pile of shit in the yard, but 1? These people saw my picture and said, "That is the ugliest a person can be." I would say that as a people we seriously need to adjust our expectations of our own beauty. Either that, or there are some REALLY hot people out there that I am not seeing. (Of course, I do live in Milwaukee, land of cheese and beer, so maybe it's my expectations that are off.)