1. Research on image formation and on the importance of attractiveness among the general public in Flanders and the Netherlands.  

1.1. Aims, methodology and description of the public

When drawing up this survey we targeted the following:
" Carrying out a survey on the the general public's attitude towards the importance of attractiveness in Flanders.
" Measuring the role of the media on the image formation of (un)attractiveness in our society.
" Checking our own attitudes and self-image concerning (un)attractiveness to link with feelings of happiness, the perception of success.
" Launching a sensitisation campaign on the excessive importance attached to looks in contacts with other people.

The anonymous questionnaire was carried out in many places. The large shopping centres in Flanders have been visited. Many colleges, universities, centres for adult education and companies rendered their assistance. We also reached 159 respondents, the majority of which were mainly Dutch, through our website.
A number of questionnaires could not be used, so that eventually 3,387 people were involved in the survey: 40% men and 60% women, of all ages, from under 15 to over 65. 44% were students; for the rest, every possible profession was represented. 97% were Belgian. All provinces were covered, but Limburg scored highest with 60%. All family situations were found and the largest category (33%) was married. Thus, we can claim that the interviewed public was certainly representative enough.

1.2. In Search of a definition of attractiveness and unattractiveness

In the survey, we asked for the most important attractive qualities of a potential partner. The respondents were asked to select maximum 5 body features out of a list of 15. What do you find attractive in a potential (love) partner? Both with men and women, the top three consists of the same elements: a well-cared-for appearance (78%), the eyes (63%) and the face (60%). Thus, these are the three elements to which Flemish people attach most importance when talking about attractiveness. We are not surprised to see that the face is also in the top three. In other surveys we also found that the face is very important when judging someone's attractiveness. We also examined which elements do not receive that much attention from the interviewed. Here, we noticed a slight difference between men and women. When looking at the opposite sex, men do not pay a lot of attention to: hands, genitals (except breasts!) and ears. For women, hands take the 7th position. Women pay least attention to: genitals, chest and ears. So, a large penis is absolutely not a must to be attractive to women. Men put breasts on the 5th position. A slim figure, which is considered the most important feature by most women, certainly does not score highest with that specific group of men: 32% of the men, compared to 12% of the women, regard this aspect of the body as attractive. Though it is striking that it does not leave men totally unaffected.


Another remarkable conclusion is that the top three of the minus 15-year-olds up to the 65-year-olds consisted of the same elements, namely a well-cared-for appearance, the face and the eyes. Only the 65 plus group had another top 3: well-cared-for appearance, attire and the eyes/hairstyle. Another striking element is that the top three is, in all age categories, followed by teeth, hairstyle and attire. In conclusion, we see that the percentages of the elements decrease as the age increases: in other words, young people attach greater importance to appearance than elderly people do. There was a more evenly division of all characteristics with the elderly people.
We also asked about unattractive characteristics. What do you find unattractive when looking at the opposite sex? The respondents had to indicate maximum 5 characteristics out of a list of 16. Just like with the attractive elements, the top of the men and the women is the same: body odour is in first position with a record score (79% thought this was unattractive), followed by uncared-for appearance (65%), excessive hair growth (47%), impure skin (34%) and being skinny (23%). Scars (5%), being too tall or too small (3% and 7%), wrinkles (8%) and glasses (3%) are both for men and women elements that are in the rear. Light obesity (11%) is considered less disturbing than being too slim (23%). The same elements were to be found in all the different age groups. Body odour is the most disturbing element for every group. Here too, we can say that the percentages decrease as the age increases. Generally, the older one is, the less attention he/she will pay to looks, and the less demanding he/she will be.

1.3. Influence of attractiveness on relations

1.3.1. Self-image

Self-image is extremely important to every human being. When you feel good, you will worry less about your body and thus you will come across as more attractive. The other way round is also true. He/she who has a low self-image will radiate it to others. Body image is a part of the self-image. A number of questions and propositions in our questionnaire were about the self-image and the way it is influenced by the media. In the recent media, there has been quite a fuss about obesity and the pressure that is put on fat people to lose weight. A standard to check whether or not one belongs to the category of obesity is the BMI, the Body Mass Index. This is very easy to calculate by dividing the weight in kilos by the height in square (height in metre). Based on the weight and height that had been filled in by the respondents, we divided them into 4 BMI groups. One group with a BMI under 20 (light to serious underweight), one group between 20 and 25 (normal weight), one group between 25 and 30 (light obesity) and a group over 30 (serious obesity). For each of these groups, we bundled a number of answers to the questionnaires.

Persons with a BMI < 20 (light to serious underweight)
How many cases among the interviewed: 20%
Age: the largest group within this category is under 20 years old: most people with underweight are between 16 and 20 years old.
Feelings concerning their own appearance:
" Especially the women have negative feelings concerning their own appearance (4 out of 5). The parts of the body they are least pleased with are weight, muscular strength, height, teeth and breasts.
" One out of two men with underweight are not always pleased with their looks. Their top 5 of parts of the body that are responsible for this is identical to that of the women (with the exception that the breasts are replaced by the chest).

Persons with a BMI between 20 and 25 ('normal' weight)
How many cases among the interviewed: 49%
Age: the largest number of people with a 'normal' weight is between 16 and 30 years old.
Feelings concerning their own appearance:
" People with a normal weight often have negative feelings concerning their appearance. Once again, there is a clear difference between the men (46%) and the women (72%).
" Men are mostly not satisfied with their belly, hair, teeth, muscular strength and weight.
" Women are concerned about their bottom, belly, weight, height and breasts.
" Yet, it is remarkable that these people have an ideal weight, according to the BMI scale, but both sexes are concerned about their weight.

 

Persons with a BMI between 25 and 30 (light obesity)
This is the category of people of whom we have calculated that they are slightly obese.
How many cases among the interviewed: 23%
Age: Most of the people in this group are between 21 and 65 years old, the largest part (more than 1 in 3) is even between 46 and 65.
Feelings concerning their own appearance:
" Negative feelings about their own looks are less frequent with these people (women 38% and men 25%). This is remarkable because they are in a weight risk zone. It probably has to do with the fact that people pay less attention to appearance as they grow older. As there are more elderly people in this category, this could be a reason.
" These people lean towards obesity, or are slightly obese. They have problems with their weight as well: weight, height and belly appear in their top 5 of parts of the body of which they are least happy.

Persons with a BMI > 30 (serious obesity)
According to the classification of BMI, people with a BMI over 30 are in the group 'obesity with health risks'. This means that the chance to get diabetes, back troubles and cardiovascular diseases, accelerated and premature wear and tear of the joints, and so on and so forth is larger for these people.
How many cases among the interviewed: 3%
Age: People with obesity are more frequent above 45 years old.
Feelings concerning their own appearance:
" People with serious obesity often have negative feelings about their appearance, especially women with 88%! Weight and belly are therefore absolute tops on the list of parts or characteristics of the body with which they are not happy.

When we asked the respondents to score themselves on a list of attractiveness, we did get a surprising result. Apparently, it does not matter whether you are underweight or obese, the persons from all BMI groups generally scored equally high (between 5-7 on 10). There is, however, a slight increase to be noticed in the scores that people award themselves, which is inversely proportional to the increase of the BMI. In other words, the higher the BMI figure, the lower one scores oneself, but it is not more than one or two points.
It is remarkable how many people indicate weight as a characteristic they are dissatisfied with. As far as people with a normal weight according to the BMI are concerned, this is more than 1 out of 4. People with obesity (light to serious) indicate weight most (about 64%) as a feature of dissatisfaction. The more serious the obesity on the BMI, the more dissatisfied about the weight. Although the BMI is calculated based on both weight and height, height is not so often seen as a characteristic to be dissatisfied about one's own appearance.
There are also a lot of people who are being (or have been) discriminated against because of their appearance. Most of the time it took place in schools by other children, when going out and when choosing a partner. Especially people with serious obesity (BMI > 30) have the impression that they are judged negatively by their environment.
But Flemish people agree that being fat is not always one's own fault (thesis 19) and they are even more certain about the fact that fat people are not automatically ugly people (thesis 24).
More than half of the interviewed people declare in one voice that you get more chances in life when you are beautiful (thesis 25). It does not make any difference whether one has a low or a high BMI to draw this conclusion. This is not surprising because unattractiveness does not only depend on the weight, but also on other external characteristics.

 

Miss Belgium, Miss Limburg, Miss Belgian Beauty, Miss Universe, Miss Internet, Miss Grape, Miss Europe, … all sorts of beauty queens. Yet, these beauty contests are not always that entertaining. These contests represent the beauty ideal within a certain community or society. Are these beauty contests mere 'meat inspections' like some critics boldly say? According to our population, it is not that bad. Well over 62% answer (thesis 8: Do beauty contests negatively influence the self-image?) that there is no negative influence. Only 15% think that these beauty contests have a bad influence. The number of women that have these negative feelings is larger than the number of men: 20% of all women (or 1 out of 5) do not feel good when seeing all those female ideal images. Only 1 man out of 10 feels dissatisfied with his body when seeing the more beautiful specimen of the same sex.
35% agree that this sort of contests does not show a lot of respect for the human being as a person (thesis 7), but 32% have no problem whatsoever with it, and like to watch. If we look at men and women separately, we see that men have fewer problems with the beauty contests than women. 41% of the men see no harm in the contests, compared to 30% of the women. Since miss contests are more popular than mister contests and it is mostly men that look at female beauty, this is not a surprise: yet 28% of the men, which is more than one out of four, judge that there is something wrong with the 'misses'.

1.3.2. Partner choice and attractiveness

The importance of attractiveness when choosing a partner
Most people are not aware of the impact of physical attractiveness. They pretend that the external appearance of a potential partner is of minor importance compared to other features of this person, like character, upbringing, personality… So people seem to seriously underestimate the influence of physical attractiveness. They are keen on keeping the illusion that our physical appearance is nothing but a subordinate and superficial personal feature alive. It seems to be hard to admit that one chooses his/her partner based upon looks. This illusion is also propagated in our society. The society denies, from a democratic ideal, the existence of so-called physical attractiveness phenomena, while enormous amounts of time, money and energy are being spent on cosmetics, attire, plastic surgery, sports, and diets. In our survey, we asked for the importance of looks when choosing a partner (thesis 3). 56% of our respondents admitted that looks are important when choosing a partner. 22% claims that looks play no part and the rest do not have a clue, or have not answered the question. 61% of the men think looks are important, compared to 53% of the women. So men seem to attach a little more attention to looks when choosing a partner than women, but one woman out of two thinks that looks are decisive.

The difference in sex
Men show a larger interest in their partner's looks than women. In other words, looks play a more significant part when assessing women than when assessing men. This confirms what everybody already knows. In one question in our general survey, we asked men and women what they thought was the most important feature of the opposite sex. They were allowed to indicate a maximum of 5 features from a list of twelve. No minimum was determined. It was a general list of features that are especially connected to someone's character like humour, intelligence, safety, etc. Looks were also mentioned in these features.
As far as men are concerned, looks take the fifth position. In total, 44% of the men admitted that looks are important for them. On the other hand, as far as women are concerned, the item 'looks' only takes the 7th position. Only 28% of the women have indicated this item. We have found that the nature of external features to which men and women attach importance are not entirely the same.
The top 5 of the men consisted of the following elements: sense of humour (82%), charisma (68%), spontaneity (63%), intelligence (53%) and appearance (44%). The order of the women is the following: sense of humour (79%), charisma (73%), spontaneity (68%), self-confidence (43%), intelligence (42%). It is striking that all aspects that are found important are identical for men and women, except for one feature. Women attach more importance to the intelligence of men than to their looks. Striking though, is that people will rather admit to looking at other features to find someone attractive, but when we explicitly ask whether looks are important (thesis 3), 61% of the men and 53% of the women will frankly say yes. We can conclude that looks are extremely important, but not most important, at least when a man or a woman is asked straightforward.

The importance of your own attractiveness in partner choice
The importance of looks in partner choice should not be minimised. Though it should be mentioned that in real life it is to be expected that people do not unconditionally choose for the most attractive candidate. It is believed that they bear their own degree of physical attractiveness in mind. This phenomenon is called 'matching'. In other words, people will preferably look for a partner who matches their own degree of physical attractiveness and that there is a clear resemblance in the degrees of attractiveness of both partners. Thesis 4 from the survey draws a better picture on the vision of the Flemish on this subject. Namely, it was advanced that attractive people look for each other's company. Approximately 38% of the Flemish people agree to this thesis. 25% do not. The others do not have an opinion, or have not answered the question. From this, we can conclude that more Flemish people think that attractive people, whether consciously or subconsciously select other attractive people to hang out with. But the difference is insignificant.

The partner's attractiveness is overrated
In the public enquiry, people were told to grade themselves and their partner on a scale of 1 to 10. The figures for the self-score are mainly situated around 5, 6 or 7. The average for men was 6.35 and for women 6.01. The most striking feature was that most respondents award their partner a higher score than they award themselves. This applies to both men and women. 85% of the respondents give their partner a 7, an 8 or a 9. One out of 5 persons give their partner a 9 and one out of ten persons even give their partner a 10! In regard to this last category, women are as generous as men. Men gave their partner an average of 7.9, and women gave an average of 7.7. Men gave their partner a higher score than women give men, but the differences are not spectacular. The reason for this is probably the same reason as stated in the paragraph of self-judgement. The basic standards in regard of attractiveness are higher for women than for men, because women are more confronted with their looks. Maybe women have the ability to evaluate their looks from an objective point of view?
These results show that Flemish people evaluate their partners fairly positively and find them attractive. Does this also tell something about the modesty of a Fleming who'd rather give someone else credit than himself? We may conclude that the majority of the respondents find their partner attractive and award them high scores.

1.3.3 Society, such as friends, school, work situation,…

Do you have to look handsome to be more easily accepted in our society? Do you stand more chance of success with a good appearance? The different studies quoted in this book show that the advantages of your attractiveness are recognisable from early on. In our enquiry, we ask the following: " How are attractive people in our society being looked at by others. If we ask the man/woman in the street what he/she thinks of attractive, beautiful people in comparison with plain, unattractive people, the majority of these people will find that the attractive people are more social-minded, materialistic, snobbish, selfish, exciting, self-confident, assertive, successful and vain. They do not think that they are more intelligent or nicer, however this does not mean that they are more difficult to live with.

We presented the respondents a number of theses about the importance of attractiveness. Below, we will briefly discuss them. For further details, we refer to the reports on CD-ROM.

Unattractive people are being discriminated against in our society (thesis 6)?
The answer to this thesis is very clear. 52% of the respondents agreed to this thesis. 20% did not agree and it is striking that 26% did not know.
Women are, even more than men (with a difference of 10%), convinced of the fact that there is a certain discrimination against unattractive people. Almost 56% of the women find that unattractive people are being discriminated against in our society.

Attractive people lead easier lives (thesis 9)?
44% agree to this thesis: beautiful people lead easier lives. This may not seem a lot, but the people who think that they lead difficult lives amount to 29%. Consequently, more people are convinced that beautiful people have more chances in life and that they have the possibility to lead an easier life. More women than men believe this, but the difference is insignificant. One out of four does not know. One person out of ten agrees with this thesis.

Attractive people are more fun to go out with (thesis 18)?
The majority of the respondents do not agree to this thesis and find that these people are not more fun to go out with. Over 69% or more than 2 out of 3 persons do not agree, but about 10% agree. More men (12%) than women (9.5) are convinced of the fact that beautiful people are more fun to go out with. We may not conclude that they are less pleasant.

Attractive people are less happy (thesis 20)?
The most striking feature of this thesis is that a large number of the respondents cannot respond to this thesis. 37% say they do not know. Barely 5% are of the opinion that attractive people are less happy and 52%, i.e. one out of two people, are convinced that this thesis is not correct. It is obvious that attractive people are not less happy, however this does not mean that they are happier than unattractive people. This also does not mean that unattractive people are less happy.

Attractive children are granted better marks at school than other children (thesis 21)?
The results turned out better than expected for our teachers. 11% are of the opinion that teachers take children's appearance into account: 12% of the men and 10.5% of the women. 61% say that this does not have any influence and one out of four does not know. The fact that one out of ten persons says that being attractive at school is an advantage for the evaluation of the school marks is not much, but 11% is still a high percentage, knowing that no discrimination whatsoever should be allowed in the field of appearance. It is not a good sign if one out of ten persons in a classroom says that teachers give marks on the basis of appearance and not on the basis of a child's performance. Maybe it is alarming and sets teachers thinking of how to deal with this idea. It is also a signal to the school board and educational advisors to bring up the theme and make it subject of discussion.

Attractive people have a happier relationship/marriage (thesis 22)?
Barely 6% of the respondents agree to this thesis. They do not take the view (as proved in other inquiries) that attractive people have a happier relationship.
On the contrary, 65% of the respondents do not agree and one out of four does not know. We did not find any significant differences between men and women. Conclusion: you do not have to be beautiful to be happy in your relationship/marriage.

Attractive blonde women are not as clever as other women (thesis 23)?
There goes the excuse to joke about blonde women, because 67% of the respondents do not agree to this thesis. Hair colour does not have anything to do with intelligence. Yet, in our society, some people are ascribed certain characteristics.

Beautiful people get more chances in life (thesis 25)?
Over 56% or more than one person out of two agree to the fact that beautiful people have an easier life and get more chances. Barely 19% do not agree. One out of five persons does not know. There are no significant differences between men and women. No one should agree to this idea that beautiful people have an easier life, if we take into consideration that all men are created equal. Apparently, this is all an illusion. Beauty takes priority over several fields of life and even now, people are convinced that beauty is an additional trump to achieve something in life.

Attractive men make higher wages than unattractive men (thesis 26)?
There are a lot of people who do no have any idea about this subject: almost 33% do not know. 9% believe that this thesis is correct and that beautiful men make more money, 55% do not agree. The most striking feature is that more men than women are convinced of this thesis: 11% of the men fully agree, compared to 8% of the women. There are also a lot of women who simply do not know. The fact that only one out of ten thinks that beautiful men are favoured is relatively small, but then again frightening because also one out of ten are of the opinion that the appearance determines a men's wallet.

Attractive women make a higher wage than unattractive women (thesis 27)?
Nearly 15% of the respondents are of the opinion that beautiful women will make more money. 50% or one out of two thinks that appearance does not play any part at all. One out of three simply does not know. As in the former thesis, more men than women are convinced that the appearance plays a part in earnings. 20% of the men or one out of five are of the opinion that attractive women make more money than unattractive women. However, 47% think that this is incorrect. Only 11% of the women are convinced of this. In comparison with the above-mentioned thesis, it appears that twice as many men are convinced of the fact that beautiful women make more money than of the fact that beautiful men make more money than their less fortunate fellow men.

Attractiveness plays no part when applying for a job (thesis 28)?
18.5% of the respondents are of the opinion that appearance does not play a part when applying for a job. 55% or more than one out of two respond 'I do not agree' to 'I do not agree at all'. Thus, we may conclude that more than half of the respondents are of the opinion that appearance does play a part when looking for a job. One out of four, an average figure for this series of theses, have no opinion. The fact that more than half of the people are convinced of the fact that attractiveness is an advantage when looking for a job, tells us something about the impact of appearance in social life. People are less convinced that beautiful people will make more money, but they are convinced of the fact that getting the job or not has something to do with appearance. More women than men are convinced of this, 56% compared to 53%, but the difference is not significant.

Ugly people have fewer opportunities of finding a (marriage) partner (thesis 29)?
One out of three persons did not know what to answer, probably because it is not easy to give the right solution. 37% do not agree, in contrast with 30%, who do agree. More men than women are convinced that an unattractive appearance is a handicap: 36.5% or more than one out of three men are of the opinion that an unattractive appearance is an obstruction. This group is even bigger than the group who thinks that this has got nothing to do with it, namely 32.5%. 26% of the women find that unattractive people get fewer chances, compared to 40% who say that this plays no part whatsoever. Which ever way you look at it: people are convinced that beauty is of importance, also when choosing a partner. Unattractive people get fewer chances. When we ask whether the respondents have ever been discriminated against because of their looks, it appeared that 6% has experienced disadvantages regarding unattractiveness in the field of partner choice.

Unattractive people are less intelligent than attractive people (thesis 30)?
Fortunately, the results are as expected: the appearance has nothing to do with the brains. Most of the people were convinced of this thesis, because there were not a lot of people who did not know what to answer or who did not have an opinion (only one out of ten persons did not know). 84% of the respondents are of the opinion that appearance has nothing to do with intelligence, 54% answered 'I do not agree at all'. It is only a very small group, nearly 4% who think that unattractive people are less intelligent. There are more men than women who think that unattractive people are less intelligent: 3.94% compared to 3.62%, but the difference is fractional. This fact is in contrast with other studies, which stipulate that some people are convinced of the fact that unattractive people are less intelligent.

Our society attaches more importance to the inner self than to looks (thesis 31)?
The results are very discouraging. Barely 13%, just more than one out of ten persons, are of the opinion that the society attaches great importance to the inner self. 56% or more than one out of two persons are convinced that the way you look, your appearance, is much more important in our society than the person you really are. The difference between men and women is minimal. Both are convinced of the excessive attention to the appearance in our society and the little attention paid to the inner self.

Unattractive people have more psychological problems (thesis 32)?
The most striking feature is that the majority of the respondents simply do not know: 42% do not have an opinion. 30% or one out of three say that they do not have more psychological problems in comparison to 24% or one out of four, who say they do have more psychological problems. It is, despite the large group who does not know, a signal to social workers that one out of four people is convinced that unattractiveness leads to more psychological problems. It is also a signal to society to face this problem.

In our society, more attention should be paid to countering discrimination in the field of appearance (thesis 34)?
The answers to this thesis speak for themselves. 64% or almost 2 out of three persons think that something should be done to prevent this. Barely 11% or one out of ten are against. 70% of the all women find that something should be done to prevent discrimination against unattractive people, compared to 7.5% who say that nothing should be done.
It is obvious that something should be done to prevent this sort of discrimination. A large majority of the respondents support this. Hopefully, policymakers will read this survey and try to find a solution to this problem.

Unattractive people look like criminals (thesis 35)?
In the nineteenth century, the Italian psychiatrist Lombroso thought he could recognise a criminal by his reclining forehead and asymmetric expression. The researcher Lipot Szondi, known from psychoanalyses, claims that psychologists could discover the genetic predisposition in regard to mental diseases or criminality of a person by having the person look at pictures of sick persons or criminals. The majority, namely 67% or two out of three persons, are convinced that unattractive people do not have the appearance of a criminal. One out of five persons does not know. On the other hand, 10% are of the opinion that they indeed have the appearance of a criminal. Men are more straightforward than women: 13% of the men are of this opinion, compared to 7.5% of the women. There are more men who do not agree to this thesis: 60% think that unattractive people do not have the appearance of a criminal, compared to 71% of the women.

1.4. The Media and the beauty ideal

We are daily swamped with images of attractive people: images made by the media and publicity agents who advertise both in the street (bus shelters, trams, street billboards) and on television screens, and last but not least advertising through the Internet. Men and women read, look, listen and interpret all these images.

In the general survey, we asked to what extent people are influenced by the media. We found a significant difference between women and men. 46% of the men say that the media has an influence on their appearance, compared to 66% of the women or two out of three. This means that six out of ten persons are being influenced by the media. The biggest target group of this high percentage is situated between the ages of 16 and 46. We also asked if the respondents are unhappy about their appearance when they see the advertisements in magazines or on television and see these attractive, beautiful people.
Nearly 2% of the women always feel unhappy when watching these commercials, compared to one out of two hundred men. If we take the sections 'always', 'regular' and 'sometimes', we have a total score of 30% or one out of three persons. If we also take the section 'seldom', 60% say that they are unhappy when watching these commercials. The age category of 16 to 20 years feels most unhappy about their appearance after watching commercials of beautiful, attractive people. Only one out of five women and one out of two men say 'never', this means that they never experience a negative influence when watching commercials.
A lot of guidelines about the image of human beings in the media have been written for publicity agents. But these guidelines have apparently not caused a lot of changes. Pictures are being manipulated to emphasize this beauty ideal even more. We may not underestimate the importance of advertising in our Western culture. Today we are part of a commercial and visual society, which we have changed into a consumer society due to our purchasing behaviour. Let us hope that publicity agents see this survey and that they do not immediately throw it in the rubbish bin.

A number of our theses explicitly deal with the relationship between the media and attractiveness.

I allow the media to influence my appearance (thesis 5)?
It is very strange that the results of this thesis are not the same as the aforementioned results. Nearly 17% say that they are influenced by the media as far as their appearance is concerned. In this thesis, 60% answered that they 'do not agree' or 'do not agree at all' to the fact that images coming from the media are determining. One out of five persons does not know. If we compare this answer to the above-mentioned answers, we notice that quite a lot of people marked 'to a lesser degree' when posing the question "Do you think that the media influences your feelings about your appearance?", whereas a group of 39% now answered 'I do not agree'. The persons, who answered that they are not influenced by the media, now choose to answer 'I do not agree at all'. We may conclude that the majority of the respondents gave a fair answer. We do not have a real explanation for this difference in answers. A possible explanation is that in the first question they have been asked specifically if the media influences their feelings towards their appearance, to which the majority answers positively, whereas in this thesis, the respondents were asked if they are influenced by the media regarding their appearance.
It seems that quite a lot of people develop negative feelings when watching these beautiful people on television, but they are not influenced or will not be influenced by the media to change the way they dress or the way they do their make up. In other words, they do not feel good with these images, yet they do not change much in regard to their appearance.

In TV series, mainly attractive people are shown on the screen (thesis 10)?
A large majority agrees that television only gives chances to beautiful people. 63% agree or fully agree. 23% do not agree to this thesis and one out of ten persons do not know. More women than men agree to this thesis, but the difference is fractional.

For TV-programmes like Temptation Island or Expedition Robinson (VT4), only attractive people are chosen (thesis 11)?
There is great controversy about this thesis, but the majority is of the opinion that only beautiful people get a chance and not the unattractive people. Almost 60% agree that only beautiful people get a chance to be on television, compared to 15% who say that this is not true. One out of five does not know, but these people may not know these programmes.

In the television programme Blind Date with Ingeborg (VTM: Flemish Commercial Network), the hunters always pick out the most beautiful partners (thesis 12)?
A lot of persons added either directly to the question, or to the comments at the end of the questionnaire that this question was absurd, as it is a "blind date" in which participants do not see each other. This also explains why a lot of people did not answer this question: 35 % or one out of three does not know. Only a small percentage, 18.5 %, is convinced that looks determine the choice. 43 % disagree with the fact that only attractive people are chosen. So it seems that the majority is of the opinion that looks are not the main element in this programme.
We want to remark, however, that in the new formula one can choose another partner when the hunter does not like him or her, and it occurred a couple of times in the last few programmes. Besides, some of the audience informed us that friends in the audience often use codes to indicate which candidate is (un)attractive.

It would bother me if a corpulent woman would host a television programme (thesis 16)?
Of course, the way in which people answer questionnaires can always diverge from what they really think and want, but these results obviously show that the majority of respondents would not be bothered if a corpulent woman hosted a programme: 67% does not make a problem of it. It would bother scarcely 13%. And this figure can be especially attributed to men. 20% or one out of five men would find it unpleasant to watch a fat woman on the screen; only 9% of women would find it annoying.

It is fine with me that only attractive people are allowed to participate in television programmes (thesis 13)?
A vast majority of people is of the opinion that not only attractive people should be allowed on the screen. 75% or three out of four persons do not agree with the idea that only attractive people are given opportunities in television programmes. Only 9.5% agrees with the fact that there are only attractive people on the screen. The majority also wants to see ordinary and unattractive people, to see a sample of all the people in the population, and not only the most attractive ones as it is shown now. The fact that only one out of ten people do not know the answer to this question, compared to other questions, indicates that a large majority thinks that everybody, from pretty to ugly, should have a chance to appear on the screen. Let's hope that producers also read this statement?

In the programme Idols 2003 (VTM) the singer's attractiveness (appearance) was of importance for the selection (thesis 14)?
44% agrees that appearance was taken into account, only 21.5% did not agree. Women were more convinced than men that appearance mattered, 46% agreed compared to 41% of men. A large group, one out of three did not have an opinion.

There should be more television programmes in which average people can participate (thesis 15)?
In line with the previous results, an obvious majority of men and women agrees with this. 60% is of the opinion there should be more television programmes in which ordinary people perform. Only 11% does not agree. One out of four does not answer. Producers should be aware of the fact that the average man and woman in the street of what age whatsoever are a little bit tired of being confronted with beautiful people all the time. They explicitly ask that everybody should have a chance to prove on the screen what he or she is worth. Women are more convinced of that than men: 65% of women want more ordinary people, compared to 52% of men. Also only a small number of men, hardly 15%, is happy with the current situation in which only attractive people are shown. The rest does not know.

Attractive people in commercials influence my choice whether to buy or not to buy a particular product (thesis 17)?
A striking majority of 71% claims not to be influenced by attractive people in advertising. Scarcely 10% or one out of ten persons say that it matters. The number of men and women is practically the same. Then why do publicity agents do this, when it seems that most people say it does not work. Possibly because most people do not realize they are unconsciously influenced. The proverb "What is beautiful, is good," dates back to the ancient Greeks and the Romans and it is still common practice today. The association of "beautiful" with the good qualities of the product seems to be strongly influencing. Advertising is one of the most investigated influencing strategies and it would be astonishing if inefficient methods were applied. We live in a visual culture today, in which messages are more and more communicated through images and less through words. Therefore, it is a deliberate strategy to use attractive people. Most people won't admit that it appeals to them, but the fact that companies pour tremendous budgets into this kind of utopian visual messages, is a proof that it does work, even though people say it does not influence them.

In the spring of 2002, Minister of Welfare Mieke Vogels led a campaign "I am worth looking at." I believe such an action is important (thesis 33)?
Former minister Mieke Vogels's campaign was one of the direct reasons to set up this investigation. Although there was an outburst of criticism, the campaign was very commendable. On the one hand, a lot of people think that the nude models who were shown in the newspapers and magazines definitely did not correspond to the average man or woman: despite their deviating sizes, every single one of them is attractive. In that sense, the campaign failed and the really unattractive people were put in the shade even more. On the other hand, the media criticized that ordinary people are given enough attention in the media and advertising. Some of them exaggerated and coldly posed that people want to dream and want to ask for that idealised dream world. If magazines would only show ordinary, and consequently less attractive people, they would no longer sell. What did our investigation show us? One out of four persons did not have an opinion about it. Furthermore, the majority was favourable to this kind of initiatives. 51% or one out of two thinks this kind of action is important, compared to the 19% who do not think it is necessary. Men and women have different opinions: men are less convinced of the importance of this campaign: 39% is convinced, compared to 60% of women. One out of four men is against the action, compared to only one out of eight women.
The fact that a majority is in favour of the action, is a signal to repeat this kind of initiatives and to permanently pay attention to the fact that all people are worth the effort, no matter how they look. The slogan of the campaign was: "Attractiveness is in your body, not your body itself." We can endorse this together with many of the respondents.

More ordinary/unattractive people should be shown in publicity (thesis 36)?
A small majority, that is 52%, thinks that more ordinary and unattractive people should be given a chance, compared to 17% who do not agree. By and large, one out of four persons does not know. Again, women more than men are in favour of showing less beautiful people: 58% of women want to see more ordinary people in advertising, compared to 42% of men. Besides, 24% of men, or one out of four, were against it. Only one out of eight women or 12.5% were against it. Even though a large group of respondents were undecided, a majority is in favour of giving more chances to ordinary and unattractive people in advertising. This together with the fact that the majority of people claim (whether this fact or wishful thinking, remains unsolved) they are not influenced by beautiful people in advertising, has to be a sign for publicity agents to change course. Perhaps it would not directly influence their sales figures, but it would improve the formation of an image and the discrimination against unattractive people and it would help spiritual welfare.

1.5 Politics and looks


Signals reached us from literature and recently from politics that looks constitute an additional trump for success - or the lack of success - in politics. In the Netherlands, everybody agrees that Wouter Bos's success can also be attributed to his looks (his attractive "bum") and in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium the political babes also made their entry. It is even noticeable that new ministers are not only strong in expertise, but especially that they are young and attractive. Eric Donckier talks about Miss Belgium in his daily column in the Belang van Limburg (HBvL 10/06/2003), as a result of the appointment of Patricia Ceyssens and Marino Keulen as new VLD-ministers. But Sannen and Byttebier are also worth looking at. And recently, the number one of Belgian babes made her entry in the national government: Freya Vandenbossche. But take care: we do not claim that those people have only been chosen because of their looks. But it is striking that other talented, but less attractive representatives do not make such a career.

Just before the parliamentary elections of May 2003, we conducted a survey among the general public of the relation between looks and politics. One out of four does not know, but 44% think that the looks of a politician give more chance to being elected. 48% of men (one out of two) are convinced of that, compared to 41% of women. 30% believe it has no influence. So it seems that men are more convinced than women of the good looks being connected to politics. It is possible that people are convinced that attractive politicians have more chances of being elected, but does that influence them? 77% say not to be influenced by the looks of a politician. This percentage is equal for men and women. 15% do not know and only 6.5% say they are influenced by the looks. The percentage of women who are influenced is 1% lower than that of men.
Conclusion: almost half the people believe that the looks of a politician matter, but only 1 out of 20 says they are really influenced by it.

When taking a closer look at the most recent election results (federal parliament May 2003), we can wonder whether looks really mattered. Let us make a top five of the most popular women of the Dutch-speaking Electoral College according to preference votes. We did not take the size of the electoral district into account, nor did we distinguish between the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate, because that would give a totally different result. However, it was too much figuring to take this into account.

1. Anke Vandermeersch (Vlaams Blok): 106.694 (Senate)
2. Freya Van den Bossche (Sp.a-Spirit): 105.877 (Chamber)
3. Inge Vervotte (CD&V): 73.230 (Senate)
4. Sabine de Bethune (CD&V): 73.230 (Senate)
5. Erika Thijs (CD&V): 65.028

 

It is striking that the most popular woman is a former Miss Belgium, when we do not take the size of the electoral district into account. Furthermore, her party is not the biggest one in the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, so there is no logical connection between this.
Freya Vandenbossche and Inge Vervotte are both attractive young women who approach the absolute beauty ideal. They take second and third place. Would Inge Vervotte have made such a fast career if she were unattractive? Probably we would not even have heard from her. It is very subjective to say who are the most beautiful and attractive women out of the list. However, you may wonder whether this is a political election or a beauty contest. Erika Thijs, Jeannine Leduc or Mieke Vogels do not have the same young charisma, have less ideal sizes and they are not the much-discussed political babes. Despite their experience for years on end, they finish up behind the attractive newcomers. Jaak Gabriëls was suddenly replaced by the rather handsome Marino Keulen. But it is hard to determine whether it only had to do with the looks, and all persons concerned probably will deny it.


1.6. Change your looks: a new trend?

In our investigation we asked what people had ever done to change their looks. They could indicate in a list of activities if they had changed their looks often, regularly, sometimes or never. These data show that beauty treatments are not really used or abused. As expected, make-up and care rank highest, especially for women. Scarcely 17% of women state they never use make-up or beauty products, compared to 78% of men. There is no age group that scores remarkably high compared to others in the use of make-up or beauty products. Youngsters under the age of 15 use beauty products least of all. The age groups between 16 and 21 years and between21 and 30 years score highest.

One out of two persons is on a diet "often" or "sometimes". 67% of men never have been on a diet, compared to 38% of women. It is remarkable that almost 10% of women often are on a diet, compared to only 2% of men.
To improve their looks, men do more sports than women do. 45% of men often do sports to improve their looks, compared to only 39% of women. A slightly higher percentage of men never practises sports or has never practised sports to change their looks, i.e. 30% compared to 26% of women. Beauty operations do not often occur. Scarcely 10% of the group of 3,387 persons claimed to have undergone such an operation "often to regularly". When we consider the group of "often", "regularly" and "sometimes" as a whole, the percentage only amounts to 2.3%. Extrapolating this to the whole society, the group of persons undergoing this kind of operations becomes a lot bigger, assuming that 2 out of 100 persons at least sometimes undergo this kind of operation.

Laxatives are in the same line as deliberate vomiting. About 3% of the respondents claim to do this quite "often". However, there is a striking difference between men and women. Men hardly ever do it, so this percentage has to be attributed completely to women. Three women out of hundred use laxatives from time to time, or deliberately vomit after having eaten. Slimming products are more popular. An average of 10% of the interviewees often or sometimes use them. If we only take women into consideration, this percentage even increases to 15%. Muscle boosters are a field where men score a little bit higher. About 4% of men claim to use them "often" to "sometimes", although the majority answered "sometimes". Only 1.6% of women use them. 10% of the respondents visit health resorts with the intention of changing something about the looks often to sometimes. Again there is a larger group of women than men. Almost 15% of women often or sometimes visit a health resort.

Women score higher than men over the whole line. With sports and the use of muscle boosters, men rank exceptionally higher. The average woman pays more attention to her looks, spends more time on improving her looks and puts more effort into changing her appearance than the average man.

The major part answered "no" to the question whether they would also do this if it was bad for their health. Almost 5% say they would do it anyway.
Criticism on their looks would stimulate 20% of men and 33% of women to put in extra effort to change their looks. Scarcely 24% of men would not do anything about it, compared to 10.5% of women. Both sexes would "perhaps" change something about their looks.

1.7. Discrimination and Bullying

Discrimination means: "to treat someone differently because of characteristics that do not matter". In this investigation we asked the respondents to indicate whether they had ever been discriminated against because of their looks in one or more of the given situations.

Most persons indicate that they were discriminated against by other children when they were still at school. One out of five persons claims to have been subjected to this kind of discrimination. Nightlife also scores rather high with 8%. This probably does not mean that they were refused access to a disco because of a deviant appearance, but rather that they had fewer opportunities for social contacts.
A woman who says she weighs over 120 kg, commented to this question: "I no longer have any social contacts". The percentage among men and women is almost equal. Girls were bullied a little bit more than boys. In nightlife and partner choice, men rank a little bit higher as far as discrimination is concerned. Among women this is followed by " within the family" (4%) and "during leisure activities". 3% of both men and women say they were discriminated against by teachers, and this because of their looks. For discrimination during professional activities this percentage amounted to 2% . This means that still two persons out of one hundred are being bullied and discriminated against because of their looks. In this group we found two persons, a man and a woman, who still gave themselves a result of 10 /10. So in this case we might be dealing with sexual harassment or exclusion because of attractive looks rather than unattractive looks.
In theory, these numbers are not very high. But when 3 out of a hundred persons claim to have been discriminated against during job interviews because of their looks, at least in our opinion, they are 3 too many. After all, getting a job should not be based solely on your looks. An exception to this may be applying for a job as a model. But even this last example is questionable: after all the clothes will have to be worn by ordinary people.

Conclusion

This investigation shows, that men and women do not at all consider themselves "plain", that they value their partner more highly than they value themselves and that they consider appearance, the eyes and the face as the most attractive features. They detest body odour, but also an untidy appearance, excess hair growth and an impure skin. Being too skinny is worse than being too fat. When growing older, the demands of attractiveness become less important. Despite the BMI, a lot of women worry about their weight, their stomach and thighs. Men also share these concerns, but to a lesser extent. Most people do consider beauty contests degrading and these only have a limited influence on the self-image. Appearance and good looks have a major influence on partner choice . But if we have to choose out of a list with other characteristics, a sense of humour, charisma and spontaneity rank higher.

A majority agrees that unattractive people are being discriminated against in our society and that attractive people have more opportunities and an easier life. Attractive people are not more fun to hang out with and they are not less happy. A smaller minority is of the opinion that attractive children are favoured and that attractive people receive higher wages than unattractive people. More people are convinced that appearance and looks do matter when applying for a job. Ugly people do not have fewer chances to find a potential husband/wife and they are certainly not less intelligent and they do not look more "criminal". At least, that is the opinion of the majority, even though a small percentage is still convinced of the opposite. A majority admits that our society seems to attach more attention to outer beauty than to inner beauty. That is why 2 out of 3 persons say something should be done to combat discrimination based on looks. Especially women feel the pressure of the media to always look more beautiful and they foster negative feelings when seeing models on television. The majority thinks more ordinary and unattractive people should be shown on television programs. Scarcely 1 out of 10 says attractive people in advertising influence their purchasing behaviour. The majority thinks that campaigns such as former Minister Mieke Vogels's campaign on "Beauty is in the in the inside, not on the outside" are important. People are convinced that being attractive matters in politics, but they do not vote for a particular politician because he/she is good-looking. Sports and diets are very popular, but a minority uses laxatives and vomiting to lose weight. Quite a lot of people admitted that they used to be bullied and discriminated against by other children. This is also the case at work, when choosing a partner, when going out or within their families.

Generally, we can say that the majority are convinced that looks have an enormous influence on society and it would be appreciated if more attention was paid to the issue and if more campaigns were conducted against discrimination. We also want to briefly mention that in London, about 50 people took the same questionnaire translated into English during an educational trip by students. The results can be found on the CD-ROM . The most remarkable conclusion is that, even with a smaller number of respondents and despite a small difference in culture, there was practically no difference in the answers between both study populations, i.e. apart from a few negligible details. The English think the same about looks as the Flemish and the Dutch.


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