2. Image-formation study about the importance of attractiveness in youth assistance  

2.1. Targets, methods and description of the population.

For this part of the study we set the following targets.

-Check the relation between (un)attractiveness - self-image - prejudice -behavioural problems in (youth) assistance. From this, formulate conclusions towards policy and assistance.
-Question social workers and youngsters in youth assistance on their behaviour with regard to (un)attractiveness.
-Question social workers and youngsters in youth assistance on the pitfalls of prejudice against deviant or stigmatising looks. Draw attention to these pitfalls
-Sensitisation on the importance attached to looks in contacts with people, more specifically in counselling.

In March 2003, after a literature study and on the basis of the questionnaire among the general public, a specific questionnaire for social workers in youth assistance was drawn up. Next to the questionnaire on a number of characteristics we also wanted to do a little experiment. To what extent are social workers influenced by looks? It is difficult especially for social workers to give answers that are honest and not "socially desirable". Once they are aware of the aim of the questionnaire, some of the social workers, certainly because of their professional deontology, will probably be prejudiced and will give answers that are expected from a conscientious professional worker. This means that being influenced by looks is a definite "no-no". That's why we did a little experiment apart from the general questionnaire. We gave the social workers 10 pictures and asked them to classify them on a number of features like "friendly", "stubborn", "social", "aggressive"… We wanted to know if the social workers would come to a common opinion based solely on the faces of the children. If this was the case, it meant that they were influenced by "looks", because, apart form the picture, they did not get any other information about the children involved. The questionnaire among social workers and youngsters was completely anonymous.

Together with the students, we searched for institutions willing to participate in our questionnaire. After we had drawn up a list of all the possible institutions, taking into account the accessibility of the students, the present problems and the available research budget, 20 institutions of special youth assistance and child psychiatry were selected. The majority of these were in the provinces of Limburg, Brabant and Antwerp. All these facilities were first contacted by phone. Some of the institutions had practical objections and refused to collaborate. Some other institutions first wanted a meeting with the researchers to be informed about the intention, objectives and procedure. We targeted at 15 institutions. But because some institutions pulled out, only 13 were surveyed. The students themselves provided the institutions with the questionnaires and they also collected them. We are most grateful to the management and the social workers that collaborated with the study. Eventually, 79 counsellors and 92 youngsters participated. Among the social workers ¾ were female and only ¼ was male. Boys and girls were equally represented.

Most of the counsellors were between 21 and 45 years old. Seniority was very divergent. The majority only had up to 5 years of seniority, followed by a seniority of between 5 and 10 years. 8% had already been in service for more than 20 years. Almost all of them were active in groups of 8 to 12 youngsters, followed by 25% who were active in smaller groups.

Among the youngsters 50% were between 12 and 15 years old and 41% between 16 and 19. The rest was younger or older. Because the objectives were different, we will discuss the results for social workers and youngsters separately. On the CD-ROM you will find the complete research reports with the figures in charts and graphs in the same order as in the questionnaire itself. Below, the information is grouped. In the research both male and female social workers were questioned. To keep the text readable en for practical reasons we will mainly refer to "social workers" in the text below. With this, we always refer to the same group of respondents (counsellors, welfare workers, educators…), both male and female .

2.2 Research among social workers in youth assistance

2.2.1 Picture experiment

We submitted the social workers to a little test. This test was on a separate sheet of paper and had to be completed before the general inquiry. We wanted to prevent the questionnaire from influencing the respondents' judgement of the pictures.

This test could demonstrate that looks play a certain role in the social workers' judgement. The social workers were asked to label 10 children on the basis of a picture. The respondents were given a list of characteristics and they were asked to label each child with a certain characteristic. In other words, the respondent's judgement was solely based on appearance.

The pictures can be seen below. For deontological reasons the pictures were made unrecognisable. The parents gave us permission to use the pictures, but to make the research representative we also used some randomly picked pictures from the Internet. We want to stress that the children's names and any personal information were never used and that this information remained absolutely unknown to the researchers. The children were randomly picked and were not involved in youth assistance.

The results were a revelation to us. The results showed that most of the positive characteristics were attributed to children that were also considered attractive. We also see that children who are considered less attractive, are attributed the most negative characteristics. The answers of the social workers were quite unanimous.

Let us enter into detail.
Child 1 is considered to be the friendliest. This child takes first place as for attractiveness and fifth place as for self-confidence.
Child 2 takes third place for friendliness, fourth place for being spoilt and fifth place for being physically unattractive. (This girl wears glasses.)
Child 3 takes 1st place for stubbornness, 2nd place for criminal behaviour, 3rd place for insecurity and being spoilt, 4th place for being physically attractive. (The boy had red hair, but the social workers could not see that because the pictures were black-and-white.)
Child 4 takes 3rd place for intelligence, 4th place for friendliness, social, vain, bullied by other children and physically unattractive.
Child 5 takes 1st place for criminal behaviour, 2nd place for stubborn, aggressive, difficult behaviour and unmanageable, 3rd place for insecure and physically unattractive and 5th place for shy.
Child 6 takes first place for intelligent, obedient, self-confident, vain, spoilt and physically attractive. It takes 2nd place for friendly and social, 4th place for criminal behaviour and 5th place for insecure.
Child 7 takes 2nd place for intelligent and physically attractive, 3rd place for stubborn, shy and vain, 4th place for obedient and self-confident and 5th place for spoilt.
Child 8 takes 2nd place for shy, insecure and bullied by other children and physically unattractive and 3rd place for obedient.
Child 9 takes 2nd place for self-confident, vain and spoilt, 3rd place for criminal behaviour and unmanageable, 4th place for aggressive and difficult behaviour and 5th place for friendly, social and physically attractive.
Child 10 takes 1st place for shy, insecure, bullied by other children but also physically unattractive, 3rd place for aggressive and difficult behaviour, 4th place for stubborn and unmanageable and 5th place for obedient and criminal behaviour.

What catches the eye? The absolute majority considers child 6, a smiling girl with pigtails as most physically attractive. But she also takes first place as for intelligence, obedience, self-confidence, vanity and being spoilt. Out of every 10 respondents 7 say that this is the case. But the social workers also consider her friendly and social.

Child 3 ranks high when it comes to stubbornness and criminality. The boy's face is pointed and he does not smile. In reality the boy has red hair, but that is not noticeable in the test.

Child 5 has the face of a criminal, at least, that is what the social workers think, because he ranks very high when it comes to criminal behaviour, stubbornness, aggressiveness, difficult behaviour and unmanageability. He also ranks high when it comes to insecurity and physical unattractiveness.

Child 10, the cuddly one of the series is considered shy, insecure and bullied. But it is also remarkable that he is considered the least attractive one. Is it the stereotype with regard to fat people? Apparently, being bullied goes along with aggression, difficult behaviour and stubbornness, according to the social workers.

Apparently, child 8 looks shy and is also bullied by other children, but he also ranks rather high when it comes to unattractiveness. The children that are considered to be the most attractive are also the children that are attributed the most positive characteristics. Also conversely, the children considered to be less attractive, are attributed the negative characteristics. It is also remarkable that the fattest child is considered to be the least attractive one, but he is also suspected of being bullied, being shy and insecure.

So, the thesis "what is beautiful, is good" and "what is ugly, is bad", is confirmed by the social workers. It is also remarkable that the socials workers are not really aware of the importance of physical attractiveness. This is shown in the rest of the inquiry, where most of the social workers pretend that looks do not have any influence on them. Their statement is thus contradictory with what they indicate in this experiment. The results are most striking because the respondents' judgements are almost unanimous, and this merely on the basis of a picture of a child's face. It was never even established that any of the children had any of the characteristics. The children are normal children without any specific youth-assistance problem. Furthermore, whether a child smiles or sulks can make a difference, but within the framework of the importance of the first impression, we found the results of this test remarkable.

2.2.2. Questionnaire Searching for a definition of attractiveness.

Which external features do you consider important for a (possible) romantic partner?
The eyes and the face are the most important external features according to the questioned male social workers. Both get a score of 81%. Next in the list is "a well-cared-for appearance". This feature scores 57%. Just as in the general inquiry the top 3 is followed by: teeth (47%), clothing (38%) and hairstyle (24%).

The top 3 of the female social workers is perfectly comparable with the list from the general inquiry among the general public. It is composed of the same elements, with almost the same percentages. The elements are: a well-cared-for appearance (83%), the eyes (71%) and the face (55%).

Which characteristics or features do you find important for a person?
Almost 100% of the men consider a sense of humour important. Three out of four men also answered that intelligence and charisma are a must. Also being spontaneous gets a high score (67%). Almost no attention is paid to money and power, being tough or feeling safe.

Just like with men, women think that a sense of humour is the most important factor with 76%. This characteristic is followed by: charisma (67%), stability (52%), being spontaneous (52%) and intelligence (50%). The features that they pay little attention to are: exciting/mysterious (5%), being tough (2%) and having money and power (0%). For both men and women looks take a mid position.

Which of the following features do you consider unattractive?

The men's top 3 is identical to the results of the general inquiry. Remarkable is that body odour scored 75% in the general inquiry. In the social workers' inquiry this is 100%. This characteristic was checked off by every single man. Women with a peculiar body odour, be warned!. An untidy appearance, excess hair growth and impure skin follow. Very notable are the 4 last elements in the table. Grey hair, tall figure, slight overweight and glasses score 0. The top 3 among women is also strongly comparable with the general inquiry. It is only remarkable that the percentages are higher in this questionnaire. 90% of the respondents consider body odour an unattractive feature. The women's list by and large corresponds to the men's list.

In one of the theses we asked if the social workers were strongly influenced by the looks of people they are in contact with (thesis 20). Almost 4/5ths of the respondents 'disagree' or 'totally disagree'. Barely 10% admit that their contacts are influenced by people's appearance. So, we can conclude that social workers think that they are not influenced by the looks of their clients. As far as this question is concerned, we distinguished between men and women. However, we did not find a significant difference between both groups, except that the number of men who checked off "I don't know" was bigger than that of women(14% among men, compared to 10% among women) Self-image

The the social workers' self-image was also tested in the questionnaire. These are some of the results:

Do you have the impression that people around you have negative feelings about your looks?
8 out of 10 female social workers do not have this impression.. 1 out of 10 women does not know and only 3 out of 100 women say yes.
8 out of 10 men say "no", 1 out of 10 does not know. 14 out of 100 men have the impression that people around them have negative feelings about their looks. Consequently, we can conclude that the majority pretend that their own appearance does not play a role in their contacts. More men than women - but it remains a small minority - think that the people around them have a negative influence on their self-image.

Do you have negative feelings about your looks?

6 out of 10 female social workers think that they sometimes have negative feelings about their looks. 2 out of 10 women regularly have negative feelings about their appearance. And the remaining 2 out of 10 women say that they never have negative feelings about their looks.

5 out of 10 male social workers think that they sometimes have negative feelings about their looks. The remaining 5 out of 10 men pretend to rarely have negative feelings about their appearance. Just as in the general questionnaire the social workers - for the greater part women - sometimes have negative feelings about their looks.

Physical attractiveness: Place yourself on a scale from 1 to 10.
Both male and female social workers give themselves a 7. Some of them give themselves a 6 and a smaller number an 8. Lower or higher scores rarely occur. When we compare the results of the social workers to the results of the general inquiry, we notice some significant differences. Negligible differences are due to the difference in the number of conducted inquiries. The majority give themselves a score which is a bit higher than the average. Social workers do not find themselves uglier or prettier than the rest of the population. Image in the own community

(Because of the too small number of male social workers in our sample, namely 21 men compared to 58 women, we did not find it expedient to make a distinction.)
What image do the counsellors have on looks, self-image and (un)attractiveness in their own community of youngsters. First we asked whether the counsellors had the impression (or if they were aware of the fact) that there are young people in their community with body-oriented problems. It was not easy to obtain this information because the counsellors were possibly part of one and the same group. Indirectly, we calculated two variables: the number of observed youngsters compared to the total group of social workers and the number of counselled youngsters compared to the total group of counselled youngsters.

This showed that 71% of the social workers spotted one or more youngsters with more than normal concerns about their looks. A disturbed body image ranks high with 66% of the questioned counsellors. Almost 1 out of every 4 counsellors suspects or is aware of the fact that there are one or more youngsters in the community with BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder: for more information see elsewhere in this book), also binging (remark ditto) is present in their community according to 30% of the counsellors. The percentages of anorexia (8%) and bulimia (4%) are lower.

Starting from the total group of youngsters described, the counsellors claim that 17% have more than normal concerns about their appearance, 11% suffer from a disturbed body image, 5% suffer from BDD, almost 1% from anorexia and 0.41% from bulimia.

Among social workers it is often heard that youngsters with the same problems look for each other's company, but according to 1 out of 2 counsellors in this inquiry, this thesis is not correct. One in four counsellors thinks that they do look for each other's company. According to 25% of the counsellors, an admission, apart from their general registration problems, is "always" to "sometimes" influenced by their concerns about their looks, for 34% this is "rarely" the case. However 32% think that these concerns are of no importance for the admission. In other words; the opinions are divided.

Do people pay attention to looks in case of an admission into youth assistance? We asked whether the counsellors were under the impression that, after staying in the institution, youngsters had gone through a change when it comes to looks, body image , hygiene and self-image. When it comes to looks, over 73 % of the youngsters showed a change after an admission. 6 % said their body image changed for the good, 86% noticed a positive evolution in hygiene and 72 % had a better self-image.
In the survey, every counsellor stated that they helped the youngsters to create a better body image during their stay. The only variation in their answers was the use of the words " always" and "sometimes". We wanted to know which were the most important factors in this change: counselling, the group, the environment, the media…? The changes that took place during their stay were most influenced by counselling, self-knowledge of the youngsters and group pressure that they experienced from the community (80 % approval on average). Family and friends also had an important influence on changes in looks during their stay (75 %).
According to more than 1 out of 5 counsellors, the media has no influence on changes during an admission. Nevertheless, more than half of the counsellors (53%) are convinced that the media does have an impact on the youngsters within the institution and that it does change their view on looks, but the impact of the other factors is more important.
In a separate thesis (thesis 17), we explicitly asked the counsellors about the influence of the media on the body image. 9 % of the counsellors felt that the media does not powerfully influence the body image of youngsters, but 80 % said that this was indeed the case.

Does the fact that the youngsters stay in a closed setting influence their ideal picture of physical attraction? 53 % of the counsellors think it does not, whereas 15 % think the ideal picture becomes more important and 16 % think it becomes less important. None of the counsellors agreed to the thesis "I think that physically unattractive youngsters are more easily admitted to (special) youth welfare work/youth assistance than attractive youngsters". 85 % did not agree and 15 % did not know. Attractiveness within assistance

1. With regard to youngsters

It isn't simple to link physical attraction to the issue, the conduct and the way in which counselling reacts to and treats youngsters. After all, these are the things of which counselling hopes they will not affect them. They want to try to treat all the youngsters in the same way. However, previous inquiries show the opposite. We refer to chapter 1 of this book, the part about "the impact of attractiveness on assistance".
Man has become a slave to his body and we can't just switch off millions of years of evolution. Man will always tend to approach and treat physically attractive people in a more positive way. At least, that's what research so far has shown us. This process largely takes place unconsciously. With our enquiry, we can examine the conscious part, but for the unconscious way of dealing with attractiveness, this is more difficult. The above picture-experiment showed that people tend to link positive characteristics to appearances. This conclusion makes us assume that even in assistance, appearances are of huge influence. Below, we can only continue on what social workers answered (anonymously) to some theses on this issue.

Youngsters who are physically unattractive show more problematic behaviour (thesis 1)?
32 % of the social workers completely disagree with this thesis, 42 % disagree. Only 5 % agree. One out of five did not reply. A very small minority of 5 % agrees to this thesis and sees a link between being physically unattractive and problematic behaviour. This statement is striking when compared to the unanimity in the picture-experiment in which both elements are indeed linked.

Physically unattractive youngsters are more excluded in the community (thesis 2)?
Half of the counsellors agree that physically unattractive youngsters are more excluded in the community, compared to 35 % who say this isn't the case. We can state that one out of every two social workers admits that physical appearance does have an impact on the way youngsters treat each other in the community.

Attractive youngsters are given more chances in society (thesis 3)?
A large majority of 87% of the interviewees agrees. None of them completely disagree and only 1 % disagrees. 12 % does not know or did not reply. Social workers say that being attractive has a lot of advantages in life.

Unattractive youngsters express their frustration more through physical aggression (thesis 4)?
68 % of the counsellors do not agree, compared to 4 % who think this is the case. 28 % do not know the answer. Therefore, the majority think that being unattractive does not lead to more physical aggression, but it is striking that more than one out of four do not know.

Attractive youngsters receive more positive attention from counsellors (thesis 5)?
79 % of the respondents do not agree tot his, 8 % do. 13 % do not know the answer to the question, so the majority think that good-looking youngsters do not receive more attention.

Attractive youngsters receive more positive attention from other group members (thesis 6)?
Contrary to the question above, we are given a different picture here. 24 % do not agree, but 63 % endorse that attractive youngsters receive more positive attention from the others in the group.

Unattractive youngsters are more often the victims of bullying in the community (thesis 7)?
66 % of social workers endorse that unattractive youngsters are more often the victims of bullying. 24 % do not agree to that.

Less attractive youngsters are considered stupid more often than attractive youngsters are (thesis 8)?
This time, the opinions are quite divergent. 34 % do not agree to the thesis, but 38 % do. One out of five does not know. It is however striking, that one out of three counsellors believes that unattractive youngsters are considered more stupid.

Unattractive youngsters are the objects of bullying (thesis 9)?
More than half of the counsellors (60 %) agree that unattractive youngsters are subjected to bullying.

Attractive youngsters are more likely to be excluded from the community, as they are more conspicuous because of their good looks (thesis 10)?
Being good-looking is definitely not a disadvantage. According to the counsellors, attractive youngsters are rarely if ever excluded because of their looks. Only 5 % agree to this thesis, compared to 89 % who do not agree. In these institutions, being conspicuous because of good looks doesn't have a negative influence on the group's dynamics.

I feel fatter youngsters are more difficult in the group (thesis 11)?
Only 6 % agree to this thesis, whereas 91 % do not agree. This is a striking contrast with the findings from the picture-experiment in which the fat guy was not only unanimously considered least attractive, but was also considered aggressive, difficult, stubborn and most subjected to bullying.

Without any intention of doing so, I actually spend more time with the most attractive youngsters and/or less time with unattractive youngsters (thesis 12)?
More than 90 % of counsellors claim that attractiveness does not have any influence on the fact whether youngsters receive more or less attention or counselling from the counsellors. 6 % do not know and only 2.5 % agree. No one completely agrees.

For me, the person who is physically most attractive is also the one who is most popular in the community (thesis 18)?
Popularity within the group does not really depend on physical attractiveness for social workers. Only 8 % say the opposite. 75 % do not agree.

Popularity among youngsters has little to do with looks (thesis 19)?
Contrary to the previous thesis, popularity within the community is determined by looks according to the counsellors. 57 % of them do not agree to the thesis, whereas 28 % do.

In the age group, there are youngsters who are given preferential treatment by the counsellors (thesis 21)?
The counsellors almost unanimously agree that youngsters are not given preferential treatment because of their looks. A mere 2.5% agree to the thesis, but 90 % don't.

In the age group, there are youngsters who are treated unfairly by the counsellors (thesis 22)?
The same results as in the previous thesis. A mere 2.5 % agree to the thesis, whereas 91 % do not.

In this institution, the influence of someone's appearance on assistance is hardly taken into consideration (thesis 23)?
One out of three social workers (32 %) thinks that the looks are hardly taken into consideration. 43 % say it is taken into consideration, so the opinions differ.

In this institution, more attention should be paid to the influence of the youngster's looks on assistance (thesis 24)?
Apparently, the majority are satisfied with the way things are going in their own institution. 56% do not think that more attention should be paid to this issue; whereas 10 % say attention should increase. It is striking that 33 % said they "don't know".

In all the institutions, the counsellors are very careful in labelling the youngsters. They do not want to judge them based on their physical attraction.
We asked the counsellors about the difference between attractive youngsters and unattractive youngsters based on research materials and this compared to their own institution. The questions were formulated as follows: " in the research material, one can find experiments (often in artificial situations) that show that… proceeding from my practical experience, I disagree, partially disagree, I don't know, partially agree and agree".

When it comes to education, physically attractive youngsters are given preferential treatment compared to unattractive youngsters.
71 % disagreed, whereas 23 % partially agreed. So the majority felt this was not the case.
Physically unattractive youngsters are (far more than average or attractive youngsters) less assertive and self-confident.
20 % disagreed, but 77 % agreed, which means the majority felt unattractive youngsters are less assertive and less self-confident.
Physically unattractive youngsters are more often said to display antisocial and aggressive behaviour.
63 % disagreed, and only 25 % partially agreed. The majority did not think of them as more anti-social, but a non-negligible minority of one out of four did feel there could be a link.
If someone's appearance is somewhat less attractive, counsellors will react in a more negative way when provoked by a third party, e.g. by giving more severe punishment to unattractive children.
Research shows that physically unattractive people receive stronger punishment in court than physically attractive people. We asked ourselves whether this is also the case with special youth welfare work. The great majority of counsellors indicate this is hardly ever the case. 77 % do not agree, whereas 10 % partially do agree. 13 % do not know.
Physically unattractive youngsters are considered less intelligent by their counsellors.
85 % disagreed, 10 % partially agreed. 5 % didn't know.
In general, physically attractive youngsters have to live up to higher expectations.
62 % disagreed, 28 % agreed, 10 % didn't know.
Physically attractive youngsters are more vain.
20 % disagreed, 71 % agreed, 9% did not know.

2. When it comes to staff members

In everyday life, appearances are very important. In our survey we asked whether certain demands are made concerning the appearance of staff.
Half of them said this was the case, half of them said it was not. Often someone would mention that no official requirements were mentioned but that there are unwritten rules which a counsellor has to keep in mind.
If there were, they concerned the following:
-No tattoos or piercings: in most of the institutions tattoos and piercings are not allowed for guests, so the same rule applies for counsellors. The counsellors also said, that " visible " tattoos and piercings are explicitly forbidden.
-The second most mentioned demand involves your general appearance, a suitable outfit, hairdo…
-In the third place the surveys also mention that headgear was not allowed in the community. This applies to both youngsters and counsellors.

In the survey, a few questions were focussed on physical attractiveness among counsellors in the community. A brief summary of the results:

Physically unattractive staff members are the target of harassment by youngsters (thesis 13)?
A majority of counsellors disagree to this thesis. 77 % feel that unattractive counsellors are not harassed by youngsters because of their appearance. But we do notice that 10 % agree. Of course, it is only a small percentage, but because of the principle that appearances should not matter in the workplace, it is disturbing that one out of ten persons admits that unattractive counsellors are the target of harassment by youngsters. Imagine being ugly and choosing a job as a social worker among children.

Physically attractive staff members benefit from their good looks in this institution (thesis 14)?
Do counsellors think good-looking people are given preferential treatment in the workplace? About 16 % do not know. 71 % or three out of four say they do not agree. However 12.5 % do agree. This means one out of 8 feels good-looking people benefit from their good looks in a workplace in the social services.

Unattractive staff members are disadvantaged because of their appearance in this institution (thesis 15)?
Luckily for the social services and assistance it is not that bad at all. 83 % or eight out of ten people think this kind of negative discrimination does not exist. However, not everyone disagrees completely. One out of ten does not know and a mere 4 % are convinced that this negative discrimination exists. Good-looking people have advantages, but ugly people do not necessarily have disadvantages. Most of them will claim 4 % is a negligible figure, but from the viewpoint that this kind of discrimination should not exist, especially not in the social services, this is 4 % is far too much.

Without having the intention to do so, contacts with attractive colleagues are often easier (thesis 16)?
Every work contact has its ups and downs. Some people are easy to work with and others are not. Does physical appearance play a role in the contact with colleagues, even though we aren't always aware of this? It isn't all that bad. 90 % of all respondents say they don't care about appearances in contacts with their colleagues at all, not even unconsciously, although this is very hard to say about yourself and is more conspicuous because of your conduct itself. The number of people agreeing or completely agreeing, namely 6.3 %, is negligible in this context.

In my training, enough attention is paid to the influence of appearances on the development of youngsters (thesis 24)?
In this case, we asked in what way the theme had come up in the training and to what extent they found it satisfactory. One out of four social workers (27 %) thinks that, during training, enough attention was given to the theme. One out of five does not know (21 %). But it is striking that more than half of the interviewees (52%) do not agree. We can conclude that a large part of the interviewees thinks that, in trainings, more attention should be paid to this theme.


As far as standards for attractiveness and unattractiveness are concerned, we do not see a difference between social workers and the rest of Flanders - which came up in the first general questionnaire. The same characteristics show up again. The majority of social workers are not under the impression that their environment judges their appearances negatively. In the social services, your appearance probably is not that important. A lot of social workers do have negative feelings about their looks. Most of them are women. Social workers reach an average of about 7 on a scale of attractiveness, which corresponds to the general survey. In the groups of guided youngsters, body orientated problems like too much attention for looks, BDD and eating disorders occur. Almost three out of four social workers are faced with it. In every facility, they work on a more positive body image, hygiene, appearances and self-image. The changes come about because of the influence of counselling, self-knowledge of the youngster, group pressure, family and friends. Furthermore, the media have a big impact on the self-image of the youngsters in the institutions. Almost every social worker is convinced that the youngsters' self-image is influenced by it. The majority did not think that staying in the facility had an influence on the ideal image of physical attractiveness. Hardly any interviewee felt that youngsters with a physically unattractive appearance display more problematical behaviour or are more aggressive. Physically unattractive youngsters are a bit more excluded by the group and attractive youngsters are given more chances in society.

Attractive youngsters receive more positive attention from the other members of the group, but absolutely not from the counsellors, the majority claims. We were not absolutely sure about these claims, because when we did a photo-experiment among the social workers, it was obvious that attractive youngsters were saddled with the most positive qualities. The fat child, on the other hand, was seen as unattractive and described as the most bullied one. Is there a difference between what people think, say and do? According to many counsellors, unattractive youngsters are the objects of derision. In the institutions, they draw a lot of attention to this issue, but as far as education is concerned, we need to spend more time on this problem, the counsellors explain.
We can conclude that the issue about looks and attractiveness play a part in counselling. How it plays a part, is difficult to say, because we cannot estimate to what extent the social workers gave logical answers in function of their jobs, professionalism and function. But also in institutions, unattractive children are discriminated against, maybe not by the counsellors but by the other youngsters of the groups. Constant attention is necessary and the issue has to be brought up among the youngsters and the staff. Pointing out the possible traps and concentrating on possible discrimination can be sufficient to minimize the difference between attractive and unattractive.

2.3 Survey on youngsters in youth assistance.

2.3.1. Searching for a definition of attractiveness Self-image

In the institutions where the counsellors filled in the surveys, we also had the youngsters fill in an adapted survey. 92 youngsters, among whom 45 boys and 47 girls between the ages of 10 and 23 participated. We also asked the youngsters a few questions about their views on attractiveness and the importance of looks. And again, we got the same results. They are perfectly comparable to the results of the other two surveys. We asked the youngsters (as in the other surveys), to give themselves marks in the field of physical attractiveness on a scale from 1 to 10. The majority gave themselves marks between 5 and 8. However, it is remarkable that in general, girls are giving themselves lower marks than boys. Almost half of the girls give themselves a five or less.
With the information about weight and length, we calculated the BMI of youngsters. The BMI of youngsters is remarkably low. According to the BMI, almost half of the youngsters weigh too little. A little bit more than 48% have a normal weight. A small group (more than 6%) has a "normal weight" or is a little bit "overweight". None of the overweight youngsters runs health risks. We compared the BMI-value with the results of the own attractiveness. Consequently, we noticed that according to the BMI-results, 40% of the underweight youngsters give a score of less than 5 or 5 on physical attractiveness . As for youngsters with a normal weight, this percentage is even higher: 43% give themselves a 5 or less.

Contrary to the other two surveys, where the respondents were offered a list in which they had to indicate what they found attractive and unattractive, we let the youngsters draw a self-portrait, on which they had to indicate 5 features they were satisfied with and 5 with which they were not satisfied. We indicated the same elements mentioned in the other two surveys.
What is it that youngsters are satisfied with? The girls' top 5 is: eyes, hair, teeth, tummy/legs/other, ears/nose. Among the boys we have the following order: eyes, hair, other (eg hands, eye brows,…), lips/chest/tummy, teeth. So, both boys and girls mentioned the features.

What is it that youngsters are unsatisfied with? Girls: legs, tummy, feet, thighs, breasts/other.
Boys: legs, nose/hands/tummy/other, hairs/ears/skin/arms, eyes/lips/thighs/feet, teeth/shoulders/chest/knees.
Legs are absolutely on the top of the "dissatisfaction" list. We also linked the negative features to the BMI-results and age. But this always led more or less to the same results. Both sexes mention legs and tummy. This was even the case in the category with a BMI lower than 20. It is remarkable that among the girls often the same characteristics are indicated. Among the boys the features they are not satisfied with, are more spread or individual. Boys do not have top answers for dissatisfaction with their own body. Nevertheless tummy and legs rank first.

Some theses on "own attractiveness" .

I am not satisfied with my body (thesis one)?
With this thesis we tried to figure out how youngsters feel about their body in general. About half of the boys and girls do not like their own body. It is remarkable that one out of four does not know. 27.5%, so a bit more than one out of four is dissatisfied with his or her body. The number of girls who are dissatisfied is bigger than the number of boys. 35% of the girls or one out of three is worried, against only 20% of the boys.

I am bullied in my group because of my looks (thesis 2)?
The results are better than expected. Especially the boys strongly disagree with this thesis, namely 89%. 77% of the girls say that they are not bullied. 6.6% of the boys are bullied because of their looks and so are 8.5% of the girls.

I am not comfortable with a good-looking counsellor. (thesis 13)?
In some books we can read that some clients are rather uncomfortable with good-looking social workers. Is that how youngsters feel in their contacts with good-looking counsellors. 70% of the youngsters disagree with this thesis. One out of five does not know. 12% agree. An equal number of boys and girls agree, but there are more boys, who fully agree. Even though it is a small percentage, it is quite remarkable that one out of eight youngsters feels more uncomfortable with a good-looking social worker. Boys have more problems with good-looking social workers than girls do.

If I were better looking, my life would be much easier (thesis 21)?
To what extent do youngsters link good looks to happiness and a more comfortable life? 42% disagree. 35% or one out of three does not know.

23% or almost one out of four thinks, that if they were better looking, their lives would have been easier. The difference between boys and girls is significant: 13% of the boys think life would have been better against a staggering 32% of the girls.

Being dissatisfied with my own looks is one of the reasons why I am in this institution. (thesis 22)?
A huge majority of 78% say that dissatisfaction with their looks has nothing to do with the admission. 14% do not know. Only a few youngsters agree: 6.5%, or 2% of the boys and 10.5% of the girls. So we can assume that for most youngsters, the issue 'looks' is not the direct reason for admission. For one out of ten girls it is.

What have you ever done to change your looks?
In the survey we gave the youngsters the opportunity to indicate whether they had done one or more things to change their looks: make-up, diet, starving out, sports, use of laxatives, deliberate vomiting, beauty operations, slimming-down products, muscle boosters. It was also possible to add an extra activity. From the results we can conclude that men use sports and women make-up to change their looks. It is remarkable that for both groups diet take a high ranking: 18% of the boys and 49% of the girls admit to have been on a diet once.
13% of the boys used muscle boosters against 6% of the girls. Furthermore "starving out" gets extremely high marks: 7% of the boys, but 23% of the girls.
One girl out of four has used the "starving out" measure to look prettier.
Laxatives, slimming-down products, make-up, beauty operations and deliberate vomiting is not uncommon among boys. Among the girls there is a remarkably high percentage, namely 21% or one out of five who admit having deliberately vomited. 13% used slimming-down products and 6% laxatives and muscle boosters.
In general, girls use more (unhealthy) methods to look prettier than boys. According to us, the percentage of "starving out" and deliberate vomiting is alarmingly high.

What do you consider an acceptable way of changing your looks? Would you try this method if you had the chance?
This question is similar to the previous one, but this time we are not asking for the current situation, but what youngsters consider acceptable or desirable for themselves. According to both boys and girls, sports are a normal method to change your looks. One boy out of three and two girls out of three think that a diet is an acceptable method. They would be prepared to follow a diet themselves. Make-up is also natural for 60% of the girls. One girl out of eight thinks that beauty operations, slimming-down products and muscle boosters are acceptable. Nobody considers "starving out" and deliberate vomiting and laxatives acceptable. Yet, according to the results there are a lot of girls who use these methods. A minority of the boys thinks that slimming-down products are normal, but all the other methods, like starving out, laxatives, vomiting and a beauty operation, are seldom considered normal. When comparing "current" and "desired" we notice that the categories are parallel, except for "starving out", laxatives, and deliberate vomiting. These methods are far more common practice among youngsters, even though they do not consider them acceptable. In other words, although they think it is wrong, they still do it. Attractiveness in relations and partner choice
Which aspects of a possible (love) partner's looks do you consider important?
As in the other surveys the respondents could indicate which (external) characteristics they found attractive to a possible (love) partner. The general survey used the phrase "opposite sex", but after some remarks from homosexuals and lesbians this politically incorrect expression was altered in this survey. They were asked to indicate up to 5 features.
The same pattern returns. Both in the general survey, among the counsellors, and in this survey, the same 3 features rank first. Among the boys: immaculate looks (69%), eyes (58%), face (56%). Among the girls: immaculate looks (87%), eyes ((72%) and clothes (66%).

Which qualities or characteristics of a person (friend or boy/girl friend) are important to you?
Again we find the same four characteristics. These are sense of humour (80% among men, 87% among women), charisma (73% among men, 57% among women), self-confidence (64% among men, 63 % among women) and spontaneity (58% among men and 62% among women). The biggest difference is "feeling safe". To 45% of the women this feeling is very important against 20% among men. Among men, the looks occupy the 5th position with 42% against a 7th position among the girls with 23%. The results are quite comparable to the results from our general survey among the general public. Thus, looks are not as important as can be concluded from literature.

Which of the following characteristics are unattractive to you?
As in all the other surveys we the top 3 mentions: body odours (80%), uncared-for looks (71%) excessive hair growth (53%) It is remarkable that the same things return, both among the general public and counsellors and youngsters in youth aid. The top 3 among boys and girls is identical. For both boys and girls, being too skinny is more of a problem than being overweight.

The following theses presented to the youngsters can be added.

Youngsters who are less good-looking are shut out from society (thesis 3)?
Opinions differ greatly on this thesis. 38% of the interviewees do not agree, but 35% agree. One out of four does not know.

Good-looking, attractive youngsters get more opportunities in life (thesis 4)?
More than half of the interviewees agree. This means that 55% of the youngsters have the impression that attractive persons do get more opportunities. As for the survey among the general public 57% agree, which runs parallel.

Youngsters who are less good-looking are more often thought to be dumb (thesis 9)?
One out of three does not know. One out of two disagrees (51%) and 17.5% agree. Boys and girls are equally convinced that ugly youngsters are dumber, but among the boys there is a higher percentage who fully agrees.

Ugly people have a quick temper (thesis 14)?
One out of three youngsters does not know. 53% totally disagree. 13% agree, of which 6.5% fully agree. Remarkably, girls agree more than boys: 15% of the girls think that ugly people have a quick temper, compared to 11% of the boys.

Inner beauty is more important than outer beauty (thesis 156)?
The majority of the youngsters fully agree with this thesis: 76% fully agree. Boys are less convinced than girls: 68% of the boys against 83% of the girls. On the other hand we have 15% who disagree: they say that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty: 18% of the boys against 12% of the girls.

Ugly people have more problems in life than good-looking people (thesis 16)?
55% of the boys say that ugly people don't have more problems than attractive people. According to them there is no provable link between being unattractive and more difficulties in life . On the other hand, 22% or one out of five youngsters say such a link exists. Boys (24%) are more convinced than girls (19%).

I think it is important that my (future) (love) partner is good-looking. (thesis 19)?
34% disagree with this thesis, with a slight majority of girls. On the other hand 50% of the interviewees think that looks are important. It is more important to boys than to girls.
62% of the boys are convinced against 38% of the girls. Among the girls we have a remarkable 23% who do not know or one out of four is afraid to give an answer. Boys are more convinced of their choice, only 9% do not know.
Compared to thesis 15, these results are notable . The majority thinks that inner beauty is more important than outer beauty. However, a love partner has to be good-looking. Media and the beauty ideal
We asked the youngsters' opinion on the link between TV-programs, publicity and the media in general and the current beauty ideal.

nly beautiful people can come on TV (thesis 17)?
The opinions are divided. 55 % disagrees, whereas 35 % agree. One out of five has no answer. The question might also be asked a bit ambiguous. Was it a conclusion or were the youngsters asked if only beautiful people can come on TV?

Fat people may not appear in commercials (thesis 18)?
The results show us that 62 % don't agree, and almost half of the youngsters totally disagree. 18 % agree that fat people may not appear in commercials.
The boys' and girls' opinions weren't divided. Thus, fat people may appear in commercials.

2.3.2. Community and assistance

How do youngsters feel about looks and whether or not being attractive, in relation with assistance in the community? Some theses:

I'm bullied by my friends because of my looks (thesis 2)
The figures are equal for boys and girls. More than 80% disagree, whereas 7% are bullied because of their looks. One out of ten doesn't know.

It's more pleasant to hang out with attractive counsellors (thesis 5)
One out of five doesn't know. 46 % don't (fully) agree. But it's remarkable that 30.5 %, one out of three, admit it's more pleasant to hang out with an attractive counsellor. 49 % of the boys compared to only 12 % of the girls agreed with that. This confirms the stereotype idea about the importance boys pay to appearance: boys consider attractiveness and beauty very important characteristics when forming a judgment about someone. And this also applies to their counsellors. Girls have to be attractive themselves, but they find it far less important for their counsellors. However, one out of every eight girls rather hangs out with attractive counsellors.

Attractive people in our community get more positive attention from their counsellors (thesis 6)?
Almost one out of two totally disagrees and 20 % don't agree. Also 66 % find that the counsellors don't take their looks into consideration. But 11 % or one out of ten think they do give more positive attention. The difference between boys and girls is huge. Only 6% of the girls compared to 15 % of the boys agree. Even 13 % of the boys fully agree with the thesis. Of course we might question the boys' honesty here. We don't know the conditions in which the questions were answered, and neither to what extent they have deliberately embroidered the results. But even if we do take this factor into account, it still is worrying to see that one out of ten thinks that the counsellors give more positive attention to attractive people, even if this was strongly denied by the counsellors (see report on social workers).

I'd rather hang out with attractive youngsters of our community (thesis 7)?
One out of five youngsters didn't answer this question. 66 %, or two out of three youngsters, are sure they don't prefer attractive youngsters to hang out with. Only a minority of 14 % or one out of eight is sure of that. The difference between boys and girls is again obvious: 22 % of the boys rather hang out with attractive youngsters, compared to only 6 % of the girls.

In our community, less attractive people are bullied (thesis 8)?
A majority of 63 % totally disagrees. One out of five doesn't know. A minority of 16 % thinks youngsters do get bullied because of their looks. More girls than boys take this view, 16 % compared to 13 % of the boys. But more boys totally agree.

The most attractive people in our community are bullied because of their attractive looks (thesis 10)?
Being attractive isn't a reason for being bullied. Although one out of five didn't answer, 75 % is convinced that attractive people aren't bullied because of their looks. Only three respondents (3.2 %) totally agreed.

The counsellors pay no attention to the looks of the group members (thesis 11)?
74 % think looks aren't important. On the other hand, 11 % think they are. More girls than boys are convinced of that. This is odd, because for thesis 6 it was a large majority of boys that agreed.

I find it more difficult to hang out with fat people (thesis 12)?
70 % of the youngsters don't make a fuss about hanging out with fat people and totally disagree. 15 % ,or one out of eight, say that they find fat people more difficult in the community. Remarkably, it is especially the boys that claim this: 22 % or one out of five, compared to 9 % of the girls.


The self-image of youngsters in youth assistance services doesn't differ from that of youngsters or adults in society. They are satisfied with their eyes, hair, teeth, and dissatisfied with their legs, tummy, thighs. Girls are much more unanimous than boys are. But there might be some individual differences in their self-image. One out of four youngsters is happy with themselves, but only one out of three girls is. About 7 % are bullied in the community because of their looks. One out of eight youngsters feels uncomfortable with an attractive social worker. One out of three girls thinks life will be much easier if she were prettier. One out of ten girls thinks this because they are dissatisfied with their looks. It is all less outspoken for the boys.
Youngsters have done several things to change their looks, but there is an alarming number of girls that use vomiting to lose weight: one out of five girls has already done this. One out of eight girls uses slimming products, and 6 % use laxatives.
This was quite strange, because the youngsters found it certainly not normal to use those products. More than half of the boys are convinced that attractive youngsters will get more chances in their lifetime, and the inner self is actually more important than the looks.
But in order to find a partner, 6 boys and 4 girls out of 10 find an attractive appearance very important. A very small percentage is bullied because of their looks. One out of 10 youngsters thinks the counsellors give more attention to attractive youngsters. Strangely enough, more girls believe this. One out of eight youngsters rather hangs out with attractive youngsters, but it's only a minority. Being attractive isn't a reason fur bullying, but being ugly is. One out of eight youngsters finds it difficult to hang out with fat people in the community.
The global results aren't that high. Most of the time it's just a minority that takes outer appearance into account. Also a minority of youngsters believe that the counsellors take it into account. This is all reassuring. But we cannot neglect the signals some individuals gave us.
Education, prevention and attention for the theme are also essential elements in the institutions. Vomiting and laxatives are popular with youngsters, especially the girls in the community, although the youngsters know those products are unhealthy.
This is quite worrisome and more attention for this problem is absolutely essential. I'm not only thinking about the counsellors and social workers, but also about the primary causes, namely advertising agencies and the media, even if they deny it. All in all, it remains of primary interest for the institutions to draw more attention to the importance of looks. The phenomenon, in which attractive people are given preferential treatment cannot be eradicated, it is a part of life. But by organising activities around this issue and by pointing out the pitfalls and the prejudices involved to youngsters, a lot of disasters can be prevented.
By not giving preferential treatment to some youngsters, the counsellor becomes a role model and thus the youngsters won't focus on their looks and hopefully they won't be tempted to discriminate against others. The mission statement of these institutions should include a clause which states that constant attention for this issue and other forms of discrimination is absolutely essential in the following fields: staff training and assessment, quality care and assistance programmes for youngsters.
Since the social workers themselves have repeatedly pointed out that this issue is insufficiently dealt with in social sector training programmes, more attention is to be paid to this.

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