Critical Thinking as Purposeful Questions                                                 


1. Why are attempts to develop in certain ways admirable, but the same intensity of effort expended toward different goals are often condemned?

2. Do you think physical appearance is a less desirable goal than efforts to become more skilled in certain of the personality attributes in the first visual above?

3. Are critiques of efforts to become more physically attractive somehow confused with esteem for "being natural"?


I think the following statements are largely true:

  1. We know that physical appearance has an effect on how others treat us
  2. Many aspects of our physical appearance can be improved. 
  3. While cultural standards of high quality appearance differ, most of us live in one or a very few cultural settings.  So we can figure out what is attractive to those with whom we associate.
  4. Just as surely as anyone in American culture who wishes to exhibit outstanding curiosity and cognitive acuity will be branded "elitist," someone in American culture who works hard to improve her or his appearance will be branded "superficial" and "narcissistic."
  5. Try as we might, we do note and react to physical appearance. (Take a look at Kafka's Metamorphosis or Ionesco's Rhinoceros.)Seeing what a person is like below the surface requires time and investigation. (See La Bute's Fat Pig.)


Now it is certainly the case that someone COULD spend his or her waking hours doing little but improving physical appearance. Similarly a person could spend all day working on comedic timing, vocabulary enrichment, or hitting the curve ball. In any of these instances, time allocation problems are severe.

Another unfortunate focus on physical appearance would be to lose the entirety of ones personal preferences concerning appearance by trying to mimic entirely some cultural stereotype that you had no hand in creating. Just because our culture prefers a large or tiny derriere should not push our personal preferences out of sight.

But this post is not generated by a desire to support any and all efforts to establish some excellent physical appearance. Rather, I am mystified by most critiques of efforts to improve physical appearance. I see physical appearance as no more superficial than many areas of life that are granted social acceptance and even praise.

Refer if you will to the personality variables in the first visual above. Would I be less superficial if I worked hard to become more cheerful or less shy?  Moreover, working to improve physical appearance makes a lot more sense than most "passions" that seemingly fascinate most people. I brush my hair because very few people wish to see my hair after my pillow has had its way with my hair. Why would I knowingly create an unappealing distraction tainting my behavior during the day? 

As we age, physical appearance probably becomes even more important. We KNOW what aging does to our appearance. Why do we think the Beatles wonder "Will You Still Love Me When I'm 64?" Or why does Lana Del Rey wonder "Will You Still Love Me When I Am No Longer Young and Beautiful?

At this stage wishful thinkers rise as one to say: But physical appearance is insignificant; what is important is who we are as seen by our decisions and actions. I know.  In my ideal world, I would agree with you.  But I do not live in that particular dream world. Mine, as I understand it, is heavily biased toward those who are physically attractive. Do I wish to hand over control of how I am perceived to other people?  Of course not, but I have no choice.

Permit me an analogy. When humans are assessed by others, one of the key variables is energy.  Energy is attractive to others. Now if that claim is correct, would I be superficial if I worked really hard to generate the appearance that I am energetic WHEN that appearance will be instrumental in moving toward my goals as an effective communicator?

I sometimes hear people express disdain for efforts to become more physically attractive by touting "naturalness." Again, someone has drunk a wishful thinking smoothie. If we were trying to be natural, I could not see because I need glasses; many my age could not hear; many unwanted children would be born; and no one would cover his or her moth when sneezing. There is little about naturalness to admire.

As with so many other human actions, do you not think that moderation matters in terms of physical attractiveness as a goal? We can disagree with what reasonable moderation is, but can we not agree that physical attractiveness is a worthy goal competing for our attention with several others?

1. When we comply with expectations we do not admire, are we contributing to the continuation of those expectations?

2. Is there not great honor in knowing that physical appearance matters AND that my behavior will have negative consequences for me AND ignoring my physical appearance?

AuthorM Neil Browne