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Reimagining what 'beauty influencer' means: an expert in the psychology of beauty weighs in

Dr. Rhett Diessner's research points to beauty being so much more important than we might think.

woman putting on red lipstick and a woman standing and looking out over the mountains
Photo (left) by Megan Ruth on Unsplash, Photo (right) by lucas wesney on Unsplash

Let's take a deep dive into how beauty influences us.

When you picture a "beauty influencer," you probably don't imagine a balding, bearded, bespectacled retired psychology professor surrounded by piles of papers. But I would put Dr. Rhett Diessner up against any TikTok creator on Earth when it comes to beauty, as he's spent over two decades deeply studying the subject and has a profound understanding of how it influences us.

Around 1998, while teaching at a small international university in Switzerland, Diessner had an epiphany. As he explored the villages, lakes and mountains in the area, he found himself enamored with the picturesque landscapes, soaring cathedrals, incredible art and soul-stirring ideas that surrounded him. In moments of meditation, he began to see appreciation of beauty as more than just an enjoyable pastime.

"It dawned on me that beauty has spiritual roots," Diessner tells Upworthy. "That it's really a foundational aspect of being human, a very important aspect of our soul." Searching religious scripture confirmed this idea, and he decided he would focus his academic research on the human trait of attraction to beauty.


We know beauty when we see it—or perhaps we knowit when we feel it—but how do we define it? What exactly is beauty? What are the qualities that make something beautiful?

Diessner chuckles at this question. "Notable philosopher of beauty in America Crispin Sartwell says beauty is famous as a concept that not only should not be defined, but perhaps cannot be defined," he says. "But then, of course, I go ahead and define it."

Beauty exists in three places, Diessner explains. It's in our mind as the beholder when we perceive something as beautiful, it's in the object we're beholding as it provides a stimulus for our brain, and it's in the interaction between the two.

"At the same time, we want to know what these things that we find beautiful have in common. And this is where it gets pretty cool," Diessner says. "Most of the world's most famous philosophers, starting with Plato and Aristotle, say that what everything beautiful has in common is unity in diversity. They have different phrases for it—they might call it unity in variety—but basically it boils down to the concept that when we see a variety of elements organized and unified, this almost always appeals to our mind as something beautiful."

sunset over rolling hills

Sunsets are a universal example of natural beauty.

Photo by Cristina Gottardi on Unsplash

Diessner has focused his studies on four categories of beauty:

Natural beauty: The beauty of nature. Humans are attracted to sunsets, mountains, the ocean, flowers, the patterns on a butterfly's wings, etc. The beauty of the natural world is recognized universally. "Even in towns and cities, we see it in the green spaces. We hear it in the birds next to our house," Diessner points out.

Artistic beauty: Human-made beauty. Art, architecture, dance, theater, music—all the beautiful things people create. Diessner explains that even the make-up tricks "beauty influencers" demonstrate while supporting the billion-dollar beauty industry have their roots in artistic beauty. "Applying paints and textures to our face and body—we've been doing this as long back as thousands and thousands of years, and there's clearly some artistic skill involved," he says.

Moral beauty: Also known as "inner beauty," this is the beauty we see when a person displays virtuous qualities—kindness, compassion, altruism, honesty, caring. "When people are in difficult circumstances and have hope, when somebody stands up for social justice when other people are oppressed, when somebody opens their heart with love for people that might be difficult to love. We're like, 'Whoa, that's beautiful,'" says Diessner.

Beautiful ideas: "Peace on Earth and goodwill toward men" is a beautiful idea. Philosophical, religious, spiritual concepts can be beautiful. For mathematicians, even certain math equations are seen as beautiful. "Einstein is recorded as saying that the beauty of an equation was more important to him than whether it actually corresponded with physical reality," Diessner shares.

Some of our attraction to beauty can be explained by evolutionary psychology. As Diessner explains, we are at least partially attracted to water and greenery in nature because they mean food and hydration, without which we wouldn't survive or reproduce. We are attracted to vistas and sweeping landscapes because being up high meant safety and the ability to see predators coming as well as being able to find food and water sources more easily.

Some of what appeals to our attraction to beauty trait is also culturally influenced. This is particularly true of artistic beauty, but moral beauty can also be appreciated differently by people based on what is valued the most in their culture. However, people are universally attracted to these four kinds of beauty, even if their individual preferences within those categories differ.

someone holding an older person's hand

Moral beauty includes kindness, compassion and caring for others.

Photo by Saulo Meza on Unsplash

Is one kind of beauty more important than the others? Not necessarily, but Diessner does refer to moral beauty the "big prize." He cites a not-yet-published study from Berkeley's Dacher Keltner—"the world's greatest researcher on awe" according to Diessner—in which researchers asked 100 people from all over the world what makes them feel awe. The top answer was moral beauty—a result that surprised Keltner and Diessner alike.

"He expected, just like I did, for it to be natural beauty—'Oh that mountain!'—but no, the number one cause of awe cross-culturally is seeing people's virtues in action," says Diessner.

The problem in the modern age is that is when you search for "beauty" on Google, social media, or stock photo sites, all you see are beauty product ads and tutorials. So where where does all of that fit into this picture?

Diessner says there is power in being seen as physically beautiful. "Physical looks give you a higher income at your job. They help get you the job," he says. "There's a lot of research that shows that people actually judge physically beautiful people as more morally good. That's been found over and over and in multiple countries."

However, he points out, "the reverse is also true. The more we notice somebody's inner beauty the more physically beautiful we start to think they are. Isn't that great?"

Not only does beauty have the power to transform our minds to see things differently, but Diessner's research shows that engagement with these four types of beauty might actually help change the world. In fact, one study he led found that the appreciation of beauty trait predicted pro-environmental behavior and moral elevation—caring for the planet and striving to be better people—better than 23 other character strengths did, lending support to the idea that broadening how we think of and engage with beauty is far more important than we might think.

"When we put everything in the physical beauty bag, we often, at some point, feel like we don't have anything," Diessner says. "Whereas being engaged with natural beauty, artistic beauty or especially the beauty of virtues, we build up a lot of inner resources."

"We live our entire life in only one place, and that's our mind," he explains. "We think we're touching stuff and smelling stuff, but all that's happening inside our mind. It's the only place we're ever going to be, and when you engage with beauty, you make your mind a more beautiful place to be. The research also shows that the more beautiful our mind is the more likely we are to serve others, the more likely we are to engage in prosocial behavior, the more likely we are to start thinking of the common good and not our own little selfish desires. This is really one of the most powerful things about beauty."

Finally, Diessner says that a person's appreciation of beauty trait can be enhanced, like improving a skill, both with practice and by seeing engagement with beauty being modeled by others.

So what if we reimagined what "beauty influencer" meant based on Diessner's research? What if a "model" was someone who showcased the beauty of engaging with nature, art, virtue or beautiful ideas? What if we encouraged people to hone their appreciation of beauty trait in service to humanity and created more opportunities for engaging with beauty? What if we celebrated beauty more in our interactions with each other and viewed it not as a superfluous extra in life but as a genuine necessity for us to collectively thrive?

Diessner's conclusion after over 20 years of research is that human appreciation of beauty can actually help save the world. That definitely seems like a "beauty tutorial" series worth creating and sharing.

You can watch Rhett Diessner's TEDx Talk, "The Psychology of Beauty and Love," here.


via Pixabay

A sad-looking Labrador Retriever

The sweet-faced, loveable Labrador Retriever is no longer America’s favorite dog breed. The breed best known for having a heart of gold has been replaced by the smaller, more urban-friendly French Bulldog.

According to the American Kennel Club, for the past 31 years, the Labrador Retriever was America’s favorite dog, but it was eclipsed in 2022 by the Frenchie. The rankings are based on nearly 716,500 dogs newly registered in 2022, of which about 1 in 7 were Frenchies. Around 108,000 French Bulldogs were recorded in the U.S. in 2022, surpassing Labrador Retrievers by over 21,000.


The French Bulldog’s popularity has grown exponentially over the past decade. They were the #14 most popular breed in 2012, and since then, registrations have gone up 1,000%, bringing them to the top of the breed popularity rankings.

The AKC says that the American Hairless Terrier, Gordon Setter, Italian Greyhound and Anatolian Shepherd Dog also grew in popularity between 2021 and 2022.

The French Bulldog was famous among America’s upper class around the turn of the 20th century but then fell out of favor. Their resurgence is partly based on several celebrities who have gone public with their Frenchie love. Leonardo DiCaprio, Megan Thee Stallion, Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, Reese Witherspoon and Lady Gaga all own French Bulldogs.

The breed earned a lot of attention as show dogs last year when a Frenchie named Winston took second place at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show and first in the National Dog Show.

The breed made national news in early 2021 when Gaga’s dog walker was shot in the chest while walking two of her Frenchies in a dog heist. He recovered from his injuries, and the dogs were later returned.

They’ve also become popular because of their unique look and personalities.

“They’re comical, friendly, loving little dogs,” French Bull Dog Club of America spokesperson Patty Sosa told the AP. She said they are city-friendly with modest grooming needs and “they offer a lot in a small package.”

They are also popular with people who live in apartments. According to the AKC, Frenchies don’t bark much and do not require a lot of outdoor exercise.

The French Bulldog stands out among other breeds because it looks like a miniature bulldog but has large, expressive bat-like ears that are its trademark feature. However, their popularity isn’t without controversy. “French bulldogs can be a polarizing topic,” veterinarian Dr. Carrie Stefaniak told the AP.

american kennel club, french bulldog, most popular dog

An adorable French Bulldog

via Pixabay

French Bulldogs have been bred to have abnormally large heads, which means that large litters usually need to be delivered by C-section, an expensive procedure that can be dangerous for the mother. They are also prone to multiple health problems, including skin, ear, and eye infections. Their flat face means they often suffer from respiratory problems and heat intolerance.

Frenchies are also more prone to spine deformations and nerve pain as they age.

Here are the AKC’s top ten most popular dog breeds for 2022.

1 French Bulldogs

2 Labrador Retrievers

3 Golden Retrievers

4 German Shepherd Dogs

5 Poodles

6 Bulldogs

7 Rottweilers

8 Beagles

9 Dachshunds

10 German Shorthaired Pointers


This article originally appeared on 03.17.23

Representative Image from Canva

There's no way they didn't understand what she was saying.

Okay, so maybe dogs don’t understand everything we tell them exactly as a human would. But is that gonna stop us from having full blown conversations with them? Of course not. And the times they do seem to comprehend what’s being communicated—pure comedy.

Take this dog mom’s hilarious pre-grooming pep talk with Shih-Tzus Branston, Pickle and Gizmo. She minced no words telling them exactly how this trip was gonna go. And the message seemed to be received.

Branston (the troublemaker, apparently) got a firm warning of what not to do, including telling white lies about his upbringing.

“I don’t need you running in telling the first dog you see that this is what this is what your hair used to look like when you lived in the Bronx running up and down the block, cause I know for a fact, Branston, that you live in a rural village,” she tells him.

Viewers, however, seemed on board with Branston’s Bronx-affiliation, even if it was a little white lie. One person joked, “don’t be mad at the treats that I got, I’m still Branny from the block.”

In the video, Branston is also instructed to not tell everyone that he “identifies as a BUll Mastiff,” which gets the most adorable look of disappointment for wee little Branston.

As for Gizmo and Pickle—mom’s best advice is to pretend like they don’t know Branston.

Perhaps the best part is mom’s British accent, which makes the entire clip feel like something pulled straight outta “Ted Lasso.” That, or the complete shock the Shih-tzu trio has at being informed of their weight class.

Watch:

@branstonandpickle01 Your NOT from the Bronx and you never ran up and down the block!! #dogsoftiktok #peptalktoyourdog #branstonwehavearrived #shihtzusoftiktok #peptalkbranston #funnydogvideos #funnyvideos #nyc #bronx #funny #dogs #dogtok ♬ original sound - Branston,Pickle&Gizmo

Perhaps Branston, Pickle, and Gizmo’s mom isn’t totally off-base by giving them a talking to. According to the website allshihtzu.com, this breed had a “unique intelligence,” which gets best demonstrated by their attuned, empathic connection to their human families. Meaning that while they might not have the same kind of smarts as border collies or other herding dogs, their super power is picking up social cues.

And, again, even if they had no earthly idea what their mom was saying, odds are she’d still be talking to them anyway. Why? Because pets are our babies. And baby talk is fun.jk

Island School Class, circa 1970s.

Parents, do you think your child would be able to survive if they were transported back to the '70s or '80s? Could they live at a time before the digital revolution put a huge chunk of our lives online?

These days, everyone has a phone in their pocket, but before then, if you were in public and needed to call someone, you used a pay phone. Can you remember the last time you stuck 50 cents into one and grabbed the grubby handset?

According to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, roughly 100,000 pay phones remain in the U.S., down from 2 million in 1999.

Do you think a 10-year-old kid would have any idea how to use a payphone in 2022? Would they be able to use a Thomas Guide map to find out how to get somewhere? If they stepped into a time warp and wound up in 1975, could they throw a Led Zeppelin album on the record player at a party?


Another big difference between now and life in the '70s and '80s has been public attitudes toward smoking cigarettes. In 1965, 42.4% of Americans smoked and now, it’s just 12.5%. This sea change in public opinion about smoking means there are fewer places where smoking is deemed acceptable.

But in the early '80s, you could smoke on a bus, on a plane, in a movie theater, in restaurants, in the classroom and even in hospitals. How would a child of today react if their third grade teacher lit up a heater in the middle of math class?

Dan Wuori, senior director of early learning at the Hunt Institute, tweeted that his high school had a smoking area “for the kids.” He then asked his followers to share “something you experienced as a kid that would blow your children’s minds.”


A lot of folks responded with stories of how ubiquitous smoking was when they were in school. While others explained that life was perilous for a kid, whether it was the school playground equipment or questionable car seats.

Here are a few responses that’ll show today’s kids just how crazy life used to be in the '70s and '80s.

First of all, let’s talk about smoking.

Want to call someone? Need to get picked up from baseball practice? You can’t text mom or dad, you’ll have to grab a quarter and use a pay phone.

People had little regard for their kids’ safety or health.

You could buy a soda in school.

Things were a lot different before the internet.

Remember pen pals?

A lot of people bemoan the fact that the children of today aren’t as tough as they were a few decades back. But that’s probably because the parents of today are better attuned to their kids’ needs so they don't have to cheat death to make it through the day.

But just imagine how easy parenting would be if all you had to do was throw your kids a bag of Doritos and a Coke for lunch and you never worried about strapping them into a car seat?


This article originally appeared on 06.08.22

What is Depression?

In the United States, close to 10% of the population has depression, but sometimes it can take a long time for someone to even understand that they have it.

One difficulty in diagnosis is trying to distinguish between feeling down and experiencing clinical depression. This TED-Ed video from December 2015 can help make the distinction. With simple animation, the video explains how clinical depression lasts longer than two weeks with a range of symptoms that can include changes in appetite, poor concentration, restlessness, sleep disorders (either too much or too little), and suicidal ideation. The video briefly discusses the neuroscience behind the illness, outlines treatments, and offers advice on how you can help a friend or loved one who may have depression.


Unlike the many pharmaceutical ads out there with their cute mascots and vague symptoms, the video uses animation to provide clarity about the mental disorder. It's similar in its poignant simplicity to the HBO short documentary "My Depression," based on Liz Swados' book of the same name.


This article originally appeared on 08.17.19

New baby and a happy dad.


When San Francisco photographer Lisa Robinson was about to have her second child, she was both excited and nervous.

Sure, those are the feelings most moms-to-be experience before giving birth, but Lisa's nerves were tied to something different.

She and her husband already had a 9-year-old son but desperately wanted another baby. They spent years trying to get pregnant again, but after countless failed attempts and two miscarriages, they decided to stop trying.


Of course, that's when Lisa ended up becoming pregnant with her daughter, Anora. Since it was such a miraculous pregnancy, Lisa wanted to do something special to commemorate her daughter's birth.

So she turned to her craft — photography — as a way to both commemorate the special day, and keep herself calm and focused throughout the birthing process.

Normally, Lisa takes portraits and does wedding photography, so she knew the logistics of being her own birth photographer would be a somewhat precarious new adventure — to say the least.

pregnancy, hospital, giving birth, POV

She initially suggested the idea to her husband Alec as a joke.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"After some thought," she says, "I figured I would try it out and that it could capture some amazing memories for us and our daughter."

In the end, she says, Alec was supportive and thought it would be great if she could pull it off. Her doctors and nurses were all for Lisa taking pictures, too, especially because it really seemed to help her manage the pain and stress.

In the hospital, she realized it was a lot harder to hold her camera steady than she initially thought it would be.

tocodynamometer, labor, selfies

She had labor shakes but would periodically take pictures between contractions.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"Eventually when it was time to push and I was able to take the photos as I was pushing, I focused on my daughter and my husband and not so much the camera," she says.

"I didn't know if I was in focus or capturing everything but it was amazing to do.”

The shots she ended up getting speak for themselves:

nurse, strangers, medical care,

Warm and encouraging smiles from the nurse.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

experiment, images, capture, document, record

Newborn Anora's first experience with breastfeeding.

Photo by Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

"Everybody was supportive and kind of surprised that I was able to capture things throughout. I even remember laughing along with them at one point as I was pushing," Lisa recalled.

In the end, Lisa was so glad she went through with her experiment. She got incredible pictures — and it actually did make her labor easier.

Would she recommend every mom-to-be document their birth in this way? Absolutely not. What works for one person may not work at all for another.

However, if you do have a hobby that relaxes you, figuring out how to incorporate it into one of the most stressful moments in your life is a pretty good way to keep yourself calm and focused.

Expecting and love the idea of documenting your own birthing process?

Take some advice from Lisa: "Don't put pressure on yourself to get 'the shot'" she says, "and enjoy the moment as much as you can.”

Lisa's mom took this last one.

grandma, hobby, birthing process

Mom and daughter earned the rest.

Photo via Lisa Robinson/Lisa Robinson Photography.

This article originally appeared on 06.30.16