+
upworthy
Health

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: Man-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.


Identity

Celebrate International Women's Day with these stunning photos of female leaders changing the world

The portraits, taken by acclaimed photographer Nigel Barker, are part of CARE's "She Leads the World" campaign.

Images provided by CARE

Kadiatu (left), Zainab (right)

True

Women are breaking down barriers every day. They are transforming the world into a more equitable place with every scientific discovery, athletic feat, social justice reform, artistic endeavor, leadership role, and community outreach project.

And while these breakthroughs are happening all the time, International Women’s Day (Mar 8) is when we can all take time to acknowledge the collective progress, and celebrate how “She Leads the World.

This year, CARE, a leading global humanitarian organization dedicated to empowering women and girls, is celebrating International Women’s Day through the power of portraiture. CARE partnered with high-profile photographer Nigel Barker, best known for his work on “America’s Next Top Model,” to capture breathtaking images of seven remarkable women who have prevailed over countless obstacles to become leaders within their communities.

“Mabinty, Isatu, Adama, and Kadiatu represent so many women around the world overcoming incredible obstacles to lead their communities,” said Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE USA.

Barker’s bold portraits, as part of CARE’s “She Leads The World” campaign, not only elevate each woman’s story, but also shine a spotlight on how CARE programs helped them get to where they are today.

About the women:

Mabinty

international womens day, care.org

Mabinty is a businesswoman and a member of a CARE savings circle along with a group of other women. She buys and sells groundnuts, rice, and fuel. She and her husband have created such a successful enterprise that Mabinty volunteers her time as a teacher in the local school. She was the first woman to teach there, prompting a second woman to do so. Her fellow teachers and students look up to Mabinty as the leader and educator she is.

Kadiatu

international womens day, care.org

Kadiatu supports herself through a small business selling food. She also volunteers at a health clinic in the neighboring village where she is a nursing student. She tests for malaria, works with infants, and joins her fellow staff in dancing and singing with the women who visit the clinic. She aspires to become a full-time nurse so she can treat and cure people. Today, she leads by example and with ambition.

Isatu

international womens day, care.org

When Isatu was three months pregnant, her husband left her, seeking his fortune in the gold mines. Now Isatu makes her own way, buying and selling food to support her four children. It is a struggle, but Isatu is determined to be a part of her community and a provider for her kids. A single mother of four is nothing if not a leader.

Zainab

international womens day, care.org

Zainab is the Nurse in Charge at the Maternal Child Health Outpost in her community. She is the only nurse in the surrounding area, and so she is responsible for the pre-natal health of the community’s mothers-to-be and for the safe delivery of their babies. In a country with one of the world’s worst maternal death rates, Zainab has not lost a single mother. The community rallies around Zainab and the work she does. She describes the women who visit the clinic as sisters. That feeling is clearly mutual.

Adama

international womens day, care.org

Adama is something few women are - a kehkeh driver. A kehkeh is a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi, known elsewhere as a tuktuk. Working in the Kissy neighborhood of Freetown, Adama is the primary breadwinner for her family, including her son. She keeps her riders safe in other ways, too, by selling condoms. With HIV threatening to increase its spread, this is a vital service to the community.

Ya Yaebo

international womens day, care.org

“Ya” is a term of respect for older, accomplished women. Ya Yaebo has earned that title as head of her local farmers group. But there is much more than that. She started as a Village Savings and Loan Association member and began putting money into her business. There is the groundnut farm, her team buys and sells rice, and own their own oil processing machine. They even supply seeds to the Ministry of Agriculture. She has used her success to the benefit of people in need in her community and is a vocal advocate for educating girls, not having gone beyond grade seven herself.

On Monday, March 4, CARE will host an exhibition of photography in New York City featuring these portraits, kicking off the multi-day “She Leads the World Campaign.

Learn more, view the portraits, and join CARE’s International Women's Day "She Leads the World" celebration at CARE.org/sheleads.


Health

Over or under? Surprisingly, there actually is a 'correct' way to hang a toilet paper roll.

Let's settle this silly-but-surprisingly-heated debate once and for all.

Elya/Wikimedia Commons

Should you hang the toilet paper roll over or under?


Humans have debated things large and small over the millennia, from the democracy to breastfeeding in public to how often people ought to wash their sheets.

But perhaps the most silly-yet-surprisingly-heated household debate is the one in which we argue over which way to hang the toilet paper roll.

The "over or under" question has plagued marriages and casual acquaintances alike for over 100 years, with both sides convinced they have the soundest reasoning for putting their toilet paper loose end out or loose end under. Some people feel so strongly about right vs. wrong TP hanging that they will even flip the roll over when they go to the bathroom in the homes of strangers.

Contrary to popular belief, it's not merely an inconsequential preference. There is actually a "correct" way to hang toilet paper, according to health experts as well as the man who invented the toilet paper roll in the first place.

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

Father takes daughter's bullying victim on a shopping trip to teach her a lesson

When Randy Smalls of South Carolina discovered that his teenage daughter was making fun of a classmate over her clothes and makeup, he took swift action.

Randy Smalls of South Carolina

Bullying is a huge problem. According to DoSomething.org, 1 in 5 students ages 12-18 in the United States are bullied during the school year, and approximately 160,000 teens have skipped school because of bullying.

So when Randy Smalls of South Carolina discovered that his teenage daughter was making fun of a classmate over her clothes and makeup, he took swift action.

Smalls instantly felt sympathy for Ryan Reese, a seventh-grader at Berkeley Middle School, having been bullied in his youth. So he took money meant for his daughter and went on a shopping spree with Ryan to get some new clothes and a makeover.

Keep ReadingShow less
Image shared by Madalyn Parker

Madalyn shared with her colleagues about her own mental health.




Madalyn Parker wanted to take a couple days off work. She didn't have the flu, nor did she have plans to be on a beach somewhere, sipping mojitos under a palm tree.

Parker, a web developer from Michigan, wanted a few days away from work to focus on her mental health.

Keep ReadingShow less


Asexuality is often misunderstood.

In general, it's believed to be the absence of any romantic interest, but asexual identity actually means that a person is not sexually attracted to anyone. Romantic feelings and the strength of those feelings can vary from person to person.

Currently, about 1% of adults have no interest in sex, though some experts believe that number could be higher. For a long time, information on asexuality was limited, but researchers recently have found information that gives us more knowledge about asexuality.

Being asexual can be tough, though — just ask the artists from Empathize This.

To demonstrate, they put together a comic on asexuality, defining it as a sexual orientation, not a dysfunction:

Keep ReadingShow less
Family

A study has been following 'gifted' kids for 45 years. Here's what we've learned.

Some of what we used to think about gifted kids turned out to be wrong.


What can we learn from letting seventh graders take the SAT?

In the 1960s, psychologist Julian Stanley realized that if you took the best-testing seventh graders from around the country and gave them standard college entry exams, those kids would score, on average, about as well as the typical college-bound high school senior.

However, the seventh graders who scored as well or better than high schoolers, Stanley found, had off-the-charts aptitude in quantitative, logical, and spatial reasoning.

Keep ReadingShow less
via Hunger 4 Words / Instagram

Christina Hunger, 26, is a speech-language pathologist in San Diego, California who believes that "everyone deserves a voice."

Hunger works with one- and two-year-old children, many of which use adaptive devices to communicate. So she wondered what would happen if she taught her two-month-old puppy, a Catahoula/Blue Heeler named Stella, to do the same.

"If dogs can understand words we say to them, shouldn't they be able to say words to us? Can dogs use AAC to communicate with humans?" she wondered.

Keep ReadingShow less