Beauty sickness

The term Beauty sickness, coined by Engeln, refers to a very widespread situation that mainly affects women, a situation in which a person’s energy, money, and time are occupied by the concern for their general appearance (it is therefore not a form of dysmorphophobia), also placing on this a great emotional commitment.

Although not recognized as a real pathology, Beauty Sickness creates the same problems for the person as a pathology by becoming pervasive and effectively preventing living life to the full, but can also lead to problems, rather serious, of a depressive or anxious type. Specifically, the anxiety situation tends to lead to social anxiety, or even to a real social phobia, with all the consequences that this pathology brings with it. To this is added the possibility of falling into obsessive behaviors or even eating disorders, such as, for example, when trying to stubbornly reach the weight that is considered “right” or the “mythical” size 6.

But not only that, in addition to affecting themselves, the problem also involves the relationship with others who are judged on aesthetic standards.

This type of problem can be evident in anyone, but some people are more at risk. Specifically, women who have fundamental insecurity and low self-esteem.

This obsession with beauty has ancient roots.

Already in classical Greece it was stated “Kalòs kài agathòs” which, translated quite literally, means “Beautiful and Good”. The typical Homeric hero was beautiful and full of quality, being full of quality and ugly was an uncontemplated eventuality, and Plato himself states ” The power of good has taken refuge in the nature of Beauty.”

So this emphasis on external beauty has ancient roots and appears to be embedded in our history and culture becoming difficult to free ourselves from its influence

If we go into detail, we see that this emphasis on beauty, on appearance, begins as a child and then continues, usually getting worse, in adolescence.

Adolescence is a moment of particular vulnerability for the development of a Beauty sickness since it is the moment in which there are great body changes, not always welcome or understood, accompanied by a personality not yet formed in subjects that are greatly affected by the judgment of the social group to which they belong, the proposals of the mass media and inputs coming from social media.

This obsessive and intrusive research of optimal physical appearance often hides a form of basic insecurity, but it is also conveyed by the sociocultural context that tends to want women to be thin, beautiful, well-groomed, and fit.

It may seem strange that in a society such as the present, attentive to the condition of women, in which gender equality seems to be an undisputed value and daughter of feminism, one has this kind of problem. In fact, on the one hand, women criticize this situation, sometimes even ridiculing it, or anyway asserting, at least in words, their freedom from aesthetic stereotypes but, in practice, end up accepting and trying to emulate precisely those aspects that, rationally they disapprove of.

The openness to beauty types in some respects other than the usual lean and long-limbed women, which is evident for example with the appearance of models defined curvy, cannot be interpreted as an improvement in the situation, but only as an expansion of the audience of potential buyers of beauty products, beauty care and clothing.

When we say “everyone is beautiful in their own way”, “there is no single type of beauty” in fact we do nothing but implement the concept that it is necessary to be beautiful, not cultured or intelligent or empathetic… but beautiful.

Getting rid of the stereotype that puts beauty in the foreground, or that in any case gives it a very high value, does not seem at all simple, but as long as this search for beauty and improvement of one’s appearance remain marginal and non-pervasive they are acceptable as part of the socio-cultural context. When instead they become the main part of life and turn into a pervasive interest that occupies much of a person’s time and energy or results in pathological attitudes it is necessary to take action.

But what to do?

First of all, beginning a cognitive journey that makes one understand the maladaptive thoughts that are the basis of this behavior and this obsession with aesthetics, replacing them with adaptive thoughts. We should then try to understand that what is inside us, but also within others, is much more important than the external aspect: focusing on the essence and not on the image.

Then stop worrying about how others judge; It is therefore also necessary to stop making comparisons and looking at others just to compare, but also to stop thinking about one’s own negative characteristics and above all stop looking for them. Seeking confirmation of one’s negative characteristics is a typical example of cognitive bias, the confirmation bias, for which you search and then find and see, only the negative things that we expect there to be.


Engeln “Beauty Sick: How the Cultural Obsession With Appearance Hurts Girls and Women” HarperCollins (2017)

Platone, Filebo


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