When your friend tells you they have met someone they like, what is your immediate response? Do you ask them if they are funny, kind, intelligent and make them happy? Or, more likely, do you ask to see a picture or their name so you can look them up on Facebook? It is a crime that I’m ashamed to admit I am guilty of, one which I’ve so committed numerous times without considering until it was pointed out to me by my friend. This is not to say I don’t ask the other, more important questions, but I immediately want to know what they look like. Similarly, when it is me that is telling my friends about someone I am often hesitant to let them see the person. This not because I am in any way ashamed, but because I am worried that my friends will judge them. I so often validate the pictures by saying they look better in person, or saying that their Facebook doesn’t reflect them accurately. The truth is, although I can testify to the fact that there is certainly such a thing as a bad picture, their social media is probably representative of what they look like. The difference is, my friends haven’t met this person and therefore are only able to judge them objectively from a picture. I, however, do not judge them so objectively, having been influenced by their personality and therefore perhaps see them in a different way. Attraction is not objective; it is so heavily swayed by human interaction that physical appearance has often very little impact, being altered by perception of the person as a whole. While it may admittedly be cliché, the saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ remains fundamentally valid, despite the superficial, disconnected and judgemental society we have created.
The ability to so easily access pictures of a person means we are able to judge one another on the basis of appearance without any influence of personality. When people say they value personality over appearance, something I have been heard saying many a time, this is not really the case. It is not that I can overlook the way someone looks and base my opinion solely on their character, despite finding their physical appearance unattractive. It is not implying I am morally superior, that I have risen above the superficial and shallow narrative of society to seek a higher and more fundamental source of gratification. It is also something which is not special to me and those like-minded, but is something that is perhaps present but not acknowledged in others. The basis of human interaction and relationships is emotion. The way that someone behaves towards us, how we are treated and how we feel in response to their behaviour dictates how we view each other. We get angry, upset, frustrated, offended, perhaps even hate, as a direct consequence of the behaviour and attitudes of other people. We do not dislike someone based on their appearance, thus it would be naïve to believe we like, or even love, people that look a certain way. In fact, it is not uncommon to find ugliness in a person towards whom we feel hostility. We, as sentient and complex human beings, are entirely moulded by perception and emotions, rather than primitive instincts based on reproductive capacity. This is not to say that objective beauty does not exist, but rather that we are able to alter the appearance of a person in our mind in response to personality. Therefore, it would be unreasonable to expect our friends to come to the same judgements as ourselves on the premise of a profile picture.
The way someone looks is so unimportant, yet we are all so aware of it because we fear the way others will view us. Our society has become so robotic and dehumanised that we often think we are judged on the way we look, and by extension the way our partner looks. If my friend has found someone who makes them happy, that they are attracted to, my opinion on what they look like is so trivial and redundant that it need not be formed nor expressed. We need to stop forming opinions that are not only inconsequential but also inaccurate and uneducated, and start prioritising the more significant and fundamental definitions of a person.