Beautiful And Lonely: Why Being Pretty Can Often Be A Real Drag

Being pretty comes with many privileges but there are steep downsides to being attractive — and loneliness is one of them.
Image Of An Attractive Woman In Metalic Makeup Lit With Filtered Lighting Signifying Pretty Privilege

Being physically attractive comes with a fair number of advantages whether we’d like to admit them or not.

Society tends to favor what it finds beautiful and when a person is considered physically attractive by others, that person may find themselves on the receiving end of some pretty major advantages, financial and otherwise, over the course of their life.

At the same time, while it is true that we reward the beautiful, it certainly doesn’t mean they’re living lives free from strife — or loneliness.

Key Takeaways:

  • When we encounter someone we find attractive, we sort of automatically assume that they are also smart and successful because they are attractive, a bias and phenomenon known as pretty privilege.
  • While there are benefits to being attractive, there are some disadvantages that may arise from walking around with a beautiful face, not the least of which is being shunned by others because you’re “too pretty” or “out of their league.”

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I know what you’re thinking right now — how could anyone who is beautiful be lonely at the same time?

I can’t say I really know what that’s like from firsthand experience.

I’m not what one would call conventionally attractive, in my opinion (which, as we’ll find out later on, is not necessarily the truth nor is it unbiased).

Do I have moments when I feel like I pass for more than just a midwestern bog witch? Probably.

But rating myself on a scale of 1 to 10, I’m about a 4 on an average day and maybe a 5-6 when I put a little effort into it.

(I like to think that what I lack in physical attraction is compensated for by my scathing wit and humor.)

Saying that, even I have been on the receiving end of privilege for my looks — as hard as that is for me to believe.

In fact, as I discovered, this phenomenon happens often, and pretty privilege — whether we want to admit it or not — is a real thing, exacerbated by today’s social media madness and intrinsic comparison-based culture.

Despite our modern era of beauty privilege, we can learn to put our looks in proper perspective and acceptance, and realize where our true value lies.

At the same time, those of us who won’t be walking down model catwalks anytime soon can gain a greater understanding of the social challenges that come with beauty, and finally, stop judging books by their covers.

Pretty privilege is real. Those who are more attractive get an upper hand in a lot of ways — however, there are downsides to being pretty.

Beauty often goes hand-in-hand with loneliness, but why?

The Effects Of Pretty Privilege

model in pink and purple lighting wearing metallic makeup and striking a pose

When we encounter someone we find attractive, we sort of automatically assume that they are also smart and successful — even if we don’t know for certain that they are — simply because they are attractive.

This is known as pretty privilege.

“There is something called the ‘halo effect’ which is the notion that when you’re attractive, you likely possess other advantageous qualities,” Lauren Cook told us.

Lauren is a Doctoral Candidate of Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University, an author, and a motivational speaker dedicated to helping others find happiness and joy in their own lives.

“When someone is deemed ‘pretty,’ they are often presumed to be hardworking, kind, funny — you name it.”

It’s weird to think that we’d make these sorts of stereotypical judgments about the people we see, right?

After all, many of us — myself included — likely consider ourselves to be Woke with a capital W and somehow “above” this sort of behavior.

The truth is that while we can be aware of it, we’re not necessarily immune to it — no matter what we try to tell ourselves. And beauty is something we are wired to seek — even if we don’t “mean” to do it.

“Throughout history, beauty has been a valued commodity, often an over-valued commodity,” licensed psychotherapist, educator, and writer Dr. Dana Dovitch, Ph.D., M.F.T., told us.

“Our modern society didn’t invent a reverence for attractiveness, it is simply carrying on a thousand-year-old tradition.”

Tradition or not, this can be especially problematic for those who struggle with their self-esteem.

I spoke with psychologist Madeleine Mason Roantree, Director of Relationship Psychology Services at Maclynn (formerly known as The Vida Consultancy).

“We have an innate need to be accepted and liked,” Madeleine told us.

“One way to feel accepted is to look ‘like everyone else.’ With the constant bombardment of images on what we think we should look like, our self-esteem can begin to erode if we feel we cannot obtain a particular look, especially if we already have a weaker sense of self.”

“I think there is too much emphasis on looks,” she added. “I see people not engaging with others because they feel ashamed of themselves, worried they will not fit in.”

In a society that prizes beauty as much as it does, especially with the rise of social media, fitting in can be a challenge for those who can’t fit into a “pretty” little box without the help of an Instagram filter.

At the same time, people often shun those who do fit in that box — because they’re not in it, themselves.

For instance, if you’re going out for a night on the town with your girlfriends in tow, it can be difficult to avoid comparing your looks to the prettiest woman in your group.

It’s human nature, right?

Some folks can tuck those feelings away or recognize when they’re making such unfair comparisons, but others may avoid hanging out with beautiful people entirely.

As we’ll find out, beauty and loneliness often go hand-in-hand for that reason — among others.

Why Being Beautiful Can Affect Your Friendships And Create Loneliness

attractive model wearing metallic makeup and striking a serious pose against colorful background, pretty privilege concept

Being beautiful doesn’t mean that life is sunshine and roses all the time, unfortunately.

“Society is really ugly about beauty,” writer and artist Michelle Grewe told us. “If you don’t feel pretty, you have low self-esteem. If you do feel pretty, you are vain.”

The disadvantages of being pretty are many, including: unwanted bias and sexual harassment (especially at the workplace); self-esteem and self-worth issues (especially as beauty fades); and ultimately for some, a direct hit to our emotional states and our friendships or relationships.

Having “Beauty” Doesn’t Mean Life Is Always Beautiful

While beauty can help a person land a better-paying job, an attractive person can actually find themselves at a disadvantage when their potential employer is a member of the same sex.

This may have something to do with jealousy.

Sometimes, we find attractive people of the same sex to be threatening and we might judge them as being less talented, almost out of spite.

Okay…maybe it’s not out of spite, per se, but it can be directly related to our own self-esteem.

We may also think that pretty people of the same sex are making their way in the world because of their looks — to say nothing of their skills or abilities.

Similar types of judgments can even occur because of a woman’s large breast size, as they may be seen as bargaining chips.

And, while attractive people tend to be more popular and more easily accepted, members of their own sex might outright reject them because of their attractiveness, which can lead to feelings of loneliness if they’re unable to connect with those around them, especially in women.

I spoke with Raquel, a blogger at Pretty Easy Life, who shared her experience growing up in Brazil and later moving to Canada. She told us about how her personal relationships with other women were negatively affected by her physical attractiveness.

“My relationship with several women was not easy because of it,” she recalls. Jealousy and envy are part of the price you pay if you look good, even in your own family.”

When it comes to sex appeal, women can be really competitive and when the women you’re “competing” against are beautiful…well, it’s easy to harbor negative feelings toward them.

Gender stereotypes can sometimes come into play where members of the opposite sex are concerned, as well, although this primarily affects women and not men.

Women who seek jobs or are already employed in a typically masculine job role can find themselves on the receiving end of some pretty lame-ass behavior.

In another life — one that didn’t involve writing — I worked in manufacturing.

I loved working with machinery and became an apprentice machinist for a while, learning the ropes on CNC mills and lathes until becoming the one and only “Lapmaster” at the company I worked for.

For those outside the industry, I handled the grinding and polishing of ceramic valve inserts on machines that were literally called Lapmaster.

While that role involved a high degree of precision, it also earned me a particularly sexual nickname in the shop. Before anyone freaks out, remember that this was more than 20 years ago — when we lived in a far less Woke world.

As good as I was at my job — and I was damned good at it — there were a couple of men who made it very clear to anyone who would listen that “a little girl” like myself had no business operating machinery.

After all, they were manly men who deserved their manly positions and I… well, I was just a 20-something pair of tits who should have been working as someone’s secretary.

Was it fair? Hell no. And I’d bet you any amount of cash money that I wouldn’t have dealt with that attitude were it not for my gender.

I had a male supervisor who verbally put them in their place but I was still the target of pointed looks from across the machine shop on a daily basis.

During my time working there, I did have a few female friends at the company — but as I advanced to the lead in my department, the question of what led to that promotion — my boobs or my skill — always quietly remained.

Is Being Pretty The Same As Being A Woman?

And of course, there is the ever-present potential for sexual harassment, which is something Michelle, the writer and artist we spoke to, unfortunately became very familiar with.

“I’m almost certain most of my previous employment was because of my looks and those were short-lived,” she told us.

In one instance, Michelle was hired by a guy at a department store. Just two weeks later, the guy’s girlfriend fired Michelle out of jealousy. “She swears he only hired me to sleep with me and thought we were sleeping together,” Michelle explained.

Needless to say, the two women never became friends but Michelle’s work woes did not end there.

“I had a summer job at the local newspaper in graphic design,” Michelle began. “Every Wednesday, this guy would come in from out of town to pick up a small newspaper, and he’d flirt with me. I hated it. It was like sexual harassment.”

One day, the guy came on a little too heavily and a distracted Michelle accidentally closed an advertisement she had spent four hours working on, without saving her work first.

The next day, she explained what had happened to her productivity the day before.

“I was told it was my fault I’m being sexually harassed because I’m showing too much skin in my t-shirt and blue jeans,” Michelle told us. Her boss required her to wear long-sleeved shirts to work from that point on — in the heat of summer.

“He fired me a week later,” she said.

The hits just kept coming. Another job interview came along, this time to handle bookkeeping at a printing press.

When Michelle arrived for her interview, the man who eventually hired her intended to turn her away before meeting her, pausing a moment, and asking someone else if she was pretty.

When that person responded in the affirmative, Michelle got her interview.

“Nobody had done a bank reconciliation in three years,” she explained. “He was working from three different cash balances (all were wrong), he had been expending assets and depreciating consumables…I cleaned it up.”

Her reward for a job well done? She was fired soon after because she wouldn’t sleep with the man who had hired her.

Michelle also faced some “male macho bullshit” when she was in the military. “They don’t hire based on looks,” she told us, but she equates being pretty with simply being female in that situation.

“I managed to run circles around those people during physical training, and occasionally I’d spit my Copenhagen at their shoes,” she told us. “I probably had a little too much fun with that.”

Based on her experiences, Michelle drew an interesting conclusion:

“Being pretty is really the same thing as being a woman,” she said. “Most of the issues I dealt with were because I’m a woman, and I think being pretty just comes with the territory.”

“I do think the struggle beautiful women face are struggles women face,” Michelle continued. “I have this feeling that a lot of what I went through with the workforce happens to a lot of women who have no idea it happened to them, too.”

“I didn’t like being pretty back then,” Michelle admits. Over the course of her life since her weight and looks have changed. 

“Because I was what I thought was pretty, my self-worth is gone now that I’m not that person anymore. The moment you get comfortable with the skin you’re in, it changes, and you have to start over.” 

Embrace Your True Beauty — And The Beauty In Others

attractive model wearing glittery makeup shining in rainbow colors against a black background

“True beauty isn’t what we look like — it’s who we are being.” Dr. Kim Peirano

According to a poll from Pew Research Center, 71% of American women feel pressure to be physically attractive, while only 27% of men did.

Even if we don’t necessarily feel the need to be attractive, we do feel the need to look presentable.

“My external appearance is certainly part of my identity, but I focus on it far less than my work, relationships, or internal world,” Dr. Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist and the author of “Aging Joyfully,” told us.

“I don’t put much effort into my appearance. I like to look nice and certainly focus on being healthy, but I’ve always been a ‘wash and wear’ person at heart.”

Particularly for women, though, our sense of our own attractiveness is negatively impacted by what we see in the media and on social media, leading us to feel dissatisfied by our appearance regardless of how other people might actually view us.

“Beauty is really relative,” Michelle, the writer who struggled with sexual harassment in the workforce, told us. “It’s not real unless you’re comparing it to something.”

“One’s self-esteem can be influenced by the pressure to be attractive,” Dr. Wendy Kar Yee Ng, a board-certified plastic surgeon, told us.

“With the rise of social media and the proliferation of constant photo documentation, modern technology has led [the] way to the current emphasis on attractiveness.”

We are also our own worst critics where our looks are concerned in general.

This video highlights the differences between how we see ourselves versus how other people see us.

And let me tell you, we clearly get it wrong a lot of the time.

Finding The Beauty In Yourself — And Those Around You

Dr. Kim Peirano, a doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine, explains true beauty this way:

“When we are being our most authentic self, living in our truth, we are fully harnessing our spirit in our body and this is where true beauty and aging gracefully stems from. By being undeniably you, your unique self, we become ageless.”

Raquel, the former ballet dancer from Brazil we spoke with several times throughout this article, plans to age gracefully by keeping her body healthy, mobile, and flexible, keeping her mind sharp, and “accepting, in my heart, that I lost my looks.”

“As my hair thins, my skin changes, my waist widens, I look at my daughter and see the beauty I used to admire in myself,” she told us. “I watch my grandson, who has my eyes, blossom in his life and that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world, not even to feel pretty and attractive again.”

“I had my time, enjoyed [it] immensely and I am ready to age gracefully.”

As she’s grown older, Dr. Carla Manly, the clinical psychologist from earlier, loves herself more now than ever.

“I think this is a result of being proud of the woman I’ve crafted — overcoming hardships, helping others, and building the career of my dreams,” Carla explained.

“I think all of these — plus being more at ease with my physical body — make me feel better now than ever!”

At 45, I absolutely concur with what Carla is saying. There is something truly magical about getting older if you embrace it with open arms.

At this point in my life, I know who I am. I know what I want (and don’t want). I understand my worth. And I love who I am — for better and for worse.

I didn’t feel that way when I was 20, or 25, or even 30. When I turned 40, all of my f*cks just flew away into the sky, never to be heard from again.

Are there things I’d change about myself? Sure — we all have nitpicky characteristics we’d alter if we could.

But building happiness within yourself, being proud of who you are, and finding joy in life…that means everything, especially as we get older.

On that note, it’s also important to look beyond someone’s personal appearance to find the beauty within.

We never know the struggles another individual is facing, regardless of how drop-dead gorgeous they may be. It’s easy to make snap judgments that someone who is beautiful somehow has an “easy” life because of it.

As we talked about earlier — things often can’t be farther from the truth.

If you struggle with comparing your looks to those of the “prettiest” boy or girl in the room, it can be helpful to consider the reasons why — even if it means working on your own self-esteem.

I know that’s easier said than done. But there is so much more to a person’s beauty than what first meets the eye and that’s something that we all need to remember.

Michelle, the writer, told us that confidence is what made her feel most attractive to others. “Confidence is what made me feel pretty (or not care), and it’s what made people think I was pretty,” she said.

Accept that you are who you are and embrace it. You are living a life full of experiences, weaving together a collection of intertwined stories that are as unique as your own fingerprints.

Everyone else, regardless of their level of attractiveness, is doing the exact same thing.

Closing Thoughts

Pretty privilege offers a number of advantages to those on the receiving end of them, but beauty also comes with its share of challenges — including loneliness.

Whether we’re drop-dead-gorgeous or not, it’s important to remember that we tend to be our own worst critics when it comes to our looks, and others don’t necessarily judge us as harshly as we judge ourselves.

“True beauty isn’t what we look like — it’s who we are being,” Dr. Kim Peirano, doctor of acupuncture and Chinese medicine told us.

“When we are being our most authentic self, living in our truth, we are fully harnessing our spirit in our body and this is where true beauty and aging gracefully stems from. By being undeniably you, your unique self, we become ageless.”

Unlike cosmetics and magical elixirs, inner beauty is free and available in endless supply.

We just need to openly embrace who we are and love ourselves at every age — and extend that same kindness to others.

Editor’s Note: This article is part of The Roots Of Loneliness Project, the first-of-its-kind resource that comprehensively explores the phenomenon of loneliness and over 100 types we might experience during our lives.

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