Who Do You Trust To Tell You You're Pretty?

A funny thing happened in Detroit last weekend. (How’s THAT for an opening line?!)

My husband and I were visiting this family, and on Saturday night, we went out to dinner with three other couples at a delicious seafood restaurant. Over the course of four hours, I managed to down two dirty martinis and enough food to nourish an entire model house full of Vogue models for a week. At least it felt like that. Early the next morning, I had a food hangover and felt gross. Looking in the mirror, I chastised my belly for not looking concave like it used to in college (when I wasn’t eating, um, anything.) Even though I try not to burden Dan with the stupid body image thoughts that flit through my mind in times like me, I needed to unload. I told him I imagined I must have looked like a tipsy anteater inhaling the bread basket, her entire plate of scallops AND a peanut butter ice cream dessert called the Shark Fin (which I ordered, not knowing it was a family-style dessert.)

As I spoke, Dan bowed his head, rubbed the sleep from his eyes and laughed to himself – not his usual MO. “It’s so, so funny,” he told me. “Last night during dinner, I kept thinking to myself, ‘I’m SO happy Lolly (my nickname, feel free to use) is enjoying her food this much. I love seeing her eat a big meal like that.’ I was smiling looking at you.”

It also turned out that over the next 24 hours, I received three very nice compliments on my looks – one from a total stranger who, at the Bulls-Pistons game, texted my father-in-law (his colleague) from across the court, “Who’s the cute blonde sitting next to you?” I almost thought Dan had planted these compliments, but no, it turns out I basically have no idea how I really look (and Grey Goose apparently doesn’t uncloud my judgment very much.)

Our Michigan experience could have been a test case in this new study from Washington University, which shows that we ourselves are NOT the best judge of our character, particularly when it comes to intelligence, attractiveness and creativity (whereas we ARE the more accurate in assessing our own internal traits, like anxiety.)

Simine Vazire, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences at Wash U, said a prime example can be seen when we look in the mirror versus reflecting on a photograph of a friend. “If we spent as much time looking at photos of others as we do ourselves, we’d form a much more confident and clear impression of the other’s attractiveness than we would have of our own. Yet, after looking in the mirror for five minutes, we’re still left wondering, ‘Am I attractive or not?’ And still have no clue. And it’s not the case that we all assume that we’re beautiful, right?”

You got that right, Dr. Sister. Anyone had the experience of feeling like crap about your hair one day, only to have a coworker tell you your curls look so great? (And lemme guess – your response is usually a self-deprecating, “Yeah, I haven’t washed it in three days.”) Or imagining your butt looks like some sort of misshapen blob, only to have a friend compliment you on your jeans? (Normal reply: “Ugh! Shut up! I’ve gained about 15 pounds and haven’t worked out since Thanksgiving.”)

That’s why Dan and I have an agreement: When I wake up on the wrong side of the bed and my body image is feeling not-so-fresh, he somehow intuitively picks up on it (maybe my scowling-at-the-peanut-butter-jar look has something to do with it?), wraps me up in his arms and tells me how much he loves me and how beautiful I am. It feels wonderful – how could it not? – and helps me re-set my priorities. He has also promised to tell me if I someday start gaining massive amounts of weight, to the point where my health is suffering, which in my easily-deluded mind tends to sound like a very real possibility. And he tells me every single day, sometimes more than once, that’s I’m his “favorite person in the whole world,” which makes me feel about as beautiful as humanly possible.

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