The Ugly Truth About Looking Good

Find someone cute? It could be because of the company he keeps.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

Find someone cute? It could be because of the company he keeps.

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In the teen comedy The DUFF, a girl accidentally finds out she’s “the DUFF” of her group – the “designated ugly fat friend”. The term is as cruel as it sounds, and she thinks that her friends only hang out with her to make themselves seem better by comparison. It all sounds very Mean Girls-ish (and it is) but this phenomenon isn’t something that only exists in movies. Appearing more attractive when standing next to someone who’s less so is known as the ugly friend effect, and a recent study has confirmed it as a scientific fact. This can have huge implications with regards to who we find attractive.

It’s all relative

In a 2016 study conducted by the Royal Holloway University of London, participants were asked to rate the attractiveness of different people shown in photos. They were asked to rate them again after pictures of “plainer” faces were added into the mix, and the researchers found that the ratings went up.

“Until now, it’s been understood that a person’s level of attractiveness is generally steady,” said Dr Nicholas Furl of the university’s Department of Psychology, who conducted the study. “However, this work demonstrates that the company we keep has an effect on how attractive we appear to others.”

More interestingly, the researchers also discovered that having a less attractive face to look at made the participants more sensitive to differences in attractiveness.

“We found that the presence of a ‘distractor’ face makes differences between attractive people more obvious, and that observers start to pull apart these differences, making them even more particular in their judgment,” explained Dr Furl.

All about perspective

While looks obviously aren’t everything, there’s no denying that we live in a world where it can be highly valued. But now that you know about this phenomenon, you can take into account the ohter variables that may be influencing who you find attractive. And, like in The DUFF, it’s worth remembering that often you’re being too hard on yourself with your personal comparisons. 

Images Text Adora Wong.