Attractive Teens Don't Have More Self-Esteem Than Peers

Research indicates that good looks don't boost teen confidence

teen girl looking in mirror
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It's widely believed that beauty and self-esteem go together, but this may not actually be the case for teens, according to a study published in The Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

Photographs of 230 13- to 15-year-olds were rated for facial attractiveness and compared to their levels of self-esteem over five years.

They found that the adolescents who were rated as most attractive actually had lower baseline levels of self-esteem than their less-attractive counterparts.

Over the course of the study, they found that for most, self-esteem increased and became more stable as the adolescents transitioned into early adulthood, especially for those who reported higher levels of education.

Additionally, they found that girls had lower levels of self-esteem than boys overall -- and notably, the adolescent girls were rated as overall more attractive than boys.

Why Would Attractiveness Hinder Self-Esteem?

The study authors offer several explanations (not explored in their study) as to why more attractive teens might have lower levels of self-esteem:

  • Changes During Puberty: They suggest that the more attractive adolescents may perceive the actual or impending changes of puberty as negatively affecting their appearance, while less attractive young adolescents may view these changes as having a positive impact on their appearance.
  • High Expectations: It's possible that peers, teachers and parents often unconsciously expect higher levels of social functioning and academic performance from attractive children. These expectations may be overwhelming for children and create a sense of self-doubt or low self-esteem if they feel they cannot live up to other people's expectations.
  • Perception of Attractiveness: Very simply, the young adolescents may have had a different perception of their attractiveness than the research team that rated their photographs. It is likely that many factors contribute to a person's perception of attractiveness, which were not accounted for in the study.

    Low Self-Esteem and Depression

    It is thought that low or unstable self-esteem may be a vulnerability for depression. It is also known that during early adolescence when children are often going through puberty, rates of depression increase, especially in girls.

    It is important to know that low self-esteem does not always lead to depression. Certainly, attractiveness does not always lead to depression. However, parents should be aware that a child is susceptible to low self-esteem regardless of appearance and may be especially vulnerable in early adolescence.

    Talk to your child's pediatrician or another mental health provider if she has low self-esteem and other signs and symptoms of depression, such as:

    Providing extra support, encouragement, and love during the sometimes trying early adolescent years can only have a positive impact on your child's development.

    Sources:

    A. Angold, C.W. Worthman. Puberty Onset of Gender Differences in Rates of Depression: A Developmental, Epidemiologic and Neuroendocrine Perspective. Journal of Affective Disorders. 1993 29:145-158.

    How do Children and Adolescents Experience Depression? National Institute on Mental Health. Accessed: January 26, 2011. 

    S. Michael Kalick. Physical Attractiveness as a Social Que. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 1988; 24: 269-489.

    Suzanne H.W. Mares, Rebecca N.H. de Leeuw, Ron, H.J. Scholte, Rutger C.M.E. Engels. Facial Attractiveness and Self-Esteem in Adolescence. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology. August 11, 2010. 39(5): 627-637.

    T. Joel Wade, Marjorie Cooper. Sex Differences in the Links Between Attractiveness, Self-Esteem and the Body. Personality and Individual Differences. 1999; 27: 1047-1056.

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