To What Extent Is Physical Appearance An Important Part Of Our Identity?

Everyday, we see images of attractive people being splashed across newspapers, magazines, television and advertisements, and of course, Instagram, YouTube and such other social media. We are often cajoled to improve our skin, buy a certain pair of shoes and dress like movie stars. In recent times, plastic surgery is getting more and more popular, and for many people, going under the knife is the panacea for all their issues with looks. With such high value placed on one’s physical appearance it seems that one’s face, body and clothes form an important part of their identity.

We often identify with how we appear to others. Whether it is height, weight, skin or eye colour, physical appearance is an effective way to identify people. It is easier to identify a tall man than a kind-hearted one. Thus it is convenient for us to use such labels such as red-haired, freckled, brown, blue-eyed, etc. when identifying people. We often judge people according to their physical appearance. A scruffy-looking person, for example, is unlikely to impress anyone. As such, our identity as seen by others is largely formed by our specific physical appearance.

Therefore, many people spend enormous sums of money on just looking good, whether by plastic surgery or by buying branded clothes and shoes. Beauty parlors and saloons find customers all the time, ready to spend any amount so as to just look good, and follow the latest fashion so that they will appear trendy and fashionable. Looks are also an important part of belonging to certain exclusive groups and gatherings. For example, a formal gathering almost always requires formal attire.

However, does your appearance define you?

Physical appearance can work only up to a certain extent in defining one’s identity. Our identity is formed also by our behaviour, values and personality. A lot depends on how kind and considerate a person is, and how polite and well-behaved he is. Physical appearance works only at a superficial level.

For example, during a job interview, the first impression is created by how one looks, but the job is given to only those people who have the right qualification, experience and most importantly, the right mindset and attitude. Similarly, one’s success in life is not determined by one’s looks alone, even in the movie industry where looks are important. An actor will stay in his job only if he is good in acting no matter how good-looking he or she is. Also, who do you consider your best friends? Those who are good-looking or those who are kind and considerate? Good looks might attract friends, but good character makes them stay.

Famous people who have made significant contributions to mankind’s progress are identified not by their physical appearance, but through their actions. No one is bothered about how Sir Issac Newton, Albert Einstein, Abraham Lincoln or Mahatma Gandhi looked. Their identity is defined by their actions and how they made the world a better place.

A very important aspect of one’s identity, apart from character and behaviour, is of course the life choices one makes, education and profession. A doctor is identified by his profession first and foremost. Similarly, an engineer, a teacher or a lawyer identifies first with their profession. When meeting people, often the first few questions include ‘what do you do?’ Similarly, once you have children, you are most readily identified as the father of so and so, or the mother of so and so. Once you are a grandparent, you are identified as the grandparent of so and so.

In conclusion it may be said that even though physical appearance does contribute to your identity, it does so only to an extent, and often only as a reflection of one’s self care and hygiene. In fact, appearance is taken very seriously only in one’s youth. Once professional life or family life begins, appearance assumes so much less importance than it did earlier.

It would however be idealistic to say that one’s identity is based on character alone. Physical appearance does matter to an extent, but character and behaviour are the basis on which one’s identity is built. People who identify with how they look lead miserable lives, because everyone gets old as time passes and old age is not kind to one’s looks. Similarly, one could get into an accident that disfigures them or catch a disease that leaves its ugly mark on the body. In such circumstances, identifying with one’s appearance will definitely be detrimental to their mental health.

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