Beauty obsession? People spend 4 hours a day trying to enhance their appearance

MOSCOW, Russia — Human beings can’t stop looking at themselves in the mirror, a new study explains. An international team finds that people spend one-sixth of their lifetime trying to enhance their physical appearance. That’s four hours a day, every day, for both men and women, the young and the old, according to researchers.

So, why do humans have such an obsession with how they look? Using a global survey of over 93,000 people in 93 countries, the team finds that one of the reasons is fairly obvious — people want to look good to attract a lover. However, in the digital age, the study also finds that people are more likely to fuss over their appearance if they spend more time on social media. For the social media-obsessed, researchers say many are spending all this time chasing unrealistic standards of beauty.

Looking good goes all the way back to the caveman days

Gazing in the mirror all day is not a modern phenomenon. The team says people have always valued beauty.

Early homo sapiens applied pigments to their bodies, while ancient civilizations used everything from primitive cosmetics to ornate clothing and jewelry to enhance their looks. Some scientists believe these tendencies originated from primate self-grooming behaviors.

As for what our motivation is to do all this, researchers say the evolutionary reason may have to do with mating. They explain that good looks historically signal good health and good genes. This sends out the signal that a “beautiful” person has the best odds of having healthy children. There has also been an age-old assumption that women are more interested in enhancing their appearance than men — especially if they are young and unmarried.

The team notes, however, that attracting a mate isn’t the only reason people work on their beauty all the time. There is also a “pathogen prevalence hypothesis,” which explains that people with a history of disease spend more time enhancing their appearance. Much of this time goes into covering up signs of the disease. Scientists have thought that this behavior is more prevalent in countries with higher rates of dangerous infections such as leishmaniasis, trypanosomiasis, malaria, and leprosy.

Woman applying eyeliner in mirror
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels

The survey finds everyone likes to look good

Contrary to these long-held theories, the new survey finds everyone has some levels of obsession with their own appearance. In terms of the evolutionary hypothesis, results show both men and women spend a large portion of their time working on their appearance — not just young women.

Specifically, people who are in the early phases of a romantic relationship are more likely to obsess over looking good compared to married couples or those in long-term relationships. The survey also finds older people spend just as much time as younger people enhancing their attractiveness.

These actions include putting on makeup, grooming their hair, and selecting clothes. It can also mean caring about personal hygiene, exercising, and going on a diet.

As for the pathogen prevalence hypothesis, the study authors did find a link between people with a history of disease and spending more time working their appearance. However, the study did not find a link between this behavior and specific countries and certain pathogens. The team believes this may be a result of better healthcare in modern times.

“We were able to collect data on almost 100,000 people across a very large sample in terms of age, education and income level, including many participants from non-industrial countries for which we had no previous data” says study co-author Dmitrii Dubrov, a Research Fellow of the HSE Centre for Sociocultural Research, in a media release.

Does social media push us to look our best?

The study also finds that women in countries where there is more gender inequality tend to spend more time working on their appearance. Meanwhile, those in countries that place more value on individual accomplishments also appear to place more emphasis on their looks.

While these behaviors may date back to the beginning of the human race, the researchers say that social media is the strongest predictor of a person’s desire to look good. Active social media users spent the most time improving their appearance, according to the survey. Study authors say these individuals spend a large amount of time chasing unrealistic beauty standards and are more concerned when their pictures receive fewer likes online.

“In this paper, we tested five existing theories that shed light on people’s attractiveness-enhancing behaviors. These theories are complementary rather than mutually exclusive. We confirmed certain assumptions and came up with some interesting and less expected results. This study is an important step in evolutionary and sociocultural research that will allow a better understanding of human psychology and our attitudes towards beauty,” Dubrov concludes.

The findings are published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

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About the Author

Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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  1. The dangers of obsessively looking at oneself is that you may try to correct “flaws” that aren’t there and end up looking like Madonna or Micky Rourke.

  2. That’s insane. Someone must be spending 6 hours and 50 minutes because I only need 10 minutes.

    1. 8 hours – 10 minutes = 7 hours 50 minutes not 6 hours 50 minutes.

      Americans do not have the ability to add or subtract.

      Dumbest people on earth.

      1. Me knowd be you notz, and kausen it be dats the 1z who be done did is be more worsed.

        Knowed it bez duh KKKonspiraze ofz dem moon men.

  3. i’m not seeing the results. the last time i was in the mall, all i saw were fat ladies. maybe spend that time in the gym instead of hair and nails. i’ve never seen an attractive woman at a beauty shop.

    1. big fax – diet + gym workouts are the most important. being lean + fit allows one to look 10-15 years younger, along with being able to fit into younger clothes. anyone spending loot on hair + nails vs working out is lazy looking for a quick distraction.

  4. Lets see… 8 hours a day work. 1 hour travel time + 1 hour prepping dinner and breakfast = 10 hours. 4 hours prep time for appearance and you have 14 hours. 8 hours sleep and you have 22 hours.

    This leaves 2 hours a day for lunch, shopping reading news and relaxing.

    The numbers given by this so called study are nonsense.

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