Physical appearance in today’s society

Milan DinicResearch Manager
August 05, 2021, 5:00 AM UTC

The YouGov Body Image Study finds that just under half of Britons think physical appearance matters a great deal nowadays

The YouGov Body Image Study started by asking the public how much physical appearance matters in today’s society. The vast majority of people in the UK – 89% – say physical appearance matters, either a great deal (46%) or somewhat (43%).

This view is held more by women than men. Half of the women (52%) say physical appearance nowadays matters ‘a great deal’, compared to 39% of men who say the same. This view is particularly prevalent among 16-24-year-old women, where six in ten (61%) share this opinion.

Just 9% of Britons say that physical appearance doesn’t matter very much or at all today.

The impact of looks on favouritism and personality

Our research reveals that nearly nine in ten Britons (87%) think that those who are better looking are treated more favourably because of their good looks. Just 5% think those who are better looking are treated neither favourably nor unfavourably and 3% think they are treated less favourably.

Men aged 16-24 are less likely than women in the same age cohort (80% vs 91%) to think pretty people are treated better, as do 25-39-year-old men (81%) when compared to women the same age (89%). This distinction, however, disappears among older age groups: 88% of men vs 90% women aged 40-59 both say more attractive people get better treatment, and so do 87% of men vs 86% women aged 60 and older.

If people are treated differently because of their looks, then it makes sense that looks could affect people’s personalities. Two-thirds of of Britons (68%) think that a person’s looks make a difference to their personality, including 16% who it has a “great deal” of impact.

The older people are, the more likely they are to think that looks impact personality: 61% of those aged 16-24 compared to 69% of those aged over 40.

A quarter (25%) think that looks don’t have much or any impact on the way somebody behaves as a person.

Is beauty in the eye of the beholder?

The meaning of beauty and whether it is universal or not has been widely debated.

Seven out of ten Britons (69%) think physical beauty is mostly subjective – that is to say it is more dependent on a person’s own feelings and opinions. Fewer than one in five (18%) think that beauty is more objective. There is a notable gap between young and old men when it comes to this question: among men 60 and older, 75% think beauty is mostly subjective, while this view is shared by 65% of men aged 16-24.

Do women and men have different perceptions of beauty?

Seven out of ten Britons (69%) think men and women perceive physical beauty differently. Women (74%) are more likely than men (64%) to hold this view, and 16-24-year-old women in particular are more likely to think so compared to 16-24 year old men (74% vs 56%).

Only a quarter of men (26%) and one in five women (19%) think both genders have similar understandings of beauty.

See full results here