Inner Beauty According to Science

Ep 71: The Emotional World of Beauty – Beauty in the Mind 
Thoughts on inner beauty - dermatologist Dr Teo Wan Lin
Beauty begins in the mind and is felt as an emotion

Possessing “inner beauty” isn’t just the consolation prize for those less than genetically blessed with physical beauty. Science tells us that our perception of beauty is deeply rooted in our psychological makeup, which colors the way we view beauty. Inner beauty is a term colloquially used to describe goodness and kindness, altruistic virtues that make life on earth better more peaceful for everyone. More than that, inner beauty literally captures the science of beauty itself. A phenomenon that involves complex neuroscience pathways affecting the mind and emotions. Turns out our perception of beauty is mostly an internal experience. In this episode, learn why I think the way I think about beauty and why I believe physical metrics judging beauty are at best, arbitrary. 

Previous episode recap:

We learned from the previous episode all about the science of beauty, which really points us to what’s happening in our minds that impacts perception.

Once we establish that beauty is an emotion, it logically follows all other emotional responses. That is, how we think will directly affect our emotions and our perception of beauty.

Inner beauty is as real as our constantly changing perceptions about beauty
@drteowanlin Your mind matters in beauty : Genuine “Duchenne” smiles are distinguishable from posed smiles #dermatologist #tiktokbeauty #beautytok #wrinkles #mentalhealth ♬ original sound – Dr. Teo Wan Lin

Let me start with my personal journey “battling beauty”. I say battling because I distinctly remember struggling with how I looked – picking on the shape of my nose, my high forehead and even feeling at one point of time that my hair was too thick! These are ridiculous to me now, but I was really plagued by these insecurities magnified by my time as a model in my late teens. Fascinating that while I’m turning 38 this year, 2 decades later, I’m feeling more beautiful than ever. Guess what has changed? My inner world.

Our inner beauty is as real as our constantly changing perceptions about beauty itself. Interestingly, I have found that truly, I am more beautiful today than when I was at 18, to me, at least. The reason is also apparent. My fault-finding nature uglified everything I saw in my teen self, whereas my mature self now is grateful that I look just the way I look because no one else looks exactly like me. 

Inner beauty is the secret to confidence and charisma
the heart of beauty is love - inner beauty
The heart of beauty is love

The thing is, everyone wants to know the secret to looking and feeling beautiful. Let me say that confidence is one sure thing that comes with age and maturity. Practicing something 10.000 hours, apparently makes you an expert. Carrying yourself beautifully also takes practice. However, human psychology is very interesting in that subtle micro-movements, micro expressions are big giveaways even for amateur observers. So in that sense, fake it until you make it doesn’t work here. Then again, this is my perspective, and another, depending on their own life experiences, may not feel the same way. The best response, though is not to care. How others viewed me used to impact me a lot.

I realised after a while that modeling as a teen was perhaps the worst job in the world for someone who is self-conscious. This is because they are judging you purely by how you look and move. Even something as subjective as ‘vibe’ can be used as a way to assess your performance. Getting better at modelling to me, means getting rid of as much self consciousness as possible. This includes consciousness of beauty itself. What is interesting is that many of us can pick up on people who are conscious of how beautiful or handsome they feel they are. Intuitively, we somewhat find that repulsive and even attribute that to being arrogant or being a cliche. 

Focus on inner beauty which is what draws people to you 

The science behind attraction is not simple. Firstly attraction is highly subjective. However, psychology can teach us a thing or two in terms of getting inside another’s brain, to find out what makes them tick. Beauty, for example, must be distinguished from lust. The latter being a sensual pleasure and is not the focus of our talk today. The science of attraction according to psychological studies shows that we can perceive altruistic values such as kindness and goodness in an individual’s face². This is quite a surprising finding, given that we ought to be able to judge these by actions alone. So apparently, our eyes and brain can perceive these in microexpressions found in an individual’s face¹. This is the reason why we should focus on inner beauty – which is what will draw people to you.

@drteowanlin #docsoftiktok #whatittakestocomealive #doctorsoftiktok #beautiful #beauty ♬ Ooh La La – Josie Dunne
Inner beauty: Your inner world determines your psychological state

This may be word play, but inner beauty doesn’t just refer to possessing virtues. It is about learning to seek beauty on the inside. Art is particularly relevant because it schools us in detecting that what is subtle is beautiful. For example, only a trained eye can appreciate beauty in a masterpiece, as opposed to a counterfeit. If we train our minds to perceive beauty where we want to, we find ourselves much happier and content. This starts a positive cycle of being beautiful because you feel beautiful- irrespective of how physical attributes are judged— mostly, by others.

Keep calm and be beautiful
Beauty is an emotional state reflecting our inner world

On the topic of self-help, we find the guru’s advice is always to manage one’s emotions. To stay calm and rationalize instead of reacting emotionally.  Looks like science tells us that we can apply the same advice when it comes to beauty. I truly think that beauty is an emotional state reflecting our inner world. So, let’s keep calm and be beautiful.

inner beauty - why do we think the way we do about beauty
Exploring our inner world helps us uncover why we think the way we do about beauty

Since psychology research tells us that our feelings give us away via microexpressions, it may be helpful to manage our emotional world better. Being beautiful is how we choose to wire our emotions optimally in response to anything. 

The Art of Expression:
Inner beauty can be the key to charisma, also known as the X-factor

I coined the phrase “the art of expression” as an alternative viewpoint on the topic of beauty. The “character of a face” for example, has more to do with the “vibe” or the disposition of the individual channeled by their subtle movements on the face known as microexpressions. My best interpretation is that authenticity starting from the emotions directly affects our facial expressions. Hence, inner beauty can be the key to charisma, also known as the X factor. Taking time to cultivate one’s inner world, enriching it with aesthetic experiences in the humanities can affect the faculties of memory, intelligence and imagination. It may well be that your face shows the richness of these when you express yourself. We also know that our favorite expressions eventually imprint on the aging face¹. 

That may just be the science behind the “X-factor”, or what one refers to as charisma.

The case for inner beauty: our mind chooses to believe that we are beautiful, or not

Our mind creates emotions that show up on our faces via expressions that others can read. Our mind can cause us to act confident because we feel confident. That can contribute to the elusive X-factor which is as precise as it is literal. We simply cannot define it.  

Memories, like intelligence, are involved in experiencing beauty

This is another reason why I make the case for inner beauty – as a way to which our physical world is impacted by our inner world. The case for promoting psychological wellbeing in our quest for beauty is more urgent than ever given the increasing incidences of public figures, celebrities in the prime of their lives who seem to struggle with their self-image. This ultimately impacts their mental health and in very unfortunate cases, can even lead to suicide. Philosophers have stated that the most intense experiences of beauty involve recollections of memories. So, I wonder if it is part of the emotional and mental processing of certain experiences that these individuals experience that affects the way they ultimately reflect on themselves and the way they see themselves.

Our experiences are recorded not just in our minds. But, our faces could well bear traces of our emotional memories, and traces of our personality, acquired throughout our lifetimes of practice. I question erasing these because they may well be what ultimately makes our faces unique and charismatic. 

Sustainable beauty

The case for prioritizing inner beauty is really that mental wellness then, is critical to memory functioning. This relates to our ability to appreciate beauty not just in ourselves and in others. A psychologically unwell individual may find themselves chronically dissatisfied about their appearance, and the latter may end up becoming an inherent risk factor for mental health problems. So, you can see that judging beauty with physical metrics simply isn’t sustainable.

Inner beauty - an emotional state reflecting our world

Beauty is an emotional state reflecting our inner world

With all the talk of sustainable beauty, I feel that this is one aspect that we should focus on. Beyond this, we have yet to see also the longer-term psychological impact of aesthetic enhancements on an aging population. While that remains to be studied and to be reviewed, what seems sensible to me is to encourage as-is beauty as the best trend to follow.  The raw, natural and actually being able to convey yourself in a healthy, psychologically well way is the ultimate epitome of what it is to be beautiful. To change our minds and to alter our own perceptions, I feel that this is a more sustainable approach to beauty.

Summing up

In conclusion, the scope of this episode is to bring to light the potential benefits of a positive psychological state in terms of shaping the aging face. I also hope to add diversity in the interpretation of the term the “science of beauty” — one that is currently the basis for cosmetic dermatological interventions. One should feel free to entertain alternative ideas about the beauty of the aging face. About beauty in general as well- to realise that it is as fleeting as our constantly changing perceptions and emotions. 

  1. Teo WL. On thoughts, emotions, facial expressions, and aging. Int J Dermatol. 2021 May;60(5):e200-e202. doi: 10.1111/ijd.15443. Epub 2021 Feb 9. PMID: 33559158.
  2.  Nadal M, Munar E, Marty G, Cela-Conde CJ. Visual Complexity and Beauty Appreciation: Explaining the Divergence of Results. Empirical Studies of the Arts. 2010;28(2):173-191. doi:10.2190/EM.28.2.d

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