Have you ever had a day (or in some people’s cases, their whole life) where you cannot help but think that everyone is judging you because your hair just does not look right? Almost everyone has at least one “bad hair day”, when they feel self-conscious about their appearance and how others in society perceive them. Depending on the person’s general confidence level and self-esteem, the effect of a bad hair day can range from being harmless to completely ruining someone’s mood.
A psychologist named Professor Marianne LaFrance at Yale University decided to study how physical appearance affects people’s feelings. She separated 120 volunteers into three groups. Group 1 was asked to recall a bad hair day, group 2 was told nothing (control group) and group 3 was asked to recall a day in which they had difficulty opening a package (bad experience unrelated to appearance). She then measured the change in mood among the participants to see how the memory of a bad hair day could affect mood and self-esteem. To no surprise, the results showed that those who recalled a bad hair day suffered from much lower self-esteem and mood. Group 1 felt less smart and confident compared to the other groups and felt “embarrassed” in general.
The reason for the drop in self-esteem is that we are socially educated to feel that we are judged on our appearance. We have an inherent belief that an untidy appearance will mean that others will judge us as being unorganised, unprofessional and not trustworthy. This applies to anything that might potentially affect our image, such as an embarrassing moment or an unsightly accident. We become fixated on this idea and shine a “social spotlight” on ourselves, thinking that any embarrassing moment for us will be instantly judged by those around us. In psychology, this is known as the spotlight effect and it can be quite a powerful effect.
But here is the kicker: nobody cares. We have a psychological tendency to overreact to such situations where a spotlight might be turned on us, when in truth, others do not notice it as much as we think they do. There have been many experiments (mostly involving university students) where surveys showed that fellow students barely paid attention to or had little recollection of another student’s embarrassing moments or dishevelled appearances. Although it may have been the most embarrassing moment in the person’s life, to other people, it is at best a comedic happening that fades away in their memories.
So the next time you feel that others are judging you and you feel the blinding spotlight on you, just remember: the greatest, and only important judge of your character, is yourself.