Beauty vs. Attractiveness: A Matter of Semantics?

Vivian Diller, Ph.D.

Psychologist; Author, Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change

Since Elizabeth Taylor’s death last week, much has been said about her illustrious career and colorful personal life. And while tributes highlighted her many movies and marriages, it’s probably fair to say that a lot of us will remember her for her exquisite beauty: those violet eyes, her creamy skin and thick, black hair.

With Taylor’s iconic image in mind, I was interested in reading Robert Tornambe’s article, “What Is Beauty? A Plastic Surgeon’s Perspective.” The piece intrigued me not only because of my own research on this topic, but because I was interested in how his point of view (as a male and a surgeon) might differ from mine (a female and a psychologist). My work focuses more on raising questions about our beauty culture (e.g., “Under the Knife and Under Scrutiny,” and “Cosmetic Drugs Gone Too Far”), but I was pleasantly surprised that we both shared a similar perspective: that a woman’s attractiveness is based more on perception than the sum of her biological parts. I particularly resonated with these words: “We must stop sending the wrong, unhealthy superficial message to our daughters and granddaughters about the definition of beauty.”