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Hollywood Publicist Frustrated with Beauty

Hollywood publicist Michael Levine lives in what many consider the beauty capital of the world, surrounded on a daily basis by gorgeous women. But he isn't satisfied. "Although I'm a successful, red-blooded American male," he confesses, "it is beauty alone that is keeping me single and lonely." He subscribes wholeheartedly to what is commonly called the "contrast effect": "Men are barraged with images of extraordinarily beautiful and unobtainable women in the media, making it difficult for them to desire the ordinarily beautiful."

Levine has scientific research to back his convictions. Psychologists Sara Gutierres and Douglas Kenrick of Arizona State University have studied this theory for the past 20 years. Their conclusion is that we judge both our own and other people's attractiveness based on the social situation we're in. If a woman of average beauty enters a room of extremely beautiful women, she will be perceived as less attractive than she actually is. If the same woman enters a room of unattractive women, she will be perceived as more attractive than she actually is. The same applies for men.

The researchers found that this contrast effect influences many women to de-value themselves: "Women who are surrounded by other attractive women—whether in the flesh, in films or in photographs—rate themselves as less satisfied with their attractiveness and less desirable as a marriage partner." For the overwhelming majority of women who don't meet these impossible standards, multi-million dollar industries are eager to help improve their appearance.

The effects on men are also damaging. It leaves them alone and yearning for superficial beauty instead of real love with real women. The researchers note that "under a constant barrage of media images of beautiful women, these guys have an expectation of attractiveness that is unusually high—and that makes the people around them, in whom they might really be interested, seem lackluster, even if they are quite good-looking."

Sociologist Satoshi Kanazawa, assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, took a close look at a specific group of men surrounded daily by large numbers of young women in their prime. He found that male high school and college teachers are more likely to be divorced or separated than their male counterparts who taught kindergarten and grade school. Kanazawa believes this contrast effect—whether experienced in real life or through the media—harms marriage and keeps men single and miserable. Many don't know why they no longer find their middle-aged wives attractive.

Michael Levine is living proof of these harmful effects. He comments: "My exposure to extreme beauty is ruining my capacity to love the ordinarily beautiful women of the real world—women who are more likely to meet my needs for deep connection and partnership of the soul." He wonders what his life might have been like if he had never moved to L. A. and become a publicist.

But then he realizes that the images of the women he works with are "broadcast all over the globe. While most people do not live in L. A., they visit it every day when they turn on the TV or go to the movies. It is safe to say that, to one degree or another, we all live in the shadow of the Hollywood sign."

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