Faithlife Sermons

The Contrast Effect

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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."

Psychologists at Arizona State University have conducted research for 20 years only to discover 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. This “contrast effect” as it is called, also causes women and men to devalue themselves.

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."

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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