If you watch TV, you've probably seen the latest Dove commercial.
It shows women describing themselves to a forensic sketch artist who cannot see them.
"I would say I have a pretty big forehead," one woman says.
"My mom told me I had a big jaw," says another.
The artists pulls together a picture based on those descriptions. Then he draws a separate sketch, based on descriptions from someone who just met the person.
The women return to a room and see the drawings hanging side by side. As expected, the sketches based off the women's opinion of themselves are less attractive, by social definitions.
The women look stunned. Some tear up or nod in agreement as they realize that, yes, they judge themselves too harshly.
The commercial ends with the words, "You are more beautiful than you think."
I get what Dove is trying to do. They're trying to stop the self-hate and negative thinking that—statistics show—most women have. I commend Dove's effort. Far too many women and girls have low opinions of themselves.
But the bigger issue is not about embracing or seeing past your perceived flaws. The issue is that attractiveness shouldn't be a factor at all.
It's a lofty goal, to base opinions of people solely on their character. I learned in a basic psychology class at Purdue that our brains naturally sort new people into categories with simple labels. It takes thought and effort to move beyond those inclinations.
That's a tough undertaking. Your brain has good reason to sort a lurking stranger at the park into the "bad" category initially. In the same way, it may label an attractive person as friendly or a fat person as lazy.
Positive self-esteem and strong self-confidence are valuable traits. Often, putting your best foot forward means looking your best. That's fine.
But when you start to base your value as a person on whether you fit society's definition as beautiful—either through your eyes or a stranger's—that's a problem.
Why does it matter? Is someone with a dainty nose better than someone with a big crooked one? Is a smelly person somehow less valuable?
Of course not.
But we live in a superficial culture that has lost its grip on what matters. When we don't respect human life, we reap the consequences.
Low-self esteem, poor body image and an emphasis on outward beauty are just symptoms of the underlying disease.
Vanessa Renderman is a business reporter for The Times. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.