You look too good to be sick!
Have you ever heard that before?
“You don’t look sick” is bad enough, but this idea that you look too good to be sick, I think it might be worse. Recently, I read a post on a friend’s page about why it’s better to make sure you look like crap when you visit the doctor. A recent study from The University of New Brunswick may actually confirm this theory.
Plenty of studies have shown that generally the more attractive a person is the more likely they are to be rated as having better personalities and as being healthier. There’s a bunch of evolutionary theories as to why, but that’s not really important here. The interesting part is that in addition to being rated as overall healthier and having a better personality, when told these people are sick, they are actually rated as:
- having lower pain severity
- having less anxiety/ depression
- having less functional disability
What’s worse, attractive people are rated as being more deserving of physician’s care… YET, they are rated as needing it less. WHAT?!Attractive people are rated as being more deserving of physician's care... YET, they are rated as needing it less. WHAT?! Click To Tweet
However, if you throw in something that makes the disability visible (wheelchair, cane, etc) the person is rated as less attractive and having a less stellar personality. Unless, you are seeing this person in the context of the medical system. If they are being seen as a “client” for medical care, patients presenting with visible disability are rated as presenting more trustworthy information about their health. Basically, having a visible disability makes your disability more legitimate and deserving of help. Other studies have found that both average people and those in the medical community make negative character judgments against those of us with no physical proof of our illness.Having a visible disability or even a visual sign of an invisible disability may help you get better medical treatment. Click To Tweet
There’s a lot to take in on all that. But, here’s what it boils down to, attractiveness results in ratings in one direction, disability in a different direction, and having an “ambiguous” pain disorder (aka fibromyalgia) where your pain can’t easily be explained results in a different set of stereotypes.
This is where I love the research from Dr. LaChapelle and her team at University of New Brunswick. They decided to take all of these and combine them together to see what would happen when you, for instance, have an attractive person labeled with fibromyalgia (vs someone with RA – a less ambiguous diagnosis), or an attractive person with a cane and labeled with something like fibromyalgia (vs RA). Which stereotypes win?
They took photos of 18 females with and without a cane. The non-cane photos were then rated for attractiveness (on a scale of 1-6) by a group of five male volunteers. Of the original 18 photos, the four selected as most attractive and least attractive were used for this study. Half of the women in each group (attractive, not) were randomly chosen to be displayed with the disability cue (cane). They were also randomly assigned either the ambiguous disability (fibromyalgia) label, or a non-ambiguous label (RA).
Undergrads (as if often the case) were used to rate the images. They were given packets explaining both fibromyalgia and RA, then given a 14-item rating list on which they rated the women in the image on various factors relating to their perceptions of the women’s personality, and pain/disability levels.
Pain/ disability rating items included:
- pain intensity
- pain severity
- need for compensation
- level of disability in social/leisure activities
- level of disability in family-related activities
- level of work-related disability
- need for treatment
Personality rating items included:
- emotional strength
Here’s what they found:
Fibromyalgia + Cane
- higher ratings of pain/ disability
- higher personality ratings than without cane
Fibromyalgia + attractive
- lower ratings of disability/pain
RA + cane
- lower ratings of pain/disability
RA + cane + attractive
- higher pain/disability ratings
RA + unattractive – cane
- higher pain/ disability ratings
Attractive (regardless of label)
- less pain/disability (this was even stronger when the cane was absent)
So, to sum it all up… less attractive people with a visible disability are perceived as being in more pain/ being more disabled, than attractive people. So, go out and grab yourself a cane and start using it, especially at the doctor’s office. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t put on make-up when heading to the doctor.
Seriously, I know this advice sucks. But, often for us make-up really is a mask to hide how we really feel. And, there are times (and the doctor is definitely one of those) where we need to be as transparent about how bad we feel as we possibly can.Don't hide behind your make-up, let the Dr see how you really feel. #InvisibleNoMore Click To Tweet
LaChapelle, D. L., Lavoie, S., Higgins, N. C., & Hadjistavropoulos, T. (2014). Attractiveness, diagnostic ambiguity, and disability cues impact perceptions of women with pain. Rehabilitation psychology, 59(2), 162.
- “But You Don’t Look Sick!” – Understanding Invisible Illness
- Understanding Invisible Illness: Walking in Our Shoes
- The Person Who Decides If You Need a Mobility Device Is You
- Talking With Your Doctor About Pain