Signs reminding people "you are beautiful" often pop up in public places, and at first glance, it may be hard to take issue with such a seemingly positive message. But in Psychology Today, psychologist and body image researcher Renee Engeln explains there are actually numerous problems with those signs, which she's seen on billboards, in bathrooms, on parking signs, and even painted above an underpass. Studies have shown a woman who doesn't believe a positive message about herself will actually feel worse upon reading that message; that means a woman who struggles with body image is more likely to read "You are beautiful" and come up with counterarguments to that message than to actually feel beautiful as a result of it.
Research also shows that bringing a person's attention to her appearance when it wasn't already there can have a negative effect. If a woman isn't currently pondering her own beauty or lack thereof, seeing a "You are beautiful" sign reminds her of how much attention the rest of the world focuses on looks, and that can make her feel worse about her own appearance. "There’s something disingenuous about expecting a woman to live in a culture that systematically reminds her of every failure to meet an absurd beauty ideal and then asking her to nonetheless feel beautiful," Engeln writes. Let's focus our positive messages "on qualities over which we have much more control, she concludes, "attributes that matter more than how we look." Click for her full column. (Read more women's issues stories.)