It's an unfortunate though by no means uncommon mindset: many people are unhappy with the way they look. This phenomenon has little to do with the person's actual appearance (in fact, the biggest culprits are rarely unattractive or even unusual-looking), and almost everything to do with their self-perception. The simple fact is, most of us have an image of what we should look like, and in many cases, we don't live up to that image in one way or another. Naturally, the generally unrealistic beauty standards that other people, the media, and society hold and enforce does not help alleviate the problem.
This issue is as common in the media we consume as it is in real life. This website hosts a wealth of tropes detailing how characters are unhappy with specific parts of their bodies, and even a trope covering characters who are generally unhappy with their looks. These characters have been struck with Appearance Angst.
Appearance Angst covers any instance in which a character is legitimately distressed over one or more aspects of their appearance, be it weight, facial features, bust size, and so on. Some of these issues may ostensibly be within the character's ability to change — body weight, for example — or they may be completely outside of anyone's control, such as missing a limb. The issue at hand is that they feel distress over their body image.
It's important to remember that Appearance Angst doesn't necessarily have to be justified — what the character actually looks like is aside from the point. In both fiction and reality, some of the biggest sufferers of this problem range from average-looking to quite attractive. Appearance Angst is primarily a matter of self-perception, not physique. It's a product of feelings, not necessarily facts. note
While listing every root cause of Appearance Angst is well beyond the scope of this website, it's worth noting that the causes of body-image issues are often very personal and rarely singular in nature, so there's no one cause that holds true for everyone. It's something that can have any number of causes, including none. Asides from general self-esteem peer-pressure issues, however, we do list some tropes below that could serve as explanations.
Like most body image issues, Appearance Angst can have devastating consequences if taken to extremes. It can lead to unhealthy habits like overexercising, undereating, excessive surgical intervention, or experimenting with dangerous (and often ineffective) means of changing one's appearance. It can also lead to legitimate and severe psychological issues, including depression, anxiety, body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders, and more. Just because something is common doesn't mean it can't become serious.
Subtropes and Related Tropes:
- A-Cup Angst: Anguish over one's bust being too small.
- Baby Don't Got Back: Embarrassment over a small butt.
- Baldness Angst: Bother over balding or being bald.
- Big Prick, Big Problems: Being bugged by a big bulge.
- Circumcision Angst: Consternation over being uncircumcised.
- D-Cup Distress: Distress over one's bust being too large.
- Freakiness Shame: Fretting over fantastic attributes (that others actually find attractive).
- Height Angst: Heebie-jeebies over being too tall or too short.
- I Am Not Pretty: Ideation that one is either unattractive or ugly.
- Muscle Angst: Mortification that one has too little (or too much) muscle.
- Shoe Size Angst: Sweating over whether one's feet are too big (or too small).
- So Beautiful It's a Curse: Suffering over the unwanted attention caused by being pretty.
- Stubborn Hair: Stewing over hair that just won't do what you want it to.
- Teeny Weenie: Torment over the size of one's own male member.
- Weight Woe: Worrying about being too thin or too fat.
- Compensating for Something: A character drives big vehicles, uses huge weapons, and so on to make up for the fact that they have a Teeny Weenie (or in more kid-friendly works, their Napoleon complex).
- Defiled Forever: Deals with an alteration of self-perception that is extremely similar to (and can include) Appearance Angst. Moreover, a victim's appearance is often used for Victim Blaming (e.g. "it might not have happened if you didn't look/dress like that" which is easily taken as "you deserved it because you looked the way you did"). This can have a massive effect on how one views their appearance.
- Hiding Your Heritage: A character may change their appearance to hide that they (or their family) look like a persecuted group, regardless of whether or not they actually belong to it.
- Hide Your Otherness: A character modifies their appearance in order to look "normal" or human.
- Huge Schoolgirl: A young girl who is inordinately tall, and experiencing a form a Height Angst unique to adolescence.
- I Am Big Boned: As often as not, this is the result of a character being self-conscious about their weight and using denial as a coping mechanism.
- I Just Want to Be Beautiful: A character's defining characteristic (or at least a major one) is their eternal quest to overcome an I Am Not Pretty complex.
- I Just Want to Be Normal: A defining characteristic of a character is the desire to look or be "normal" — whatever their definition of "normal" is.
- The Napoleon: A character is Hot-Blooded and aggressive, presumably because they're really short.
- Tiny Schoolboy: A young boy who has not yet experienced an adolescent growth spurt; experiencing a form a Height Angst unique to adolescence.
- Transgender and Gender-Nonconforming Characters: An extremely common, though not necessarily universal, issue affecting the transgender population is gender dysphoria: intense psychological and emotional distress caused by one's physical anatomy and/or gender presentation being inconsistent with their internal gender identity.
- Abusive Parents: Naturally, any instance of one's own parents dumping on their appearance — especially attributes that they have no control over — will negatively effect their body image.
- All of the Other Reindeer: Especially if the "difference" is based on appearance.
- Curly Hair Is Ugly: Though less common today, the prevalence of this attitude has caused no small amount of grief to those who possess such hair.
- Fantastic Racism (or just Plain Racism): The effect of racial persecution on body image, especially in the young, cannot be understated.
- Glasses Curiosity: While this trope is usually pretty innocuous, severe cases of such teasing can lead some to resent wearing glasses.
- Heroic Self-Deprecation: At least insofar as the trope covers "unjustifiably low self-esteem".
- Internalized Categorism: One's own tendency to place everyone into "Hot" and "Not" groups can lead to issues with body image.
- Red-Headed Stepchild: Being bullied over hair color can lead a person to resent it.
- Wanted a Gender-Conforming Child: A parent rejects their child because the child's gender doesn't conform to the sex they were assigned at birth.
- Wanted a Son Instead: A parent disfavors a child because they weren't born as the desired sex.
- Why Couldn't You Be Different?: A parent constantly reminds their child that they don't meet expectations.
Examples not covered by the above:
- In the Jojos Bizarre Adventure spinoff Thus Spoke Kishibe Rohan, Yoma Hashimoto is a model who becomes obsessed with personal fitness after growing to like his routine. His constant efforts to improve his physique chip away at his sanity, to the point of accusing his girlfriend of trying to "poison him" with his favorite carb-heavy spaghetti dish, complaining about the delivery man ringing the doorbell and ruining his sleep schedule, and glaring daggers at a man who reserved his personal trainer before him. He eventually snaps and murders his girlfriend, the delivery man, and the other gym-goer because he saw them all as threats to his fitness.
- In Mission: Yozakura Family, Nanao's Yozakura talent manifested in his body's ability to adapt to nearly any poison and constantly strengthen itself to protect him from harm. As a result, he possesses a hulking physique and is three meters tall. He has to take special medicine to shrink himself down to his original size to actually go to school and knows that he has to stop going once the medicine stops working. His strange genetics led him to feel alienated from other people, particularly from the girl he has a crush on, Kitasato.
- Silver Spoon: Downplayed and Justified with Tamako. While losing her characteristic obesity doesn't cause her any actual emotional distress, she openly dislikes it as she becomes weak and anemic when she loses weight, so she vastly prefers to remain her usual egg-shaped self whenever possible.
- The Boys: Mother's Milk has a daughter he's been ineffectually trying to prevent from going out with gangbangers or dress more conservatively. Then it turns out that because of the Compound V in his body that was transmitted at birth, she's actually 12 with the body of a 20-year-old supermodel (with all the consequences that implies), making her body image issues far worse than they seemed at first.
- Ben Grimm, aka The Thing of the Fantastic Four, has always struggled with how the mutation he sustained from the cosmic rays turned him into a hulking rock monster. Because of this, he's shunned and jeered at wherever he goes. It's especially noticeable when compared to his friends, who weren't grotesquely mutated by the cosmic rays. On several occasions he's had the chance to do away with his mutations and live a normal life, only to become The Thing again because his friends need him.
- Shards of a Memory: It is implied that some of Raphael's rage had its roots in the crack in his plastron, feeling like it made him defective not unlike a broken toy car Leo found thrown away.
- Us and Them: During the fight against Jenova, Aeris contracts Id's Death, the disease Jenova was carrying, which wiped out the Cetra of old, which causes strange growths and scabs to start growing on her shoulder where the infection is festering. They die down when she recovers but leave discolored blotches on her skin that she is really self-conscious about.
- Anne of Green Gables: Anne Shirley is picked on for having bright red hair, so she longs for any hair that isn't her hair color and at one point dyes it green by mistake. By her late teens, it has darkened into an attractive auburn. She's also insecure about her freckles (which also disappear by her late teens) and her skinny figure.
- In Beauty: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Beauty is a short, sallow, boyish-looking girl with mousy hair and big hands and feet (her nickname is based on a remark she made as a child, not her appearance), while her sisters Grace and Hope are both stunningly beautiful. Her insecurity about her looks makes her avoid society in favor of books, and she agrees to take her father's place at the Beast's castle not only because the rose he stole was for her, but she thinks her homeliness makes her less valuable and more expendable than her sisters. After living for a year in the mirror-less castle, though, she finds after the spell breaks that not only has the Beast become a handsome gentleman, but she has finally grown into her looks and become a physical beauty too.
- The Vampire Chronicles: Gabrielle cuts off her waist-length hair after becoming a vampire, has a breakdown when she sees that it grows back each evening, and starts to cut and burn it nightly. She loves the freedom that the transformation granted her and is implied to see the long hair as a reminder of her suffocating old life as a nobleman's tubercular wife.
- A number of Reality TV series make heavy use of this trope:
- Dr Pimple Popper: While Dr. Pimple Popper's original Web Video series generally doesn't disclose the identities or backstories of her patients (largely because of privacy concerns), her TLC series goes into the emotional distress her patients' skin conditions cause them, and how much they affect their lives.
- Another TLC series, Save My Skin, which is basically Dr Pimple Popper's English counterpart, also spends a generous amount of screen time exploring the emotional toll the patients' conditions have taken on them.
- Botched: In a similar vein, this series goes all in on the patients' backstories and all the pain and difficulty their botched cosmetic surgeries have caused them, be it internal or external.
- Katawa Shoujo: Hanako is deeply ashamed of the scars she sustained from her house burning down, and she makes every effort to cover them up and avoid contact with other people, to the point that she often skips class in order to read alone in the library.
- House Party (2017): Derek is shy about having "french fry nipples", and so refuses to take off his shirt- in the route where this needs to happen, you have to have everyone at the party sign a petition in order to convince him.
- Batman: The Animated Series had a villain named Calendar Girl, who refused to be seen without her mask. She was a former model whose crimes were acts of revenge against the industry people who made her feel like she wasn't beautiful enough. There were rumors that she was the victim of a botched plastic surgery. When her mask was removed it was revealed that she was still beautiful, she just couldn't see that anymore.
- In Batman Beyond, the members of the Terrific Trio, an Expy of the Fantastic Four, were all heavily mutated after a science experiment gone wrong. Although they're initially revered as heroes for their work in helping to stop crime, they are all secretly depressed about their predicament and the looks they get for being freaks.
- According to popular belief, the infamous "Blood Countess" Elizabeth Báthory was so afraid of the ravages of age that she would bathe in the blood of hundreds of young virgins in an attempt to protect her youthful appearance forever. note