We’d like to address the not-uncommon observation made to both men and women, often during moments of vulnerability, “You look tired.”
Intentions aside, you cannot win with this statement. It comes across less like concern than condescension. Whether it’s factually accurate, it implies that the person who “looks tired” doesn’t have it together, that her palpable weariness is setting her apart from the shiny, happy herd, that whatever she’s doing is probably “not her best work” because wishes she was in bed.
As the Atlantic’s James Hamblin reported, researchers from the University of Stockholm have confirmed what we already knew: Sleep-deprived people are perceived as less attractive, less healthy and sadder than those who have luxuriated in the yearned-for eight hours.
Scientists led by John Axelsson and Tina Sundelin photographed 23 healthy adults, once after a full night’s slumber and once after 31 hours of wakefulness. They then asked 65 “untrained observers” to rate the pictures on scales of listlessness, dejection and physical beauty.
Unsurprisingly, the weary participants were perceived as having “more hanging eyelids, redder eyes, more swollen eyes and darker circles under the eyes.” Sleep-deprived subjects were also perceived as “being sadder and having paler skin, more wrinkles or fine lines, and more droopy corners of the mouth,” Hamblin writes.
He wonders, noting our sensitivity to evidence of fatigue in others, whether such receptiveness betrays an inborn empathy or a Machiavellian knack for “exploiting weakness.”
“People are capable of detecting sleep-loss related facial cues, and these cues modify judgments of another’s health and attractiveness,” the researchers write.