The Halo Effect | Why we’re so fucking vain

It’s the smallest thing that can make your day. A good coffee. A smile from a stranger. Or even better, the following words (accompanied by a smile!) from a stranger:

“I’m so sorry to interrupt and I hope I this isn’t impertinent but I just wanted to tell you that you’re one of the most beautiful girls I’ve ever seen, you’re just stunning and I had to tell you. I hope you have a great day”.

It wasn’t a sleazy come-on. He had no ulterior motive that I could see, he didn’t want my number or even my name – he was exiting the cafe as he said it and didn’t even wait to for me to say thank you before he left. His intention, it seems, was to simply say something nice about how I look.

And despite the kind nature of his (unsolicited) words, I sat there thinking about my looks and the role they play in my life. Compliment economics aside, I couldn’t help but wonder if I’ve just been a part of a perpetuation of a pesky cognitive bias called the Halo Effect.

Compliments aren’t free

You see, it got me thinking. I know I’m much more than my exterior. I know that. And maybe I was having a good hair day or my particular genetic composition appealed to this man’s particular aesthetic preferences. Either way, I’m aware that how I look doesn’t define me.

He didn’t know a single thing about me except the shape of the vessel that houses my quintessence.

But the reality of life is that how we initially judge people is often based on looks. And therein lies the source of my inner conflict.

Does image matter? Yes. Yes it does.

The short answer is yes. It’s not all that matters – but it matters.

And no it’s not because of the patriarchy or your mums weird hangup about always wearing makeup.

The reason you should consider your image important is as old as the dawn of time – or the dawn of sapiens at least. And it’s because of a cognitive bias called the Halo Effect.

The Halo Effect occurs when:

“a single quality – whether beauty, social status, age, etc. – produces in us a positive or negative impression that outshines everything else.”

The unfortunate, but very real side effect of this cognitive bias is that we are predisposed to regard good looks as an indicator of trustworthiness, likeability and intelligence – and there’s scientific consensus that we demonstrably do this.

Why the Halo Effect exists

Our brains are pre-programmed, thanks to thousands of years of evolutionary biology to favour pretty people, as they’re more likely to be healthy and therefore re-productively sound (which historically, was the determining factor of whether you and your genes survived). 

This unconscious bias is the driving force behind why we judge others based on their looks – because this mental shortcut allows us to make judgements about others more quickly and effectively.

The unfortunate part is that these snap judgements aren’t always right and they almost never tell the full story.

Body positive is getting negative

In a body positive world it is no longer kosher to be appraised for ones looks. Having unconscious bias is akin to having a disease – the symptoms are trigger warnings and micro-aggression’s and the medicine is (supposedly) re-training your brain to never take a mental shortcut again.

But this goes to the heart of the problem – how do we manage a tendency that is hardwired into our cognition?

Don’t get me wrong here. I want to make it very clear I believe people should be judged on much more than looks. In fact it’s vitally important that we consider the entirety of a person before we decide what kind of person they actually are. But this requires effort and more significantly, it takes time – certainly more than a 15 second interaction. Which is certainly more than our pre-programmed biology will allow us in that time frame.

And so, this seemingly innocuous interaction raised questions like:

  • Am I allowed to enjoy a compliment about my looks?
  • Is he a shallow asshole for saying it?
  • Am I a shallow asshole for appreciating it? Liking it, even?
  • Should I be offended?
  • Should I be upset?
  • Was I being objectified?

I know people that would have found it offensive. I know people that would have been triggered.

But I didn’t. And I wasn’t. Does that make me a bad feminist? Am I anti-body-positivity?

Aren’t you more than your outside?

I know I’ve always wanted to be more than my outside.

Seven years ago the state of my ‘outside’ mattered a lot more than I care to admit. I was overweight. I was unhealthy. I didn’t exercise (like, ever) and I ate Macca’s at least 3 times a week. It was a self inflicted condition that I resented all the same.

It took two full years but I lost 20kgs. Five years on and I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been, I’ve maintained my weight loss. I feel good. My skin is clear, my body is strong and my mind is confident. I workout everyday at 6am. I’m about to take on the Kokoda Track.

By most peoples standards, I look better than I used to. Because I’m thinner. Now, I get complimented by strangers – that certainly never used to happen.

There’s less of me, so that makes me easier to look at. It’s a perplexing thing, because it shouldn’t matter how I look, it should only matter how I feel… right?

Overcoming external forces

There are a plethora of movements encouraging women to weigh more than the relationship between their body and the earth’s gravitational pull (looking at your good work here, Jameela Jamil). They serve an important purpose. Every body is not the same and nor should it be.

But these movements muddy the waters for those that love their body but want more from it and for it.

Beyonce, a categorical equality champion has written songs about how much ‘Pretty Hurts’. And yet she too is human and fallible – admitting in her recent documentary, Homecoming that she had cut out essentially all food except vegetables (she was dairy, gluten, carb and sugar free), and was excising for hours a day, to get back to her pre-baby body.

I’ve read scathing indictments filled with cries of ‘how could she’, questioning the validity of her commitment to feminism and equality – all because she wanted to work hard to gain her strength back to look and feel good.

This is the part I find problematic.

Is striving to be healthier, fitter, stronger – and yes, skinnier – now offensive?

Internalised misogyny personal growth

What concerns me is the radicalized notion that because I wasn’t *chokes in indignation* offended by a man finding my visual appealing, that I must have internalised the oppressive misogyny that (allegedly) pervades the world.

I reject this wholeheartedly. The halo effect is real – but so is every individuals ability to choose their thoughts and opinions. I contradict myself here knowingly and purposefully. Cognitive biases are immediate and most often go unnoticed – but deep thought and analysis are drawn out and unmissable.

I believe that all humans capable of rational and logical thought are also capable of analysing their attitudes and instincts and overcoming their initial reactions bought on by cognitive nuances like the Halo Effect.

I’m not thinner because of the pressure of the male gaze – I’m thinner because I chose health, nutrition, strength and stamina for myself.

I’m not a ‘bad feminist’ because I chose to believe that my body was capable of much more that I had been asking from it.

Fitspo for life

I love being healthy. I’m a #fitspo wanker that drinks green juice and does yoga. It’s a fun hobby… that keeps me in a socially acceptable weight range. I make my own granola and try (and just as often fail) to meditate and be mindful. These are all good things for my body and soul. But I think it’s important to recognize that I do these things as part of a wider need I feel to keep myself in a state suitable for social consumption.

For a long time the feminist in me wondered how good it was that I’d succumbed to the pressure every woman feels to fit in – was I just a part of the problem, piling even more tension into an already heavy conversation about female objectification and sexualisation?

I think it’s important to raise these questions. To consider my own actions – am I helping or harming? Is my ‘fitness journey’ really just another sad commentary on the importance placed on looking a certain way? I write all this while I sit here drinking my organic green tea in my moisture-wicking (what even is that?) Lulu Lemons and am reminded that image is everything. Wearing the right clothes, eating the right things, even just for their instagramableness (screw you dictionary, it’s a word now) MATTERS. The halo effect is real, guys.

Broken halo’s aren’t so bad

I’d like to think that it’s more important to be healthy and happy. That, given the startling increase in obesity rates, I’m part of a solution in a consumptive and excessive society. That self-love and self-care are the ultimate goals of the health and well-being movement that’s swept across Australia in the last few years.

I’m not going to stop using raw cacao (cocoa is so 5 years ago) and I’m not going to start taking offence when a stranger compliments me. Yes, I am more than my outside. Yes, how I look matters. But you know what? It should be OK for those two things to exist in parallel.

On Perspective | You’re well arranged stardust [Poem]

Perhaps perspective isn’t what we think.

Perhaps it’s a telescope that we’ve been looking through from the wrong end
and we’ve been pointing it to the ground instead of up into the heavens
wondering why the starts can’t see us.

Or perhaps the only truth is this –

that perspective is;
knowing you’re well arranged stardust,
animated by imaginary voices,
on a giant rock
floating through space.

For more short form poetry visit @missbethcan

For lengthier poetic musings visit my poetry archive.

Kokoda Track | Reflecting on 1 month of training

Taking on the Kokoda Track

So I’ve decided to take on a pretty big challenge. I’m one month into my training for the Kokoda Track.

It feels slow and as though I’m not doing enough. My trainer tells me I’m doing a lot – more than I need to, even. It’s hard to tell.

All I know is that the fear is what’s keeping me motivated at this point.

Fear of not being able to finish.
Fear of being the slowest in the group.
Fear of failure.
Fear of failure.

It’s a powerful motivator, fear. And it makes me run 5km faster, climb Jacobs Ladder one extra time and sprint one more interval each week. Without that fear I don’t think I’d be doing as much as I am – or more importantly, that I’d be able to stick to it.

Fear = motivation

I suppose the specifics of the motivating factor don’t really matter in this case since it’s for a positive outcome that makes me healthier and drives me toward an audacious goal.

I’ve noticed though that the winning isn’t actually in the doing – I often don’t care how fast or far I’ve gone. Because the battle starts long before – it’s starts, always, with the battle of will to simply show up. To fight my own ennui and show the fuck up. Every. Single. Time.

Fear is not the enemy

I’m only now beginning to realise how powerful fear is. It’s spoken about so negatively. It’s something to be avoided at all costs. But it’s the reason I’m getting to 6am workouts every single weekday. It’s the reason I drag my ass to Jacobs Ladder at 7.30am every Saturday morning. It’s the reason I’m learning to run – which I fucking hate, it turns out. But I do it anyway. Because my fear makes me

Other lessons I’ve learned training for the Kokoda Track:

> One missed workout doesn’t matter – but two does.
> A good PT is worth every dollar
> Sleep is the key. To everything. To life.
> Hill sprints were invented by the devil and he watches and laughs as I do them.

Days to Kokoda: 134

You can also read my ‘One month to go‘ reflections.

On creating your life | The Creator [Poem]

Do you know what it’s like to be a god?

You should.

Because that’s what you are.

You are the creator of your universe.

You’ve already met your maker 1000 times over – just by looking in the mirror.

You’re the master of the ship you choose to sail and you’re every iceberg.

You’re everything.

But you’re also nothing.

You’re nothing more than this second, this moment, this breath.

You don’t exist in the past or the present because those things don’t exist either – they’re the imaginings of a wayward mind.

And the imaginings in your head are only for you. No one else can ever experience them.

In that – you’re completely alone.

Maybe you’re lonely too, but that’s not a prerequisite of being alone – that’s a choice as well.

You’ve created it all – the chaos, the karma, the lonely and the love.

So tell me – doesn’t that make you a god?

I very strongly believe in the power we have as individuals to create and control our destinies.

You, and you alone, are responsible for creating your life.

Whether you believe in a higher force or believe in absolutely nothing, you should at least – I can’t believe I’m going to fucking say this – believe in yourself.

You are the cause, the conflict and the cure for every part of your life.

If you can just learn to take a modicum of responsibility for that you will be amazed at the new course you can chart.

You choose your thoughts and your actions – in fact this is all you choose. Everything else is utterly irrelevant in that it is completely out of your control.

So are you willing to become the creator of your own damn life?

Tell me how you’re creating your life at

For more short form poetry visit @missbethcan

For lengthier poetic musings visit my poetry archive.

On shallow relationships | Ancient Oceans [Poem]

Finding depth

Oceans are one of Mother Natures more terrifying and awe inspiring creations.

Sometimes I wonder how lonely she is. For no-one can ever really know her, in all her expansiveness and depth.

She has so many mysteries it would surely be impossible.

I’ve felt that way before – I think we all have. Misunderstood, as though you’re a sea no-one could ever cross, oceans no-one could ever truly know..

Ancient Oceans

I’ve got the depths of an ancient ocean inside my soul

You caught a glimpse of me just below the surface

I tarried too long in the waves

I forgot how the ocean floor felt

See my lungs don’t need air like yours do

I sing in salty water

I dance through shipwrecks

And currents I can’t control drag my heart around the deep

You love the beauty of my shoreline

But you can’t possibly love the rest of me without drowning

For I’ve got depths of an ancient ocean inside my soul

And you, brave sailor, were only ever meant to ride the waves

For more short form poetry visit @missbethcan

For lengthier poetic musings visit my poetry archive.

Breathing | You’re probably doing it wrong

Are you breathing?

Stop. (Participate and listen). Are you breathing?

Where is your breath, this very second? Are you holding it? Is it’s slowly oozing out of you in a deep sigh? Are you sniffing it in, with short, sharp, shallow bursts? Is it stuck in your chest or at back of your throat? Or is it flowing freely up and down your spine?

This is your life. This one breath is your one and only life. You only ever get one of these babies at a time – so are you treating it right, are you paying attention, is it serving you?

I didn’t think so. You probably forgot you were breathing at all!

Breathing goes way back

The breath has long been recognised in many eastern traditions and practices, for thousands of years in fact. In Hindu philosophy and yogic meditation teachings it is called ‘prana’; in Chinese tradition, when practising Tai chi it is the eponymous ‘chi’ (or ‘Qi’) – they all speak to the breath as the same thing though – the cosmic, life giving force and the carrier of life energy.

How did the breath gain the prestige of being the bodies key anchor and force? Isn’t our heart the most important thing, the beating centre of our being? Or the brain, the collection of nerve endings firing chemicals across our synapses to create our consciousness? They all have their place. And the human body is in itself a study in miracles! But the breath.. now that’s a special piece of the puzzle.

Breaking down the science

It’s the only system in our body that is both conscious and subconscious. The respiratory centre in your brain stem is autonomously, continually reminding your lungs to breath – you breathe without conscious thought. But the unique characteristic of breathing is that it can also be voluntarily regulated.

It is the gateway to activating the parasympathetic system and the one pathway you have to gaining control over typically involuntary process like your heartbeat. But much more than that, it can give you control over  other slippery subjects – like your thoughts and emotions.

You know the ones I’m talking about – the kind of thoughts that run amok in your mind, the kind of emotions that knock over self esteem, drag around fear and stomp on gratitude. This is where the ancient practice of meditation comes in.

Tricks of the trade – breath work for beginners

I’m no magician and I can’t breath underwater. But I do know that there are some good ways to stay floating on top of the waves, so they don’t drown you.

Breath Focus
This is literally as simple as it sounds. It’s the most common form of meditation because of how easy it is. In fact, it’s so easy, you’ll probably think you’re missing something or doing it wrong! But it’s legitimately:
  • Sitting, or lying (whatever is most comfortable) in a quiet space
  • Spending a few minutes (as little as 2 or as many as 20) focusing on your breath moving in and out of your body
  • Whenever you notice yourself thinking about things and stuff that aren’t your breath – just gently bring your attention back to your breathing again

Box Breathing
Box breathing is a more structured version of breath focus, that might be great if you know your mind prefers a more process-driven approach. It’s the same principle, but with a specific breathing pattern:

  • Sit or lie in a comfortable position in a comfortable space
  • Breath in for a count of 4, hold your breath inside your body for a count of 4 (without tension or tightness in your lungs), breath out for a count of 4 and then hold the breath out for a count of 4 (again, without tension, as much as possible)
  • Change the count depending on your lung capacity (counts of 3, or 5, whatever works best) and work to whatever feels good
  • If you find you’ve stopped counting and that your mind has wandered off, just re-focus and continue the count

Control your breath – control your life

The experience of losing your breath isn’t unique or singular – it’s universal and completely normal.

But, inherently, so is your breath. It’s yours. It’s your magic. It’s your life force.

It’s the path to your inside – literally, physically – but also in that other way, the warm, fuzzy way, that gives you back the power over your own mind, the quiet and the calm and the control.

Your meditation practice doesn’t have to be long or fancy. It just has to be yours.

So are you paying attention yet? Where is your breath? And where will it take you next?

Dry 2017 | 3 months into my year without drinking

3 months stone cold sober

“Do you want a drink?”
“No I’m good thanks.”
“Not drinking tonight?”
“No… not drinking this year actually! I’m doing Dry 2017.”
The first (and my favourite) reaction is usually: “Good on you!”
The next comment is either “God, I could never do that!” or “But, wine?!”
Because not drinking for a year is a big deal in 2017. Because not drinking makes you a bit different and a bit weird and a bit confusing.. “Like, how do you have fun when you go out?”
And then of course comes the inevitable: “But, why?”

Why I started my year without drinking

For me it’s so simple. I dislike how alcohol tastes, how it makes me feel and how awful hangovers are in my old age.
But more than that – I just don’t need alcohol to have a good time. I enjoy every night out (or in!) stone cold sober because I enjoy the natural high I get from the people I surround myself with.

Ok, ok, the real reason..

The catalyst for this year was obvious for me – after a particularly rowdy New Years Eve that left me in bed until 7PM on New Years Day, I made the choice to stop drinking for a while.. and at some point I realised I could do this for ages. A whole year if I wanted. So that’s what I’m doing.
The side effects are numerous and include:
  • Uber-hydration
  • Strange looks
  • Interesting (remembered) conversations
  • Saved money
  • Productive weekends
  • A healthy liver
  • A clear mind

Sharing the sober life

The most interesting part to me though is the permeation of the idea to the sober curious people around me, an osmosis-like acceptance of the ‘dry’ approach.
My best friend and my boss have both launched into varying degrees of dryness, from a successful month to their own year long attempts.
To me this is by far the best part. Because it means I’m living breathing proof that you can have fun without drinking. That’s not to say I’ll never drink again or that I dislike or judge anyone that chooses to consume alcohol.
Come Jan 1st 2018 I may feel completely differently!
(Spoiler alert, I don’t – and you can read my 2019 #drylife update here).
For now though – it’s just not for me.
Could you do a whole year, completely dry? Or am I totally crazy for even trying? Tell me what you think: 

Minimalism | You need less shit than you think

Small but space craving

The house I occupy is small. One bedroom, one bathroom and a small living space.  It’s no mansion, but it’s big enough for a Beth. The possibility that the blank walls and empty space invites, does nothing for me. Because I’m a devotee of a new religion – called minimalism.

Despite the plentiful legroom I enjoy on pubic transport and air planes, I still crave space. Not just the physical kind though – I crave the mental and emotional expansiveness that comes with it, the space that brings me calm, peace and quiet.

I suppose that’s a pretty good summary of what minimalism means to me.

What does minimalism mean?

Before you assume I sleep on a mat on a concrete floor, let me explain what minimalism actually looks like in my life. My bedroom, for all its size and capacity has 2 items of furniture in it:

  1. A king bed
  2. A teak bedside table
The bedside table has a candle, a stack of books I’m currently reading and writing in and a dangling charger cord for my phone (hey, I’m minimalist, not perfect).

Every now and again I’ll add a vase of fresh flowers for a pop of colour against the plain white of my walls and sheets.

My bed doesn’t have a frame and instead rests on 9 wooden slats.

I’ve got a wardrobe that’s the entire length of the room but that’s only half full – because I’ve spent the last year cutting it’s contents down from over 300 pieces (of clothing, shoes and accessories) to ~100.

Inside it I also have a shelf that houses 3 Kikki.K folders full of documents important for adult-ing and a few rows of books.

Boiled down – the entire contents of my life fit (very comfortably) into this decent sized room.

And I could fit a lot more in here if I wanted.

I could add a mass of shelves, a giant TV, a desk, pictures, knick-knack’s, decorative pillows, plants, shoes… but I don’t want to.

Because I crave the space.

But more than the physical space, I crave the mental space to think and feel with ease and clarity without the weight of all the stuff I used to hold onto.

The stuff that I barely used or wore or looked at.

The stuff that simply took up space – precious space that I now use to move my body and create weird and wonderful things in my mind.

Because despite what you might think, practising minimalism isn’t about restricting yourself. It’s about freeing yourself from the things that restrict you.

And I’m more free now than I ever have been.

If you want more practical info on how to bring minimalism into your life you should definitely check out The Minimalists!

On the laws of energy | It’s Just Chemical [Poem]

The first law of thermodynamics

I learned from a brilliant mind this week, the first law of thermodynamics. The transfixing notion that energy can neither be destroyed nor created – only transformed. I have since become fascinated by the idea that our universe is made of cascading energy, continually flowing between galaxies and between pebbles. Does this mean that maybe, the same energy that lives in me once lived inside a star?

Maybe this is where intuition comes from? From the chemical energy that’s been transforming and transferring across our universe for billions of years. And this chemical energy that’s been here before and will be here again and remembers it all on a deep physical level. What a magnificent thought that is..

It’s Just Chemical

We are energy, enchanted.

Never created, never destroyed – constantly cascading, colliding, (re)creating the universe.

We are energy, evolved.

For once I was you and once you were me and once we were both stars.

We are energy, embodied.

We are energy.

We. Are. Energy.

… and energy always remembers.

For more short form poetry visit @missbethcan

For lengthier poetic musings visit my poetry archive.

On finding your star | Brighter Star [Poem]

Brighter Star

We thought we were twin souls, destined for each other since the first atom EXPLODED.
But we were only ever destined to implode.
Now there’s a crater in my chest.
And he was a black hole – deformed and undefined.
I crossed our event horizon.
I hopped, skipped and jumped over it, so sure that he was my star.
Instead there was nothing.
No one.
He was just a p a s s i n g moment.
A memory I must remember to forget.
The light tricked me you see –
But it was from a time long past.
From a star long gone.

So I set out to create my own cosmos
I corralled the planets that still loved me
And I spun a galaxy out of the diamonds I found living on my lashes
It was only after I stopped looking
so many years later
that I found him
in the middle of the world I’d made
– My Bright Star.

For more short form poetry visit @missbethcan

For lengthier poetic musings visit my poetry archive.

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