Swimmer’s Body Illusion

Most would agree that the models for Victoria’s Secret’s fashion shows and advertising campaigns are all very attractive. The ‘angels’ waltz down the catwalk exuding an air of confidence, cheerfulness and fun. There is no doubt that many female consumers believe that wearing the same lingerie as Miranda Kerr and Alessandra Ambrosio would make them sexy, and beautiful. Their advertising is very successful.

This is the swimmer’s illusion.

It is not the underwear that make these women model-like, rather, these women have won the genetic lottery and have been carefully selected to be in the advertising campaign because they fit a certain beauty criteria. If you look carefully, Victoria’s Secret models all share the same attributes: slim, leggy and en masse of long, wavy and glossy hair. My money will be that if they wore a plastic bag, they will make a plastic bag look good, and it will sell.

Why is this illusion called the swimmer’s body illusion you ask? Because the main who coined the term, Nassim Taleb, succumbed to this illusion. He wanted to lose some weight and was attracted to the fashionable swimmer’s physique of being lean but well-built, inordinately tall with long limbs, broad shoulders, and a six-pack in tow. They are built like a torpedo. Then he realised, like the models example, professional swimmers do not have perfect bodies because of their considerable training, rather, they are biologically blessed to be good swimmers because of their physique.

The bias does not just apply to beauty and bodies. Further more, this bias is also relevant to the phenomenon of people who graduate from Harvard who are highly successful or is it just that the institution has a wider selection of candidates due to their reputation as a top notch University and recruit the most intelligent individuals.

In our pursuit of thinking clearly, the lesson learnt from Rolf Dobelli is to be wary of unrealistically striving for certain things such as looks, intelligence and height. Before we succumb to the swimmer’s body illusions, lets take a realistic look of ourselves first.

Dobelli, Rolf (2013). The art of thinking clearly. Sceptre: London.