The Psychology of Beauty: Creation of a Beautiful Self, by Ellen Sinkman


Beauty is often an invisible yet potent presence in clinical work. The Psychology of Beauty: Creation of a Beautiful Self, by Ellen Sinkman, LCSW, addresses the vital importance of beauty, its sources, and manifestations in everyone’s lives—including psychotherapy patients. The ability to be mesmerizingly beautiful and beautifully creative, strivings toward mastering beauty, and wishes to be transformed are universal desires. During psychotherapy, patients manifest or defend against these forces. So it is striking that patients as well as therapists often overlook or dismiss issues about creating beauty in themselves.

The book introduces this seeming contradiction with the ancient myth of Pygmalion and his sculpture of a beautiful woman. These enduring mythic figures represent the wish to emerge as a beautiful being and the wish for the power to create beauty in another. Patients in psychotherapy often pursue these elusive goals outside clinical work, rather than within treatment. Manifold venues enticingly promise re-invention. These activities may involve plastic surgery, beauty salon make-overs, diet gurus, elocution coaches, tattooing, and athletic training. Seekers of beauty engage with people whom they see as agents offering them ravishing physical or charismatic attractiveness. Psychotherapists may or may not be among agents seen as having the power to transform.

The quest for beauty is widespread and in many instances non-pathological. Sinkman looks at multiple avenues of understanding and appreciation of efforts toward beauty, including artistic creativity and political activities. However there is a spectrum of investment in creating beauty. Pursuing beauty can become pathological. Therapists need to watch out for its appearance outside the psychoanalytic arena. Such material can be missed when the analyst falls into counter-transference difficulties such as feeling invested in transforming the patient, identifying with the patient’s narcissistic injuries and/or needs to compete, or enacting battles with the patient. Such difficulties interfere with attunement to patients’ experiences.

The Psychology of Beauty considers definitions of beauty, gender identity themes, and origins of beauty in the mother-infant relationship. It investigates ugliness, sado-masochistic beauty pursuits, evolutionary factors, and aspects of aging. The book highlights emerging clinical material which has yet to gain notice and suggests what analysts may be missing, and why.

Editorial Reviews
"Ellen Sinkman has definitely shown us that ’beauty is not skin deep;’ in fact, in this book we are taken back 50,000 years to look at how Neanderthal man tried to beautify himself- as have all recorded cultures (even wanting their dead bodies to look beautiful for the gods). Using myths, fairytales, and her psychoanalytic work, Sinkman shows how profound the search for beauty is. Whether it relates to some early attachment to the idealized mother or some deep denial of death by striving for perfection, Sinkman shows us why the search for beauty triggers off such intense affects as shame, disgust, envy, and a pathological obsession with aging. When you finish this brilliant, scholarly work you will understand why the obsession with beauty (for men and women alike) has such deep biological and psychological roots. Congratulations to the author on this extraordinary ‘eye-opening’ work."

(Carolyn Ellman Ph.D, New York University)

"How useful and beautiful it is to have myths and fairy tales mingled with psychoanalytic case stories to examine the many ways the idea of beauty drives both thinking and behavior. This book mines a rich trove of Western archaeology, literature, and science to come up with a fascinating story of its own. Read it and weep, laugh, learn and enjoy."

(Arlene Kramer Richards Ed.D, Contemporary Freudian Society; Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research)

"In The Psychology of Beauty: Creation of a Beautiful Self, Ellen Sinkman has written a book that should be required reading for all students of mental health. Our patients have preoccupations, fantasies, and dreams about beauty that often go unaddressed in treatment. Sinkman takes us on a guided tour of this private land of beauty; the experience unforgettable."

(Elizabeth L. Auchincloss, M.D., Weill Medical College of Cornell University)

About the Author
Ellen Sinkman, LCSW, is a Training and Supervising Psychoanalyst, and a member of the International Psychoanalytic Association (IPA), American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA), Contemporary Freudian Society (CFS), and Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research (IPTAR). She is in the full-time private practice of psychoanalysis and psychotherapy in New York City and in Westchester.