Do Not Fret About the Cheerleader Effect

Entertainer Dustin Rowles refers to the “Cheerleader effect” as, “The Bridesmaid Paradox, Sorority Girl Syndrome, and, for a brief window in the mid-90s, The Spice Girls Conspiracy.” Although Rowles humor may be raspy and contentious, he and many other people recognize this effect has scientific proof.

Let me preface by making clear my discomfort with discussing beauty. Beauty will always be in the beholder’s eye. I am a firm believer that genuine beauty comes from within. However, it would be naive to discredit the psychological and economic impact of how humans perceive beauty. According to Business Insider, in 2019 they valued the beauty industry as a $532 billion industry. I’d also like to preface with the fact that the cheerleader effect also applies to male-only groups.

The cheerleader effect has ties to visual illusions like the Ebbinghaus illusion. Scientific American explains “the Ebbinghaus illusion, a medium-sized dot appears much larger when surrounded by a field of smaller dots, but appears much smaller when surrounded by a field of larger dots.”

Illusion credit: Hermann Ebbinghaus (1850–1909), a German psychologist

James Hamblin, a lecturer at Yale School of Public Health sites the Psychological Science journal article that recognizes “our asymmetries and dis-proportionalities tend to “average out” amid a group of faces.” Hamblin also acknowledges Walker and Vul’s findings on the visual systems, and how our systems are biased toward the ensemble average.

In sum, the “Cheerleader Effect” creates an illusion, just like that orange dot on the right looks bigger than the one on the left. So next time you see a group of women or men and feel overwhelmed —

Remember your beauty as an individual. Refocus on how you view yourself as an individual, and that will decide how big the grey circles, I mean cheerleaders are.

Zara holds a BA in Political Science/International Affairs. She’s passionate about destigmatizing mental health and empowering women, Latinos, & POC to lead.