Beauty Bias, a Cultural Preoccupation with Attractiveness

By Reza Noubary, Contributing Writer

     In recent years, the issue of bias/discrimination has been a subject of intense debates and occasional unrest. The groups who could identify themselves under race, gender, religion, or sexual orientations have been able to rise their voice and demand equality and change. The situation, however,  have been very different for those who could form an identifiable group or have been subject to a type of bias considered ok by most societies.  A moat familiar example is the global look/appearance discrimination. In a recent survey by the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, more than half of its members said that they had been turned down for a job because of their weight. In addition, their concern have not received proper attention by the authorities and the media.

      Beauty is an Asset

     For many look can be a source of pain and suffering and could lead to experience stigma, discrimination, and health problems such as eating disorders, depression, etc. Women often bear a vastly disproportionate share of these pains and pay greater penalties for falling short. In fact, three quarters of women consider appearance important to their self-image. As it is, the law is not really equipped to deal with the lookism. In most places, especially western countries being beautiful is convenient. Studies show that good-looking people have a higher chance of being hired, offered better positions with higher pay, and even faster promotions. Their teachers, their students, their waiters, and even their jury usually treat them better. They are also perceived to be healthier, nicer, and even more competent. Not even moms are immune; they favor their prettier babies.
 What Could be Done?

     Tentatively, experts are beginning to float possible solutions. Some have proposed legal remedies including designating unattractive people as a protected class, creating affirmative action programs for the homely, or compensating disfigured but otherwise healthy people in personal-injury courts. Others have suggested using technology to help fight the bias, through methods like blind interviews that take attraction out of job selection although this time people with nicer voice may have an upper hand.

     Unfortunately, such laws do not necessarily solve the problem. Some states have laws that address discrimination against people based on weight and height. However, nobody really applies them. The biggest problem, as is argued by many experts, is that unattractive people are not united like other lobbies. For that to work, we need people to join the ugly club, which no one wants to do.

      Confirming the Bias

     Conventional wisdom holds that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but most beholders tend to agree on what is beautiful. A number of researchers have independently found that, when people are asked to rate an individual’s attractiveness, their responses are quite consistent, even across race, sex, age, class and cultural background. Facial symmetry and unblemished skin are universally admired. Men get a bump for height, women are favored if they have hourglass figures, and racial minorities get points for light skin color, European facial characteristics and conventionally “white” hairstyles. Not even justice is blind. In studies that simulate legal proceedings, unattractive plaintiffs receive lower damage awards. A study by two researchers at Cornell University gave students case studies involving real criminal defendants and asked them to come to a verdict and a punishment for each. The students gave unattractive defendants prison sentences that, on average, were 22 months longer than those they gave to attractive defendants.

       In sum, beauty may be only skin deep, but the damages associated with its absence go much deeper.