It seems that we’ve just managed to crawl out of the cesspool of national and ethnic discrimination but something called lookism is taking its place.
At its simplest, lookism is the discriminatory treatment of less attractive people. Past studies have shown that attractive people are more likely to become successful, get good jobs, and build careers.
A survey in the US found that appearance discrimination surprisingly happens more often than ethnic or national discrimination.
The term lookism was first widely used in 2016 after a female employee in a big company was sent home without pay because she refused to wear shoes with heels.
There could come a time when companies ditch dress codes or specific makeups or haircuts. But for now, it’s possible a person won’t get a job because of their large clothing size or their smile not being attractive enough.
What makes the issue more complicated is that the root of our reactions is ingrained in our biology. Studies conducted at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology all found that we react to beauty the same way we react to food when we’re hungry.
The same regions of the brain that are activated when a hungry person sees food or when a gambler sees money are the same regions that fire up when a person sees an attractive face. In that sense, the influence of beauty is partially out of our control because it’s biological rather than social.
In fact, newborn babies tend to stare longer at photos of attractive people even though they do not have any social experience.
When we make conclusions about something based on one small thing, it’s called the halo effect. And that snap reaction we have to beauty demonstrates it clearly. For instance, we tend to conclude that attractive people are smart, kind, and talented.
The following examples illustrate the halo effect at work:
- Women with a medium amount of makeup are seen to be more attractive, competent, and easier to work with.
- People with symmetric faces look healthier.
- Attractive strangers evoke more trust.
- A jury is more likely to give a lenient punishment to a person who is attractive.
- Students study harder under good-looking professors.
- Attractive people who are in good shape are more likely to get a loan.
We can thank advertisements and movies for these types of standards although they’re merely reinforcing our biological tendencies.Even with big brands moving away from perfect models and choosing more realistic-looking people, these stereotypes are still deeply ingrained.
The so-called “cult of beauty” isn’t a modern invention. Ancient Egyptians are known to have cosmetic products similar to what we have today. When photography was introduced, the use of cosmetics dramatically increased. Even today, the cosmetic market is booming and is predicted to grow by 7.5% by the year 2023.
Nowhere is appearance-related discrimination more prevalent than it is in South Korea, the world’s plastic surgery capital. And there are real impacts on people’s self-esteem, health, and even body mass index.
One study involved a group of people imagining themselves as recruiters and were give 2 CVs with the photos of the candidates. A CV that was good got a candidate invited regardless of looks. But if both CVs were equally mediocre, more attractive people had better chances of getting invited.
Appearance can even twist our perceptions of professionalism. While attractive scientists will seem more interesting to people (and hence make others more inclined to read their studies), the more attractive and communicative an expert is, they are seen to be less competent. So beauty may help in a career if it is required for the job but it can be a handicap if other qualities are more valuable.
Professor Renee Engeln says that this obsession with appearance is a psychological illness of an entire society. Fifteen years of research was devoted to finding out why people want to be attractive and she wrote a book where she details how this obsession hurts women.
The psychologist lists studies that show that the beauty cult leads to depression, eating disorders, cognitive impairment, and losing time and money.
It’s a nature or nurture conundrum but one fact cannot be denied: all of us are susceptible.
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