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The undeniable bias towards "pretty"

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Pretty hurts? False AND erroneous! Sorry Bey, although your album is often on repeat in our office for days at a time – studies show that being “pretty” most definitely does NOT hurt, it instead actually makes the quality of your life drastically!

Recently “one of the most violent criminals” in Stockton, CA area was arrested and is currently being held in jail with bail set at a million dollars. Convicted of 11 felonies, his story is receiving tons of media coverage – NOT because a dangerous gang-member is now off the street -- but instead due to his strikingly good-looks.

The story of beautiful felon Jeremy Meeks is not unusual; humans are pre-programmed to subconsciously respond to beauty. Study after study proves that whether or not we are even cognizant of it – the more attractive a person is, the better society treats them.

Being pretty in life:

Itty-bitty babies, who can’t even speak and certainly don’t know “pretty” from “ugly” have been proven to stare at attractive faces longer than unattractive faces. Like it or not, the beauty-bias only gets stronger with age, affecting decisions ranging from Facebook friendships, to school grades, all the way to the work-place and matters of the law. (Witness again, sudden fame of a certain J. Meeks.)

Being pretty in school:

In a classic study, David Landy and Harold Sigall asked participants to grade two identical essays. Attached to each essay was a photo of the “writer” who was either quite attractive, or quite unattractive. Regardless of the actual quality of the writing, the essays paired with an attractive photograph consistently got a higher grade than the essays paired with the unattractive photographs.

Good Samaritans and pretty people:

This classic Peter Benson study from the mid-1970s shows the import of anonymously helping an attractive person versus a non-attractive person. In telephone booths across the country, stamped but “forgotten” college applications were left. Each application included a picture of the applicant, either a very attractive person, or an average/homely person. Perhaps unsurprisingly, people who’d found the forms for the pretty applicant were 80% more likely to mail the paperwork than if the unattractive candidate’s paperwork was found. Without the possibility of ever meeting or personally benefitting from interacting with an attractive person, these strangers still felt more compelled to help out a pretty stranger rather than a plain one.

Being pretty at work:

Despite a candidate’s actual skill-set or experience, good-looking job candidates are more likely to be*:

  • Recommended for a job,
  • Considered qualified for a job,
  • Thought to be more likely to succeed at a job,
  • Ultimately hired for a job.

The bias towards beauty obviously isn’t just limited to the hiring process either. Once hired, attractive people are more likely to be paid a higher salary, receive promotions, and are less likely to be fired. (This isn’t even touching upon the impact of appearance for sales positions.)

*There is some evidence that attractiveness can actually be a handicap to women seeking managerial positions. It’s been suggested that attractiveness is beneficial when women apply for what are perceived as traditionally “feminine” jobs, but becomes a liability when applying for “masculine’’ jobs – the more overtly female a woman is, the less intelligent and capable she seems.

Being pretty vs. the law

On the small scale, you’ve likely heard countless stories about how attractive women are able to flirt their way out of driving tickets.

On the larger scale, studies quite consistently that physically attractive defendants are less likely to be perceived as guilty when they’ve been charged with a crime. Even when they are found guilty, attractive criminals receive more lenient sentences and have lower bails and fines imposed on them than their average-looking counterparts. (Many of these ideas are explored and studied in Deborah Rhodes book, “The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law”.)

The big question is what (if anything) can/should be done about a natural bias towards beauty?

Although perhaps unfair – people are born with this natural predilection towards the fairer of our species. The only things to do about it are to try and be aware of these situations happening, and make sure that you treat everyone the same despite their outward appearance. Additionally, use this information to protect and better yourself. Doing whatever you can to look (and feel) your best doesn’t just improve your self-esteem, it also improves the way the entire world treats you. If a little tweak here and touch-up there helps you look your best – you owe it to yourself to encourage the world to give you their subconscious best.

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