Pretty is as pretty does…
I’m what society would consider a pretty girl. I’ve got clear skin, nice hair, a small waist and a great booty. I dress well, wear makeup (but not too much), and conduct myself with a lot of confidence and swagger. I’m done with the low self-esteem and body dysmorphia often inherent to women in their early 20s, and am perfectly satisfied with my physical being. It’s immensely liberating.
This calm self-awareness comes not from vanity or ego. I get told regularly I’m aesthetically pleasing. When I walk into a room, I see the odd head turn, not because I’ve said anything particularly intelligent, but because human beings like to look at visually attractive things. Aside from anything else, I’ve got two eyes and a mirror.
And yes, I’m aware beauty is in the eye of the beholder so I may not be everyone’s piece of cake, however, the primary reason I’m aware my physical attributes are pleasing to most is because I worked out a while ago they help me get ahead.
If I think looking particularly beguiling in a professional or social setting is advantageous, I’ll put in the extra effort. It’s a matter of standing out, without looking like I’ve tried too hard. When I achieve this balance, I get more positive attention than not just other women, but other men. As such, I inevitably climb a few more rungs of the professional or social ladder using a V-line dress and a push-up bra.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not superficial. I’m smart, hard-working, and extremely well educated. I can hold my own in any argument. But hey, so can a lot of people. The uncomfortable advantage I have is a conventionally ‘good’ physique and a terrific sense of humor. Funny and conventionally pretty is a winning combination, and although looks and charisma won’t help me do the task, they assist immeasurably in gaining me the opportunity. Yes, there’s an awful lot I’m deficient in, but give me a cute dress, a pair of heels, and a good hair day, and these flaws are masked in an instant.
Here’s the thing about human beings; we like pretty people. This isn’t because we’re all inherently superficial, there’s actually research to prove conventionally attractive individuals have a distinct primal advantage over people who are not so, and it applies to both women and men.
It’s particularly evident in the workplace. According to research by Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle published in the Journal of Labor Economics, physically attractive people earn about five per cent more an hour than their less attractive counterparts. In addition, conventionally ‘unattractive’ people earn roughly nine per cent less per hour than those who are better looking. To put that in numbers, this means that for average-looking people earning $70,000 a year, their prettier colleagues are making $73,500, and their least attractive colleagues would earn only $63,700.
So why are we inclined to pay more attention (and money) to conventionally attractive people?
The reasoning goes back to the days when all we wanted in a partner was someone who would produce strong offspring and protect our cave from tigers. Attractive people are immediately perceived as more trustworthy because they radiate good health (physical symmetry has long been considered a sign of strong health), and will therefore be better able to defend the cave from predators in the case of men, or easily bear and support children, in the case of women.
Writer of the Office Hours with Dr. Jim column for Online Dating Magazine, James Houran, PhD, sums up the awkward specifics. There are five particular qualities indicating physical attractiveness. These are clear skin and lustrous hair, a symmetrical face and body, height and muscle in men (a defined jawline doesn’t hurt either), rosy lips, full breasts, round buttocks in women, and good hygiene.
“Even if we make a personal decision not to have children, the little monkey man or woman inside us tells us to choose the youngest and healthiest partner among our potential mates, who’ll give us the greatest chance of making lots of babies and perpetuating the species,” states Houran.
Unsurprisingly, women cop the most intense analysis of our physical appearances. This is to do with the fact men are biologically more visual than us, and as such, human history has evolved to value physical attractiveness in women beyond anything else. You only need to look at the very public experiment carried out by Australian TV hosts Karl Stefanovic and Lisa Wilkinson in 2014. Stefanovic wore the exact same suit for a year, and none of the general public noticed, while Wilkinson bore relentless critique for her styling, even though she doesn’t actually get to choose how she looks on camera or what she wears at a shoot.
So, should we rally against this primal penchant for physical beauty as an anti-feminist double standard, or should we run with it?
As much as many feminists hate to admit it, female sexuality is extremely empowering, and does not necessarily equate to being objectified. Lots of women agree commanding attention simply by existing is pretty fantastic. Professor of sociology at the London School of Economics, Catherine Hakim actually suggests professional women use their ‘erotic capital’ – beauty, sex appeal, charm, dress sense, liveliness, and fitness – to get ahead in the workplace.
“Meritocracies are supposed to champion intelligence, qualifications, and experience. But physical and social attractiveness deliver substantial benefits in all social interaction, making a person more persuasive, able to secure the cooperation of colleagues, attract customers and sell products,” she says.
If you can’t back up looks and charisma with a fierce amount of intelligence and integrity, you’re going to flounder. But in an excruciatingly competitive, male-dominated workforce, gaining any means to prove your capabilities is like trying to get blood out of a stone. So my philosophy is this; if you’ve got it, flaunt it, and if you don’t, then fake it till you make it. Just make sure there’s substance behind the sex appeal, and you’ll smash those glass ceilings…regardless of how dirty you feel doing it.
Comment: Do you think looks should play a role in getting ahead?