I am not an ugly woman. I’m not saying that to brag — I’m just aware of the fact that I’m at least moderately attractive in society’s eyes.
Why am I aware of this? Because I have to be. All women do. We can pay lip service all day long to the fact that looks don’t matter, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that it’s what’s in your brain and heart and soul that really counts.
But at the end of the day, surface-level beauty does matter. And that sucks.
Researchers from Metropolitan State University of Denver found that attractive women have an advantage in college and beyond. With somewhat Trump-esque methodology, volunteers rated students attending the university between 2006 and 2010 on a scale of 1 to 10. The researchers then compared the students’ attractiveness numbers to their grades.
The results were telling. Women whom the volunteers deemed more attractive received higher grades in the classroom and lower grades in online courses, whereas less attractive women showed no difference. The fact that the more attractive female students received better grades in in-person classes suggests that it was their looks that made the difference, rather than other factors such as being detail-oriented or academically confident.
For men, attractiveness didn’t make any difference at all. Go figure.
Both scientific and anecdotal studies have shown that beauty has its privileges. In 2006, ABC News did an experiment with two actresses, one deemed “pretty” and one “kind of plain.” Each woman dropped an armful of books in front of people walking by her in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.
Guess who got help picking up the books from less than half of the people walking by, and guess who got help from more than 70%? One man even bought the pretty actress a new bag to keep her books in.
Again, go figure.
We live in a world where men in sitcoms can be pudgy and balding, but their wives are still perfect 10s. We live in a world where a man going gray is considered “distinguished” while a woman with gray hair is just considered old.
Men get judged on their looks too, of course, but not to the degree or with the blatantness that women do. And of course, we have a natural human tendency to be attracted to, well, attractiveness. Appreciating beauty is not a bad thing in and of itself. But when we treat people differently because of it, that’s human nature run amok. Just as we have to keep in check the human tendency to generalize and judge, we have to consciously be aware of our tendency to treat good-looking people with greater deference.
It is worth pointing out that beautiful women don’t always end up on the winning end of that stick. Another human tendency is to have higher expectations of attractive people, and we can become disappointed if they don’t live up to those expectations. This phenomenon is known as a “beauty penalty.” When pretty people don’t perform as well as we think they should, we tend to judge and punish them more harshly than less attractive people.
I guess the good news is that we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. Welcome to womanhood.
In all seriousness, though, can’t we at least make a greater effort to see past a woman’s outer appearance and recognize all of the beauty and badassery she may be expressing in other ways? Can we agree that if a woman looks like she needs help, we offer help no matter what she looks like?
I know we’ll never totally overcome human nature, but maybe we can at least try to be aware of when it’s making us less humane.