‘Beauty privilege’ and the rest of us’

While we know that life is far from balanced, one bias many of us might struggle to accept, care to admit—let alone talk about—is the privilege conferrred on us by beauty or ‘beauty privilege’.

Like most other biases, the privilege of being pretty is something we all should be aware of—whether we have experienced it first-hand or not. Yet, it’s not often that we are willing to admit it—or even talk about it—especially if we’re on the receiving end of its benefits. Nonetheless, various scholarly studies and surveys have proven that our appearance does in fact have a direct correlation with how well we are received by others, in both social and professional settings. On top of sexism, racism, and ageism (all of which influence beauty ideals) where we fall on the physical attractiveness spectrum can determine our quality of life, irrespective of our personality, skills, talents, or anything else we may have to offer.

This bias, also known as lookism, is defined as “Prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s appearance” and occurs in a variety of settings, including dating, social environments, and workplaces. Have you ever given up your seat for a beautiful lady; have you ever felt compelled to gift something to a gentleman just because he is handsome? You might not understand what is happening at that point but that is beauty privilege at work. Beauty privilege is the exclusive reprieve of good looking people.

A lot of people do not understand how beauty privilege works or how they are impacted by it. Beauty privilege is a thing, and in a world where people are being constantly told what to do, what product to buy, what clothes are flattering and what food not to eat. The idea of beauty is getting standardised, beauty is of course subjective, however, it manifests itself in varying ways through societal beauty standards. Beauty standards are fluctuating ideals with extremely narrow criteria, ensuring that only a few can actually attain them.

Attractive people are seen as better wherever they are.

Attractive people are seen as better workers by their employers. In the same research that defined the term “beauty premium”, a study was conducted to determine the effects of beauty on the hiring process. Within it, employers viewing photographs of potential employees were inclined to increase salaries by nearly 10.5% for attractive people. This is not the case for those not deemed to be so attractive.

Being pretty helps. This is not to say pretty people don’t have their own struggles, insecurities, and pressures: having one’s worthiness be defined by how good you look; questioning whether your promotion or invitation was earned based on merit or merely because of your looks; feeling an overwhelming pressure to maintain your attractiveness.

 

How exactly does beauty confer privilege

Beauty, they say, is in the eyes of the beholder. This is why beauty privilege is roughly unequal, it is usually decided by societal standards.

I’ve noticed that it’s more acceptable for pretty women to complain about objectification, the male gaze, and the ways in which beauty can undermine intelligence and contribution, but rarely do pretty women complain about — or, rather, acknowledge — the access their prettiness extends to them.

It’s unbecoming to acknowledge your attractiveness, so it creates a silence around pretty privilege that only elevates the competitiveness and divisiveness between women who are told we must compare, compete, and measure up in a lookist culture.

People with privilege do not want to discuss their privilege — whether its privilege derived from whiteness, straightness, etc. But we must acknowledge our privilege if we are to dismantle these systems and hierarchies. We have to be honest, and it is best to start with ourselves: are you pretty? And do you benefit from your looks? Answering the question will place you in tune with your privilege, putting you in the right position to wield it and giving you all the opportunities that come with it.

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