When I was in 6th grade, my classmate Ellen S. once told me that according to her grandmother, “There are no ugly people. Only less beautiful ones”. That struck to me as something true and it appealed to my empathic nature. I adopted that philosophy until my adulthood and was happy with that reconciled thought.
The first time my husband heard me say that, he laughed so hard because he thought I was being sarcastic. After a few dates and several encounters with the “less beautiful”, he finally realized that I meant it.
So, what does it mean to be ugly in the realm of human capital?
What is Beauty? What is Ugly?
Beauty, according to sociologist Jean-François Dortier is a debatable topic for all eternity because ugliness is indisputable. Allow me to disagree. The concept of ugliness is just as subjective as that of beauty, making it susceptible to disagreement and justifications. What’s more, if people and societies have a clear idea of what is pleasing to the eye, then they must have an equally decided criteria of what is not. However, he argues, there are constant elements present in every idea of beauty across time and continents. For instance, badly placed teeth, weird spots on the face, grimace-like facial expressions or stains will hardly be found in those considered as canons of beauty.
Dortier, in his article “The Tyranny of Beauty”, says that ugliness in a person is a heavy handicap when brought into the markets of marriage and labor*. I will not disagree. But allow me to focus this post on how physical beauty plays an important role when buying and selling (workforce) in the labor market.
I believe that the idea behind this discrimination is caused by the unthinking mammals in us, who uses its instincts to survive. In the animal kingdom, the ones who are successful in mating are the more beautiful samples of their species. Why? Simply because it denotes HEALTH and thus, STRENGTH. An animal’s only role is to procreate and who better to multiply one’s race if not the best and the most likely to survive of the lot? The equation is easy to infer:
With regards to human capital, somebody who looks good (well-proportioned body, bright eyes, good teeth and pinkish complexion) is certainly a sign of having been well-fed, a smooth skin on the face signifies not much exposure to external or internal stress and of course good grooming is very much attributed to a good upbringing in the family.
The relationship then, is easy to establish: somebody who is properly nourished, who did not experience much stress and who was brought up well must belong to a family with enough resources: resources which sufficed not only to make the person survive, but to develop him into a citizen able to participate in the community. Thus, the better-looking a person is, the higher value is attributed to the talents and capacities he was able to build up through his lifetime. The equation could then be modified into:
Beauty=Health=Learning Ability=Developed Talents=GOOD
Sadly as time passed, this equation has slowly been overly simplified as:
Sadder still, the concept of goodness has been generalized to being good overall: good worker, good person, good team mate, etc… Only time will prove this notion to be untrue, after all that’s been said and done, spent and consumed- leading to realizations and regrets.
For instance: 13 years ago while spending my summer holidays in the Philippines I overheard a friend complaining to my mother. Apparently in all the job interviews she has been to, the requirement “Must have pleasing personality” was always being equated to “Must be pleasing to the eyes”. In short, the job applicants must respond to a certain beauty standard established by the Human Resources (HR) department.
Now, I admit that for jobs requiring a brand representation or corporate delegation perhaps being easy on the eyes increases sales and improves financial results. I also know that HR staff cannot waste their time interviewing candidates just to check whether they meet the physical requirements they’ve imposed (in those cases where a photo was not included in the resumé). But demanding someone to have a pleasing personality when what they meant was for the candidate to be a certain kind of pretty… is just plain deceiving.
Anyway, who was the authority who declared that a beautiful physique is equal to a pleasing personality? Above all, whose claim made it a fact that a beautiful façade always holds a great talent?
In fact, below is Eduardo Gómez Manzano, famous Spanish actor. He is very well-appreciated in his job. He, along with the other beauty-lacking actors have opened up this generation’s minds and as well as this century’s entertainment industry that talent is not always contained in a lovely package.
Image courtesy of: http://www.fotoshumor.com
Boosted Brands but Talents Trashed
Studies have shown that other job types where no “representation” of the firm is needed, hiring teams still tend to favor beautiful applicants. Again, why? Because it’s good for the company’s image. It boosts the brand. It matters little if another candidate was more competent or skillful- human nature just can’t help but lean towards company that could offer pleasure to its vision.
It’s a pity though, because can you imagine if the Futbol Club Barcelona (FCB) refused to hire Ronaldinho because of his looks? Having said this, can you now picture just how many people lost their opportunity to contribute to an organization’s mission and vision just because they didn’t qualify physically? And can you imagine how much potential is currently being left unused just because of this terribly absurd bias?
I have stopped being a football fan more than a decade ago, but I admire how the sport’s values are consistent to their branding strategy. A football club must be composed of the best players it could hire (pay for) without regards to whether they would look good or bad in front of a camera (although I noticed Ronaldinho seemed to have had something done to his face).
In an ideal world, banks and/or banking groups would hire the brightest analytic minds, research organizations would employ the smartest and most focused among the pool of candidates, schools would choose their teachers according to their capacity to diffuse knowledge and infuse curiosity, shops would enlist salespeople with charm and wit to engage customers, and so on…
This way, demand for a specific qualification would be met by the satisfactory supplier; competition among various suppliers would rise, pushing more and more suppliers of talent/labor/workforce to be better qualified than the rest and prices (salaries) would adjust accordingly.
Image courtesy of: http://www.fastcompany.com
(In the least ideal world, we’ll have what I call “Pippas”. Pippa* was my college teacher in Economic History. Not only is she the opposite of beautiful, she also taught horribly! in short, ugly and incompetent people.)
Ugly ≠ Unkempt but Unkempt = Uninterested
While conducting a very modest research on this subject, I encountered quite a number of online fora exhibiting questions such as, “Are smart people ugly?” or “Why are smart people usually ugly?” (For the sake of simplicity, we shall assume that being smart equates to being competent in any given job.)
As someone who is more appreciated for her smarts, I believe I am at the position to respond. And my answer is that most (not all) smart people find it more important to strengthen their brains than to embellish their physical selves. There are so many books to read, so many people to talk to, so many things to ponder and many, many more things to (literally) take note of that a normal person’s waking hours are not enough**. That is why they make it a point not to “waste” time doing something not so gratifying to them.
The point is: One can be as ugly as far as ugly goes and admittedly, not all can afford cosmetic surgery to modify their genetic legacy. But I believe that a person’s appearance is his presentation card (especially in a job interview!). As such, one cannot care too less because first impressions do last. Besides, in the context of hiring, interviewers would actually imagine themselves working with you, travelling and attending meetings with you and perhaps even having to defend any future blunders you might commit. Do you think they would want to do all those things with a sloppy-looking colleague? Accordingly, one can and must appear neat, pleasant, motivated and ALWAYS COLLABORATIVE. Here’s why…
An Unexpected Twist
According to an article from INSEAD Knowledge, “… the type of expected relationship the decision-maker will have with the new hire is very much a consideration, consciously or not, when selecting candidates for the job.” Although the results of the experiments were more conclusive for men than women, it’s interesting to note that when the hiring personnel perceive that the attractive candidate could be a potential competition (read: could be a threat on their own promotion) the less attractive applicant would be chosen instead.
“Members of the same organisation are often mutually interdependent, for example they may cooperate for shared rewards when they work for the same team, or compete against each other for recognition, promotions, commissions, and bonuses. In many organisations today co-workers are included in the hiring process… Similarly, professors at universities often selected professors they are going to work with. When this occurs, the type of expected relationship the decision-maker will have with the new hire is very much a consideration… ”
A twist within the twist
On the other side of the Atlantic, Debrahlee Lorenzana sued her employers for having fired her because she was “too hot”. Thinking about it and as the Newsweek article pointed out: “isn’t it possible Lorenzana’s looks got her the job in the first place?”
Yet, did you know that some studies even show that attractive women may find it hard to be hired? supposedly if the employers are females, jealousy may arise.
Are We Doomed?
I would sincerely like to believe that we are not. Yes, it would take years of education and enlightenment before people get to terms that unattractive people can be competent, good team players, efficient leaders and desirable work mates. However, the diversity of human nature provides for adjustments such as:
- The belief that beauty automatically translates to competency is compensated with the view that attractive people could deter the employers’ own progress or,
- That beautiful people are just dumb.
Such absurd conclusions may be the exceptions to the rule, but I would like to believe that there is a balance being struck somewhere.
In a world where being beautiful is being sold as a choice (just Google how many $$$ the cosmetic industry cashes in per month), those who are not might be deemed indifferent or inflexible. But this is the same world where information is the most important resource for production, so it will just be a matter of time before everybody- even the unbeautifuls- find their place in it.
Now, just because it’s summer in this part of the hemisphere: join me by putting your speaker volumes to MAX and enjoy the un-beautiful BUT DIVINE, JANIS JOPLIN!!!
(THANK GOODNESS THEY WEREN’T TOO SHALLOW BACK THEN)
Disclaimer: I do not own this video. Video courtesy of Zuzuking Youtube page.
- “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Beautiful”, available at: http://www.economist.com/node/21551535
- “The Beauty Advantage: How Looks Affect Your Work, Your Career, Your Life”, by Jessica Bennett, available at: http://europe.newsweek.com/beauty-advantage-how-looks-affect-your-work-your-career-your-life-74313?rm=eu
- “The Beauty Premium”, by Schumpeter, available at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/schumpeter/2010/11/good_looks_and_good_jobs
- “La Tyrannie de la Beauté”, par Jean-François Dortier, available at: http://www.scienceshumaines.com/la-tyrannie-de-la-beaute_fr_22384.html
- “A New Twist to the Beauty Bias”, by Stefan Thau, available at: http://knowledge.insead.edu/talent-management/a-new-twist-to-the-beauty-bias-4004