Physical Attractiveness

Why is being physically attractive seen as a privilege?

Physical Attractiveness

Why is being physically attractive seen as a privilege?
Physical attractiveness is defined as the degree to which a person’s physical features are considered aesthetically pleasing or beautiful in the dominant mainstream context. The term often implies sexual attractiveness and/or desirability. Notions of attractiveness are based on accepted societal beauty standards in a particular historical, social and cultural context. Beauty standards are fluctuating ideals with extremely narrow criteria, ensuring that only a few can attain them (Saltzberg & Chrisler, 2006).

Why is being physically attractive a privilege?

Physical Attractiveness privilege works on the principle that people deemed more attractive have the upper hand in the world and are afforded more opportunities. They are also considered happier, smarter, wealthier, healthier and generally more successful. As a result, they have an easier time in society.

What is your privilege:

  • I am confident when dealing with people that I can get what I want as I rarely feel insecure, intimidated or overlooked because I have good looks.
  • Because I am attractive in the eyes of others, I tend to receive more positive attention.
  • I have more access to work opportunities and social circles because I am physically attractive.
  • I am never embarrassed, feel put down, ridiculed or humiliated because my appearance doesn’t conform to society’s beauty standards.

Double edged sword

There is also a limit (double-edged sword) to this privilege. People sometimes find they are not taken seriously or not deemed intelligent due to their good looks. ‘Being good looking can cost you opportunities -jobs, assignments, scholarships and more’.  Interviewers can feel insecure by a good-looking candidate. (Grant Halvorson, 2015)

Stats Don’t Lie 

  • Physically attractive individuals are perceived as more sociable, dominant, sexually warm, mentally healthy, intelligent, and socially skilled (Feingold, 1992).
  • Physically attractive employees were seen as more confident and hence more competent, and this can lead to differences in opportunities and wages (Harvard, 2006)
  • People who were deemed ‘less attractive’ earned 5-10% less than ‘average-looking’ people, who in turn earned 3-8% less than those deemed ‘good-looking”​ (Aesthetic Medical Practitioner, 2019)
  • In criminal sentencing, the more unattractive the criminal, the higher the sentence. Conversely, the more attractive the criminal, the lower the sentence. There can be a 3-fold maximum increase in sentencing.  (Hollier, 2017)

What to do next?

Working towards creating a more equal society and workplace starts with recognising the ways in which we are privileged. The assumption is that beauty and physical attractiveness, while being subjective, can influence how people treat you and what opportunities are made available to you.
Society often undervalues those who do not conform to mainstream beauty standards/ideals, underestimating their talent, skills, competence, and potential. This needs to change. If you’re interested in starting a journey to overhaul this imbalance, then join the Privilege Project today.

Watch the recorded session on Physical attractiveness privilege from our summer event.