Sunday, July 15, 2018



   “The Lovely Shall Be Choosers” the title of a Robert Frost poem proclaims, and although the central figure in the poem has rather unhappy outcomes from getting her choices, experience and research confirms that it is fortunate to be born good-looking. Physical attractiveness is a major factor in how we are treated.

 In the dating-and-mating game, it is better for a man if he’s “tall, dark, and handsome” and for a woman if she slender but curvaceous. The impact of physical attractiveness goes well beyond that, however.

Googling “attractiveness and success” produced nearly 14,000,000 results. Clearly, I can only touch on these. Here are some of the first few titles, however:
·       “I’m Successful Because I’m Beautiful,”
·       “Attractive People are More Successful,”
·       “Physical Attractiveness Bias in Hiring,”
·       “May the Best (Looking) Man Win,”
·       “Attractiveness Puts You on Track for Success,”
·       ”Attractiveness Leads to Success,”
·       “For Businesswomen, Attractiveness is Both an Asset and a Liability.”

You get the idea: in business, as in dating and mating, it’s better to be good-looking, and it is more important than most people think.

Books have been written about this, many books, such as the following that Amazon notes are quite popular [available as ebooks on Kindle]:
·       Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, by Nancy Etcoff
·       In Your Face: The New Science of Human Attraction, by David Perrett
·       Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful, by David S. Hammermesh
·       The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law, by Deborah L. Rhode
·       Looks: Why They Matter More than You Ever Imagined, by Gordon Patzer, Ph.D.

Dr. Patzer’s comprehensive, research-based book will be the source for much of the rest of this article; it has been well-received, and he is quite expert.

In his introduction, “Looks, Lookism, and the Media,” Dr. Patzer starts with an aphorism about beauty: it is “far more than meets the eye and far deeper than skin deep.” (Unless otherwise noted, subsequent quotations here are from his book.) He tells the story of the lovely girl who was in a reality show, given her choice among 16 men of average looks and a wide range of accomplishments; she had numerous dates and meetings to choose one to marry, and indeed she chose one, a successful, average-looking stock trader.

Then the producers of the show threw her curveball, introducing her to “three young men with looks that would have shamed Adonis.” The question was whether she would prefer one of these to the man she had already picked and said she loved and wanted to marry. The outcome: she abandoned the man she had chosen and instead married the handsome young man, a part-time waiter still living with his parents. Many viewers were not surprised.

Dr. Patzer notes that decades of research studies have confirmed that physical attractiveness plays an important role in all our lives. Perhaps Shakespeare would have amended his own line to read, “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars but in our looks.” The tendency to judge people by their looks is sometimes dubbed “lookism,” to take its place with “racism” etc. Unfortunately, this seemingly unfair evaluation can lead to the victims’ taking extreme steps to try to correct or offset their perceived appearance flaws.

In chapter after chapter, Dr. Patzer demonstrates the effects of “lookism” as documented by a variety of studies in:
·       Dating, mating, marriage
·       Family dynamics and favoritism
·       Treatment in school
·       Advancement in the workplace
·       Before the law, especially in trials
·       Getting elected to public office
·       Belief about marriage and career possibilities
·       The “dark side”: anorexia and bulimia
·       The Big Business of beauty

Beautiful women like Sparta’s Helen of Troy, whose “face launched a thousand ships” in war, and Egypt’s Cleopatra have been famous for the power of their attractiveness. Dr. Patzer quotes Aristotle, “Personal beauty is a greater recommendation than any letter of reference.” The Bible is replete with stories of the power of beautiful women, such as Samson and Delilah.

The ancients often thought that beauty was a sign of God’s approval and homeliness a sign of disapproval. Evolutionary biologists explain our preference for attractiveness as part of the battle to pass on more of one’s genes into the succeeding generations. The classic womanly hour-glass figure has been found to correlate with female fertility. Studies show that men prefer slender, busty women, just as women prefer tall men with lots of dark hair and even beards.

Partly, beauty is an absence of flaws. Since genetic inadequacies are often related to one another, the absence of visible flaws signals perhaps the absence of more significant unseen flaws.

In general, humans find beauty in symmetry. Symmetry also suggests the absence of certain kinds of genetic error.

Another aspect is having features that fall within the typical ranges for humans, again suggesting genetic suitability. The makers of the Barbie doll, despite undergoing some feminist criticisms about her proportions pretty much got it right, Dr. Patzer writes: “the proportions, while atypical, are pretty much those of the woman most men would like to bear their children.”

Reproductive attractiveness is enhanced by the changes that women undergo once a month, “no matter how plain or lovely it may appear at other times, a woman’s face is most beautiful and alluring once a month – exactly when she is at the peak of her fertility,” Dr. Patzer writes. Some makeup mimics the changes occurring at this period and others mimic the changes she experiences during sexual arousal.

It was said that “clothes make the man.” Indeed, being well dressed is a plus, but women have been even more focused on fashion, and cosmetics, throughout our recorded history. Jewelry and perfumes heighten allure.

Patzer cites research that goes against the following maxims:
·       “Never judge a book by its cover.”
·       “Beauty is only skin deep.”
·       “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

We do judge people by their looks, and attractive children and adults are treated better even by their friends and family than are unattractive children and adults. That treatment understandably changes the attitudes of those so treated. Hard to be happy when homely.

Internet dating has shown, yet again, that how a person looks is generally the most important element in how a potential date evaluates him or her, regardless of resume. Successful “selfies” and, better yet, attractive, professionally produced photos are valuable additions to one’s dating efforts. Of course, there is a tendency to enhance one’s attractiveness by changing the height and weight and age in the accompanying written profile to values more usually desired. Such bait-and-switch tactics can lead to unpleasant first meetings, however.

Women are biologically programmed to prefer sexual stability (to allow the safe maturation of children), while men are programmed to prefer a variety of partners (maximizing the number of children they father). The variety desirable for keeping her husband at home can sometimes be simulated by variety in clothing, jewelry, hair styles, etc.

To some degree, we see ourselves as more or less attractive depending on the attractiveness of those around us. Feeling attractive tends to raise self-esteem. However, hanging out with others much better looking than ourselves tends to undercut confidence. Some girls seek unattractive girlfriends rather than those who might be more competition.

“Regardless of how involved with one’s own appearance a person is, and despite frequent lip service to such factors as personality, intelligence, a sense of humor, and shared interests, a multitude of studies shows that [physical attractiveness] is by far the most important factor in evaluating both prospective mates and prospective dates.” Studies show that women are most concerned about a man’s height, and men are most concerned about a woman’s weight. Women were found to like men who were moderately muscular rather than thin or very stocky, though narrow waists, broad chests and shoulders were found attractive.

If you are male, before you sign up for a lot of exercise and weight-lifting, consider this: you will not make yourself any taller, and you may benefit from pursuing your career more diligently, because, Dr. Patzer notes, “while physical attractiveness is important to women, as a group they are more willing to trade good looks for socioeconomic status….[which], along with willingness and ability to invest affection and resources in a relationship often outweighs the effects of [physical attractiveness] in a woman’s selection of a partner.”

Less attractive but prosperous men often choose good-looking women as dates to enhance their own reputations with others or even as “trophy wives,” and these women go along with the deal because of the access it grants them to money and connections they would not have otherwise. The power in the relationship is held by the party who is less in need of its continuing or by the better-looking of the pair, who can more easily get another partner…if the dating pool allows. Fear of rejection tends to discourage pursuing those of much greater perceived desirability.

A noted marriage counselor maintains that lack of physical attractiveness due to excessive weight gain is a major factor for almost all couples where one partner complains about the appearance of the other.

Unfortunately, perhaps, physical attractiveness strongly influences success in finding and keeping a mate. Attention to weight and health and musculature can help, along with good grooming, careful selection of clothing and use of cosmetics, and enhancement of those secondary characteristics that play small but real roles in being viewed as all-around attractive.

Some babies are more beautiful than others. It is been found that “mothers of more attractive babies are more affectionate toward their offspring and play with them more than do the mothers of less attractive infants.” Some are getting a head start this way; others not. Further, mothers of the less attractive infants also found them to be getting in the way of their own lives.

Sociobiologists would explain the greater investment in the most promising children as rational, given the desire to maximize the long-term propagation of one’s genes, more likely to be spread by subsequent mating by the more attractive offspring. “… Parents devote more…resources and personal energy to those siblings who are more attractive.” Even hospital nurses have been shown to give more attention to the more attractive infants. Studies indicate that nurses tend to give less, rather than more, care to infants seen as being at risk.

It said that turnabout is fair play. Babies have been shown to spend more time looking at attractive adult faces then at unattractive ones. Babies will even cry due to the close approach of faces that adults would characterize as ugly.

This preference continues on through childhood and adolescence, with children preferring to interact with those who are generally physically attractive. “Attractive children are liked more, are seen as smarter, and are rated higher on sharing and friendliness and lower on meanness and hitting then are less attractive children.” College students tended to expect worse behavior from unattractive children than from attractive ones, but recommended similar punishments for the same infractions.

In a chapter entitled, “Readin’, ‘Ritin’, ‘Rithmitic, ‘n’ Ridicule,” Dr. Patzer notes a study that showed “most teachers expect better-looking kids to perform better, and they devote more attention to children they think have greater potential.” The students often rise to meet the expectations. Subsequent studies in schools and businesses showed that raising teachers’ or managers’ expectations raised the performance of the students or workers.  Expect more, get more. Poorly performing students who were told to attack a test “as though they were clever” improved their scores.

A famous study was entitled “What Is Beautiful Is Good,” which summarized its findings: most respondents ascribed positive characteristics to attractive people, negative characteristics to the unattractive. Later studies showed that young respondents made these associations much more strongly than did older ones, with the elderly being unlikely to make such association at all, presumably due to their life-long experiences. Possibly, students absorb the preferences they see their teachers exhibiting toward the better-looking.

“Of all the reasons that a school child in early twenty-first century America may be seen as unattractive, the leading reason is obesity, which has become a national plague: two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese….” Fortunately, obesity would seem to be curable, or at least more readily fixed than being too short (or too tall). Obese kids tend to share the same negative evaluations of their condition as do the non-obese. Bullying of such children is common, as is the bullying of the weakest boys.

Where does all this leave us? In some cases, it explains why we or others succeeded or failed unexpectedly: the race is not always to the swift, when looks count, too. It pays to invest within reason in keeping ourselves trim and well-dressed, and in using appropriate cosmetics. In some unusual instances, surgery may be warranted. Do the best with what we have.

What we cannot change, we should accept.

Finally, we should, ourselves, try harder not to judge others by physical appearance.

Douglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D.

P.S. I recently listened again to Susan Boyle's British audition recording, proving both how looks can have one initially underestimated and how real talent can sometimes prevail.

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