girl with eyes closed surrounded by sparkles looking sad
Credit: Katrina Williams

Beauty is pain, but lookism hurts us all

By Claire Thomson

Claire Thomson discusses the issue of pretty privilege, and who it actually affects.

While society nowadays is constantly reassuring us that everyone is beautiful in their own way, conventional beauty standards are still proving to dominate our way of thinking. It’s true that the majority of the time your first impression of someone is their appearance, but we still like to believe that people go places because of their effort, talent, and ambition. However, research has shown that beauty is not entirely subjective and success is sometimes simply superficial. So the real question is: is life easier when you’re beautiful?

Lookism, a concept that society is very much trying to outgrow, yet for some reason, we just can’t seem to escape the wrath of physical appearance-based discrimination. Too often in professional environments, beauty is trumping brains, and those who find themselves falling short of meeting societal beauty standards are once again left in the lurch. According to the Business Insider, “pretty” people earn around 12% more than average looking folk, with their opportunities also being greater. It appears that companies believe that focusing on the appearance of their employees will give them an advantage, while equally, many public sector organisations are of the opinion that it will boost their image and make them a more likeable enterprise. Naturally, in some career paths this is far more apparent than others. Take Netflix’s Selling Sunset as a primary and perfect example of “beauty” in the workplace. The Oppenheim Group’s real estate agents have hit the nail on the head in terms of why companies believe that looks are the key to success. Between the blonde hair, Botox and bold fashion choices, each and every woman is successful, with a part of that being their ability to draw in customers and create a solid first impression.

“Too often in professional environments, beauty is trumping brains…”

But why are we automatically and subconsciously attracted to pretty people? It all revolves around the so-called “halo-effect”. We are naturally and subconsciously drawn to those who are glowing and radiate confidence. It’s like one big merry-go-round. Attractive people receive more attention and compliments, it improves their confidence (because let’s face it, who doesn’t like getting their ego fluffed a little bit), and in turn, their personality comes through stronger, and so the cycle continues. A lot of the time, these people have experienced this from a very young age, so years and years of confidence are giving them not only a psychological, but professional advantage.

Despite all the advantages of being conventionally physically attractive, it cannot be denied that societal stereotypes have caused us to doubt the intellectual ability of our pretty peers. We all know the stereotypes of the dumb blonde, the pretty cheerleader, and the bodybuilder jock that are repeatedly present in films and television; but these characters are slowly beginning to break the mould and become more onion-like. People are no longer choosing to rely solely on beauty even when in many cases they can. They want to have the brains to back them up for the time when their looks no longer suffice. They want layers to their personality so they’re not an empty shell with no individual thoughts, ideas or opinions. Take Elle Woods, for example, constantly overlooked and preyed upon for her blonde hair, perfect makeup, and fashion obsession, yet proved everyone wrong in a big way. Her appearance may have helped with her entrance into Harvard Law School, but it was her sheer determination and resilience against the stereotypes that caused her to succeed. 

“…it cannot be denied that societal stereotypes have caused us to doubt the intellectual ability of our pretty peers…”

But it’s not just in the workplace and our professional lives that pretty privilege is a help or a hindrance, nor does it only affect females. Whilst these people may have all the confidence in the world and an almost perfect appearance, that is only an exterior. Everyone has insecurities, only some people know how to mask them better than others. It’s a double edged sword and there is ultimately no winning. With the rise of influencers and social media platforms, such as Instagram and Tiktok, it is becoming more important now than ever before to fight against lookism and pretty privilege in society, in order to protect the mental well-being of our future generation. We must realise that beauty is not only skin-deep but lies within and that just because someone meets societal beauty norms does not mean that they are perfect. And besides, there’s a massive difference between natural beauty and actual beauty. So yes, while life might be slightly easier from the outside when you’re beautiful, it is not completely fair to anyone, no matter who you are. 


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