Credit: AJ Duncan

Breaking down the beauty premium

By Claire Thomson

A study in the Times has revealed that attractive female students received lower marks when teaching was moved online during the Covid-19 pandemic, but what are the consequences of the beauty premium in society?

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, a study in The Times has revealed that attractive female students received lower marks when teaching was moved online during the Covid-19 pandemic. So the real question is: is success sometimes simply superficial? 

Conducted by Adrian Mehic, a post-doctoral researcher at Lund University, the study analysed the scores of 300 male and female engineering students in Sweden before and after classes were administered remotely during the wave of Covid. A panel of more than 70 individual participants were asked to grade the attractiveness of each student based on photographs of their faces, with the study concluding that there was a significant decline in average grades among female students in what can be considered as “qualitative” courses, where the teachers and students were more likely to interact. These are classes like business and economics, where exams and coursework is graded subjectively, however in “quantitative” courses, such as maths and physics, where answers are normally correct or incorrect, the same trend was not visible.

While the results have generated a lot of discussion, in reality, they are not particularly surprising considering that attractive people are known to have higher salaries and benefits in the workplace. A University of Wisconsin study last year even found that attractive people make up to nine per cent more money than their peers. 

But the beauty doesn’t even have to be natural. The reasons why people wear makeup nowadays are different from the reasons people put on makeup in the past, and these will keep changing. Studies have shown that makeup positively affects one’s attractiveness, competence and likeability but not trustworthiness, as people with excessive makeup are more likely to be judged and labelled as untrustworthy. It’s a double-edged sword.

It comes down to the concept of lookism, an idea that society is very much trying to outgrow, yet for some reason, the wrath of physical appearance-based discrimination still appears to be inescapable. The beauty premium all stems from and revolves around the so-called “halo-effect”. There is a natural and subconscious attraction to those who radiate confidence. It’s like one big merry-go-round. Attractive people receive more attention and compliments, which improves their confidence and in turn, their personality comes through stronger, 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 academic and 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 pretty people. We thought that we were reaching a stage where people were no longer choosing to rely solely on beauty even when in many cases they can but rather decided to focus on the academic side and studying for good grades. 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 empty shells with no individual thoughts, ideas or opinions. Is this disparity in marking removing this drive for intelligence or are people more committed to their studies because of the rise in grades when assessments are marked subjectively? 

It’s not just in the workplace and our professional lives that pretty privilege is a help or a hindrance. 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.  With the rise of influencers and social media platforms, such as Instagram and Tiktok, it is becoming more critical 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. 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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