The Beauty Bias

When a woman once told Winston Churchill he was drunk, he is said to have replied: And you, madam, are ugly. But I shall be sober tomorrow, whereas you will still be ugly.

NYT2008102718144942CI have to confess that I have discriminated by appearance.

Yale’s Kelly Brownell and Rebecca Puhl and Harvard’s Nancy Etcoff have each reviewed hundreds of studies on the impact of appearance. Etcoff finds that unattractive people are less likely than their attractive peers to be viewed as intelligent, likable and good. Brownell and Puhl have documented that overweight individuals consistently suffer disadvantages at school, at work and beyond.

    Among the key findings of a quarter-century’s worth of research: Unattractive people are less likely to be hired and promoted, and they earn lower salaries, even in fields in which looks have no obvious relationship to professional duties. (In one study, economists Jeff Biddle and Daniel Hamermesh estimated that for lawyers, such prejudice can translate to a pay cut of as much as 12 percent.) When researchers ask people to evaluate written essays, the same material receives lower ratings for ideas, style and creativity when an accompanying photograph shows a less attractive author. Good-looking professors get better course evaluations from students; teachers in turn rate good-looking students as more intelligent.

    Over the past half-century, the United States has expanded protections against discrimination to include race, religion, sex, age, disability and, in a growing number of jurisdictions, sexual orientation. Yet bias based on appearance remains perfectly permissible in all but one state and six cities and counties. Across the rest of the country, looks are the last bastion of acceptable bigotry.1 

swallowtail caterpillarswallowtail butterflyI realized that I left the caterpillar (which looks like bird poop) of the thoas swallowtail butterfly on my geometry mothinchwormorange tree because it would become a beautiful butterfly.  But I removed the inchworms (geometer moth larvae) from my coleus because the moths that they would turn into were not.shrek2

And it wasn’t because the inchworm was green.  When I read Wicked I sided with the green witch.  I was never in a sorority as her goodie-good sister was, but I did champion causes as the green witch did (such as voter registration in the South – this in the 60’s – and ending the Vietnam War).  A friend still calls me Lefty.

And I like Shrek.


I’ve heard of cougars (middle-aged women who seek out much younger men for romance or physical intimacy per the online slang dictionary) but I looked up the male equivalent.  According to the urban dictionary, ‘rhino’ is now the term used to refer to older men who hit on younger women.  Why ‘rhino’?   Because these men are “usually both horny and ugly”.

marriageWe’ve all noticed that as men get older they tend to marry younger women.  I check every week in the NY Times Sunday Styles section, and women of my age are marrying guys 70, 75, 80.  Then this caught my eye:

Ada Laurie Bryant and Robert Mitchell Haire were married Saturday in Hockessin, Del. Robert L. Bryant, a Universal Life minister and a son of the bride, officiated at his home.

The bride, 97, is keeping her name. She graduated from Lesley College in Cambridge, Mass.  She is the daughter of the late Ada Lee Laurie and the late Richard Laurie, who lived in Hingham, Mass.

The groom, 86, a chemical engineer, retired as a manager of labor relations from E. I. du Pont de Nemours & Company in Wilmington, Del. He graduated from Vanderbilt University and received a master’s degree in history from the University of Delaware. 2

And there is Alexander McCall Smith’s heroine, not Precious Ramotswe, the first female private investigator in Botswana, in his The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but Isabel Dalhousie of The Sunday Philosophy Club Mysteries.  Isabel, an Edinburgh philosopher, is in her in her early 40s when she marries her fiancé, Jamie, a 29-year-old musician and father of her toddler son, Charlie.

I love that series as well as The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.  Light, pleasant reading.


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