Do you engage in Ugly-ISM?

But what if she were qualified?
But what if she were qualified?

A recent article on the website Mail One talked about how it pays to be beautiful, literally. The article describes how beautiful people make more money and get better treatment than those of us not considered beautiful. According to the article Economist Daniel Hamermesh calculated that attractive people earn an average of $230,000 more in one lifetime. Pretty significant just for looks.


The author of the article, Annabel Fenwick Elliott, lists a number of observations. These include:

  • Cuter babies get more attention, even from their own parents
  • Teachers pay more attention to cute kids
  • Hiring managers find attractive candidates more qualified even when the resume of an unattractive candidate is the same
  • Good looking political candidates are more likely to get elected
  • Even quarterbacks with symmetrical faces get paid more
  • Women’s salaries go down as their weight goes up
  • Attractive people even get treated better in court

Discrimination on the basis of looks

Based on this article I decided to reprint a post I wrote back in 2009. Here is what I had to say then.
Discrimination against the physically unattractive has a long history. It has been written about for ages, as far back as Aristophanes’ play, The Assemblywoman, a Greek play about Athens being taken over by women and their attempts to even society out by making ugly people mate with beautiful people. The carnivals that roamed the country used to have sideshows that featured the bearded lady, or Siamese (conjoined) Twins, or some other “freak of nature” that was sure to fascinate and repulse people at the same time. The Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, was one of the more famous ones, even having a movie of his life made starring John Hurt.
More recently we have had the popular movie Revenge of the Nerds and the series of knockoffs it spawned. And currently running on prime time TV we have Ugly Betty. All of these shows have as there theme the disadvantages of being physically unattractive. Real research has shown that less attractive people make less money and have fewer job opportunities than attractive people. The research was unsure if this was discrimination or if the fact that the more attractive people developed better social skills and more confidence that less attractive people. Body image, as mentioned in my FATISM post, plays a big role in how people feel about themselves.

Overcoming difficulties?

The movies and TV shows people overcoming these difficulties. But I am not sure to what extent that actually happens. If you start off in life with less opportunity due to your physical appearance do you ever really have a chance to overcome that disadvantage? We would like to think so.
From an HR standpoint there is no law that forbids discrimination based upon ugly. At least none of which I am aware. There may at some time be such an attempt, but Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, first published in 1961 showed the dark side of trying to be too politically correct. As the plot summary states “In the story, social equality has been achieved by handicapping the more intelligent, athletic or beautiful members of society. For example, strength is handicapped by the requirement to carry weight, beauty by the requirement to wear a mask, etc. This is due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the United States Constitution. This process is central to the society, designed so that no one will feel inferior to anyone else. Handicapping is overseen by the United States Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers.”
The best HR solution is to have a culture of civility and to focus on job performance. Forget about artificially trying to make things “equal”.

Final thoughts

They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but there appears to be some universal concepts of what beauty is and is not. As a result of this there are things that should be considered from both sides of the fence. As a candidate it will never hurt to try to improve your appearance. I am not suggesting surgery, but being aware of your grooming at work will improve your chances of making a better impression. As the boss you need to remember the world does not revolve around your idea of attractiveness. Be aware of that bias and pay more attention to ability and job relatedness when dealing with candidates and employees.
What have been your experiences around attractiveness?
Image courtesy of Victor Habbick /

2 thoughts on “Do you engage in Ugly-ISM?”

  1. I work as an admin to a district sales manager and a team of 8 sales reps. I sit in an office full of sales reps. Of the roughly 40 sales people 3 might be “less attractive” than all the others… a few of which could be models.
    The flip side is that all of us admin’s are a little on the heavier side. We are all attractive in our own rights, but compared to the sales teams we’d be pretty low on the ‘Hot or Not’ scale.
    Is this on purpose somehow? Did the managers that hired us subconsciously chose us for a non-client facing role due to our looks? What about the difference in income? I make far less than my sales reps and work at least as hard as they do.
    I have been thinking about moving into sales in the future, but I honestly feel I will be held back because of my looks. I don’t know whether this would be true or not, considering the point of your article was bias toward more attractive people, or if my own insecurities are what is standing in my way. I often wonder if I would be as successful as the others. I guess the only real way to find out would be to try though.
    Very interesting and though provoking read.

    • Kristina:
      Unfortunately the world is not so easy to figure out. I would encourage you to try sales. You can certainly try to improve your income. If you limit yourself by your impression of your looks then you are lost. Try to look as professional as possible and then work as hard as you can. That combination can make you successful.

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