The Blog

Is Beauty Really a Privilege?

Staying young and attractive certainly seems to be hugely important in today's society. It's difficult to imagine anyone bemoaning the fact that they're beautiful; being physically attractive is considered fortunate, and when beautiful people to complain about their beauty, it seems ungrateful almost.

I've been thinking a lot lately about looks and a how people's looks shape their lives. Like every time I see a sales person or a front of house marketing person, they're always easy on the eye. Perhaps it's me but young people seem to be getting more and more beautiful and it seems that older people are having to increase their endeavours at staying well preserved!

I've carved out a career in the aesthetics industry and it's an superb industry in which to be involved, but the pressure to look perennially immaculate is relentless, irrespective of your age. Looking good is more important than anything, and some people take it to the extreme - they are obsessed with pursuing eternal youth and obtaining what they perceive to be a perfect appearance. It's exhausting and quite sad, really: sometimes I just want to say 'darling put the needle down and step away from the Botox.'

There is pressure to look good in several industries, but the aesthetics industry is second only to fashion in terms of preoccupation with appearance. The merciless pressure means that I have a perpetual battle to keep my body in shape; I've subjected it to six cosmetic surgery procedures and countless injections, as well as skin tightening devices, and more skincare regimes than I can even dare to count. I wonder if I'm the only one who rejoices at a bout of stomach flu, delighted at the prospect of a covetable flat tummy for an upcoming TV appearance or presenting role. Being superficial is so tiring sometimes but I can't help feeling relieved at the loss of a few pounds, even if it is through illness.

Staying young and attractive certainly seems to be hugely important in today's society. It's difficult to imagine anyone bemoaning the fact that they're beautiful; being physically attractive is considered fortunate, and when beautiful people to complain about their beauty, it seems ungrateful almost.

But few could forget Samantha Brick, who in 2012 infamously complained that her good looks had inspired jealousy and cattiness in other women. Freelance writer Samantha wrote an article for the Daily Mail, entitled, "There are downsides to looking this pretty: Why Women Hate Me for Being Beautiful''. The article generated an enormous amount of attention and immersed Samantha in the media spotlight for months afterwards.

Samantha said that other women despised her purely on the basis of her good looks. The article certainly seemed to rankle other women - her moaning about her prettiness did not go down well. After all, the advantages of good looks must surely outweigh the disadvantages and thus be considered a blessing, so what was she complaining about?

But it seems that Samantha (who does seem a little boastful and egotistical, perhaps it's this that winds up other women rather than her looks?) may have a point about good looks causing women problems. Researchers based at the University of Colorado and the Illinois Institute of Technology have just published a study which examines what they describe as a 'subtle form of sex discrimination', occurring when attractive women are discriminated against in job interviews, on the basis that they're pretty. The study, which was party inspired by Samantha's situation, found that attractive women are more likely to be the subject of stereotyping in relation to their personality and job skills.

The study's authors, Stefanie Johnson, Traci Sitzmann and Anh Thuy Nguyen, point out that physically attractive women are probably particularly discriminated against when applying for jobs that are traditionally regarded as more masculine - such as jobs in construction, for example.

The authors cite examples of women contravening traditional gender roles in the workplace; abandoning the female 'nurturer' stereotype and being selfish and ruthless - the quintessential 'bitch'. Previous studies have shown that successful female managers are perceived as untrustworthy, selfish, abrasive, bitter, pushy quarrelsome, deceitful and devious. I doubt, somehow, that their male counterparts are perceived in the same way.

The new study, entitled 'Don't hate me because I'm beautiful: Acknowledging appearance mitigates the ''beauty is beastly'' effect', involved a series of experiments including setting up a mock job selection where participants were told that they would be evaluating four ?nalists for a job in construction (chosen because it is traditionally associated as a masculine job where physical attractiveness is deemed, theoretically, to be unimportant). The authors of the study contend that being a more attractive woman in this situation should elicit the infamous 'beauty is beastly' effect. This effect refers to the strong tendency to stereotype women according to their looks. This involves often unconscious yet powerful assumptions about what work women will be good at, or not, based solely on appearance.

The experiment sought to ascertain whether there were tactics that women could adopt when applying for jobs which could help overcome stereotyping they might face as a consequence of their appearance and gender, and 'acknowledging' their physical appearance and saying things like "I know that I don't look like your typical construction worker, but...'. and "I know that there are not a lot of women in this industry, but..." seemed to be effective in convincing interviewers of their suitability despite their looks.

I asked my social media followers whether looks were an advantage or a hindrance when going for job interviews. Here's a selection of views:

Mark Bonar said: "First impressions always count and I believe that attractive people have a significant advantage in life."

Kelsey Stone said : "Beyond the CV the aim is to get the employer to visualise you as the right fit for that role. Attractiveness could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on that person's view. Prior research always helps. Even what you wear would enhance or block your prospects. There's no substitute for looking at your surroundings, the other people in that workplace and adapting to their theme to initially fit in until you prove your worth - then you can stand out for all the right reasons and be proud of your results."

Debra Robson said : "I believe there are studies which prove that attractive people are most definitely at an advantage in the workplace ! Though I do agree that may not always be the case with a female boss employing a woman."

Michelle Garber said: "You're a brand and everything is part of this package. Your dress, hair, nails, how you carry yourself, your mannerisms, voice, your eye contact or lack of. For an attractive women it's much harder to be taken seriously especially if the interviewer is male. On the other hand many women are insecure and would not want to hire another woman who they perceived to be more attractive. This is unfortunate but true."

The thing about good looks, I suppose, is that they are not permanent. Eventually, even the most well preserved of females will see their looks fade, at least to an extent. How are women to adapt once they are no longer able to rely on their good looks? (Despite Samantha Brick's bleating about the negatives of her attractiveness, she does admit to having benefitted immensely from them too.)

Hanging onto your looks as time marches by unsympathetically is like trying to keep a grip of a fist full of sand but perhaps slightly harder! You can have bucket loads of personality, but the harsh truth is that in the aesthetic industry the patients and clients who are seeking bodily and aesthetic perfection will be analysing everything - your waist size, the texture of your skin, the thickness of your hair, nothing escapes their scrutiny. Let's not even start on the men either.

If you think you have ever witnessed "competition" in a sports changing room you need to check it out at an awards event in my industry. You can smell the passive aggressive tension bubbling below the liposuctioned flanks and thread facelifts from a mile away. Competition in the workplace is common, but believe me it is not fiercer than in my industry - and it is tiring and relentless. Making others look good often comes at industry workers' own personal sacrifice - now I know why Anna Wintour never smiles.

Beautiful people are privileged, it seems, at least until the ravages of time take their grimly inevitable toll. Once looks desert a person, though, what are they left with?

I suppose - as well as mentally preparing yourself for being less physically attractive than in your younger years, if that's even possible! - it's important to emphasise other qualities, such as kindness, intelligence and humour and drawing on your life's experience. These are attributes that are not only important but are permanent, also.

Attractiveness is not just a physical thing, and perhaps that's just as well.