“Lookism” — Life is unfair

Discrimination is a hot topic — race, gender, age, sexual orientation. But there’s one sort widely unrecognized: what columnist David Brooks calls “lookism.” Discrimination against unattractive people.

He cites studies about how they’re treated worse than the good looking. Shocking! And whereas many varied classes of people are now legally protected against discrimination, there’s none such for the unattractive. That fact itself is discriminatory. And there’s no National Association for the Advancement of Ugly People.

A subcategory is heightism. I’m a 5’4″ male. I’ve never fixated on my shortness; but do recall a recommendation letter from a law school professor that began, “Frank is a little bit of a guy, but . . . . ” I saw that and thought, WTF?! I have no proof shortness stunted my professional and political careers, but as exemplified by that letter, it surely affected people’s perceptions. Maybe a subtle reason why I eventually wound up as a coin dealer, where height is irrelevant.

Brooks, perhaps strangely, doesn’t even mention one key realm where lookism is indisputably huge: love. The less attractive have a harder time getting partners (duh). My own experience is again relevant. Many women simply do not see a man in a sexual way below a certain height.

Anyhow, Brooks explores the psychology underlying lookism. It starts with attractive people being simply more pleasant to look at and have around (all else equal). But further, he says, we project onto them all sorts of putative characteristics: trustworthy, competent, friendly, likable, intelligent. An aura of athleticism looms large (also lacking in my own case). We view fit people as healthier and even morally superior, while supposing slugs are responsible for their looks (especially when overweight) and are probably lower class.

Yet not only shouldn’t we assume attractive people are better people, the opposite is actually more likely. Precisely because they do become accustomed to better treatment, “spoiling” them. It can be corrupting. People sucking up to you all the time, throwing themselves at you sexually, does not build strong character.

Brooks says studies show more people feel discriminated against because of looks than race, and the earnings gap between attractive and unattractive people exceeds the racial earnings gap. He argues we should actively combat lookism: “the only solution is to shift the norms and practices.” Is he serious?

I think folks can be helped to overcome prejudices based on ethnicity, religion, gender, etc., using rational arguments. But bias regarding looks is much more deeply hard-wired by evolution. Programming us to choose mates based on perceived fitness to produce the most fit offspring. What we find attractive embodies those aboriginal outward indicia of reproductive fitness. Just as an example, that’s why most men are attracted to bosomy women. There’s no way to purge such preferences from human brains.

Meantime, popular media has always glamorized the good-looking, making the merely average feel substandard. Recent news highlights how Facebook and Instagram do this to young females especially, causing much mental trouble, even suicides. Even if “lookism” can’t be suppressed entirely, it should be dialed down a notch (or two).

But most fundamentally, life is unfair. While we should try to make it as fair as possible, a quest for perfect fairness is a fool’s errand (indeed, always proven disastrous throughout history). I keep recalling Kurt Vonnegut’s story Harrison Bergeron, in an ultimate egalitarian society, where a “Handicapper General” gives talented people handicaps to hold them back. Harrison’s is being literally chained to a mass of junk. But in any society there will always be people doing better than others because they were born with certain advantages. Like intelligence — or good looks. That’s just luck, it isn’t “fair,” but there’s no way around it. Some people will always be luckier than others.

I feel I’ve had terrific luck, and don’t go around bemoaning my shortness. If I had the choice to go back and add a few inches, I would not. I might have gotten more sex. But who knows how my life would have turned out? It could hardly be better, and could be a whole lot worse.

3 Responses to ““Lookism” — Life is unfair”

  1. Don Bronkema Says:

    Your courage in confessing cortismo is praise-worthy. Respondent is not merely dwarfish, but cadaverous, awkward, dissonant, void of social skills: raised by tall, well-built, hily attractive, athletic, low-IQ foster parents, who abused him mercilessly for his defects. No surprise, he became a savage polemist & trouble-maker, raking the enemy in seven languages here & abroad…As Berscheid & Walster demo’d in 1986, females want tall males regardless of any defects but one [they can’t be serial killers]. Criminal records mean nothing; they need not be handsome or even muscular!…Respondent was struck by how often 95%-ile women expressed an interest, thanx to his brains & humor. His amour-propre was so impaired, however, that he rejected them in favor of schemers who rejected & bankrupted him…You can see why he became a militant on behalf of CRISPR germ-cell & zygote upgrades. Only optimals should be permitted at Colonia Martialis in prep for 24th-C stellarensis…Having completed 65 years in psycho-analysis [Guinness], he has forgiven all but himself & is reconciled to das ende as a centenarian in 2031 [several such on both sides]. His dottir [then 31] & spouse [then 67] will be free at last. Enjoy your blog: drive on!

  2. Lee Says:

    The best provider of a good or service may not be of the race, sex, looks, height, etc. that my prejudices steer me towards, but allowing those prejudices to overcome the facts will lead me to inferior outcomes. We do ourselves a favor when we work to overcome these prejudices, even when the prejudice in question is lookism.

  3. Don Bronkema Says:

    Small differences in physiognomy [& larger ones in somatype] are critical in evolutionary partner selection for ‘fitness’. Normativity drives copulation choice. No generous attempt to ignore it can ever succeed, ergo CRISPR. A bombshell female felon is more likely to be exonerated than a homely one or to get a shorter sentence, alles dingen egalitiert. The disparate judicial fates of blacks & latinos are infamous, driven by perceptions of criminality, filth & ugliness. Back to short males: they need some sort of 99.999999th %-ile talent to survive, let alone scale the summit. Perfect raw scores do not suffice–they must be exploited relentlessly in all contexts. The competition takes no prisoners. Solo mors graviora est.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: