In the Glossary section, we explain new words and terms that appear in the media. Lookism is discrimination based on appearance. We tell you how it was formed and why it has such a strong influence on your career and personal life.

What is lookism

The term “lookizm” comes from the English look – appearance. This is what is called a biased attitude towards the appearance of a person. A physically attractive person is automatically endowed with positive qualities: intelligence, goodwill, reliability, professionalism. But if the appearance is knocked out of the standards imposed by society, this allegedly indicates negative traits.

Lookism has been associated with the cognitive distortion “halo effect”. Beautiful appearance seems more pleasant, and this affects the perception of other qualities. Even people in whose profession external attractiveness is not important can fall under lookism. This was shown by the experiment of the doctor of psychological sciences Alan Feingold. The researcher organized staged trials, in which the jury had to deliver a verdict in two completely identical cases. The defendants differed only in appearance – one of them was played by a more attractive actor. The jury each time passed a lenient sentence to someone they liked outwardly. And the unpleasant defendant was punished to the fullest extent of the law.

Lookism is closely associated with social standards of beauty, since appearance is one of the tools for demonstrating social status. For example, noble women in ancient Greece grew their hair long to show that they could afford to look after it. Slaves wore short haircuts. Aristocrats of the 18th-19th centuries tried to protect their skin from freckles and sunburn, thus demonstrating their pampering. Spending days in the sun was the lot of commoners.

In appearance, one can really draw certain conclusions about a person. For example, men who come to an interview in a classic suit are perceived as more responsible and organized. But this may or may not be true. What brings lookism into the gray zone: it is impossible to deny the phenomenon, but how to deal with it is unclear.

History of the term

The term “lookism” first appeared in the 70s thanks to the development of the movement for the rights of overweight people. In 1978, the word was first published in the Washington Post in the meaning of “discrimination on the basis of appearance.” However, then it was used mainly in relation to obese people. Gradually, the meaning of lookism expanded and extended to any form of oppression due to appearance. And also to give too much importance to appearance.

Examples of lookism

In life

External attractiveness brings bonuses from childhood. Parents and teachers pay more attention to beautiful children. They expect more success from them than from peers with a normal appearance. Child development director Sean Talamas believes that as a result, attractive children try to live up to expectations and often grow up to be more successful.

Attractive people are more trustworthy. In 2006, an experiment was conducted at Rice University in Texas. The students were shown four photographs of young people – two with a normal appearance and a neutral expression on their faces, and two attractive ones with an open smile. Students had to choose a partner in the game and send them play money. And he, in turn, decided which part he would return to the sender. The rest could be taken away. It turned out that students are willing to send more money to beautiful people. And this trust was justified – attractive students really shared a significant part of the winnings with a partner.

Australian researchers have found that physical attractiveness helps build short-term relationships for men and long-term relationships for women. This is probably due to the fact that men consider beauty to be one of the important qualities of a potential partner. This is confirmed by studies conducted in America and Russia.

At work

Appearance affects career success. This was demonstrated by an experiment conducted by an American recruitment agency. The researchers compiled fake resumes that differed only in the photo of the applicant. They took four shots: a handsome man and woman, and less attractive models. It turned out that beautiful people are more likely to be invited to interviews and they are more likely to get the desired job.

The influence of appearance on a career is true for both women and men, but lookism hits harder on the former. For example, obese women are discriminated against in employment twice as often as men. They are less likely to be invited for interviews and more likely to be denied positions, although they meet the professional requirements. 27.7% of overweight women and only 12.1% of men of the same build spoke about the biased attitude of the employer.

Lookism influences a career not only at the time of the job search. According to American researchers, beautiful people earn 5-10% more than their less attractive counterparts. Moreover, it has nothing to do with the scope of activity and official duties.

In show business

For many stars, good looks have been the catalyst for successful careers. Actress Monica Bellucci said in an interview that she was not offended at all, that her beauty was talked about more often than her talent. She perceives appearance as a gift and believes that it was she who gave her a start in life.

While for some actresses appearance gives popularity and adoration of fans, for others it becomes a cause of public condemnation. For example, actress Nicola Coughlan asked social media users not to discuss her appearance. The Bridgerton actress, who plays Penelope, said: “It’s really hard for me to bear the weight of the thousands of opinions about how I look that are sent to me every day.” In this case, public criticism can be considered a manifestation of lookism, because people do not evaluate the performing talent of the actress, but her appearance.

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