Lookism-An Ignored Phenomenon

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The following piece was written after extensive research on the topic of lookism, also known as beautyism or beauty bias, which is a type of prejudice that stems from judging people based on their appearance. The key finding from my research was that this prejudice and discrimination based on looks may be a partially subconscious process.

Submitted: June 08, 2016

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Submitted: June 08, 2016



Lookism. Beautyism. Superficial judgment. Call it what you will, but it’s all the same. The phenomenon in which people are treated differently solely based on their appearance.

Some people claim lookism is complete bullshit. With the definition above, lookism is simply people being judgmental. Some people claim that if we teach children not to judge based on appearance and if we lessen the standards established by American media and if we fix American culture this will no longer be a problem. But the solution is not that simple.

When people think of lookism they brush it off in an instant. Being judged is part of human existence. Lookism is an ignored phenomenon, but do we really understand it well enough to be able to dismiss it as an insignificant issue in society?

Lookism may not be extensively discussed, nor extensively researched or studied but it has been hypothesized that lookism is an unconscious phenomenon. Beauty can be analyzed based on cultural differences, geographic location, and other factors. Are your facial features attractive to Americans? How about Canadians? Do Europeans have a different perception of beauty?

It seemed fitting that, as an American, I analyze the science of attractiveness in American culture. From body type to face shape to facial features, the brain’s unconscious registers the appearance of another person.

According to an analysis of American pop culture, women with large eyes, high cheekbones, a slim face, and fuller lips are viewed as most attractive. Additionally, an analysis of celebrity Natalie Portman described her as a brunette woman with brown eyes, an oval face shape, arched eyebrows, a small, slim nose, and a smooth regular jawline. Additionally, a similar analysis of celebrity David Gandy described him as a man with blue eyes, oval shaped face, medium-thick eyebrows, slim, straight nose, and a square jawline. (http://www.newhealthadvisor.com/Most-Attractive-Face-Shape.html)

On a global scale, faces with greater symmetry are typically considered more attractive. In American culture, however, there are specific facial characteristics that have been analyzed to speak to the preferences of the majority of Americans. Researchers at Stockholm University have proposed that our decisions on whether we find someone attractive may be due to hormones that we were exposed to in utero or during puberty. Generally speaking, the majority of Americans have a similar standard for beauty. According to journalism Justin Ames, the eyes should be just above half way down the front of the head, the ears should lay flat to the head, the lip’s edges should align with the pupil, the bridge of the nose should extend straight and not be too protruding nor too flat, the chin should be gently rounded, and the face shape should be oval with clear cheekbones in order to be considered most attractive in American society.

Ames also analyzed both genders and attractive features specific to women and men. Ames claims women with “hyper feminine” facial characteristics, such as a smaller chin, fuller lips, and good but not not overwhelming muscle tone are most attractive while men are judged based on the angle between their eyes and mouth and are attractive based on cheekbone prominence and facial length.

While this analysis may seem far too in depth to be true, the human brain unconsciously perceives attractiveness. The human brain is so complex that it may indeed consider all of the above factors when assessing an individual’s attractiveness.

Not only does our brain unconsciously perceive a person’s attractiveness but there is also extreme prejudice and discrimination that accompanies it. Multiple social experiments have found that individuals who appear to be more attractive live with certain advantages including a greater probability of getting a job, earning higher pay, and generally being more respected than their less attractive peers.

In a study with school aged students, two female teachers were brought in to read the same book to the same class of students. One teacher was thought to be more attractive and one less attractive. When surveyed, the students preferred the more attractive teacher and even associated more positive traits with the attractive teacher claiming she was the smarter teacher, nicer teacher, and therefore the better teacher.

Clearly, lookism is a complex issue as it is an unconscious process and an unrecognized prejudice. While it may not be the most talked about prejudice, it is still important to be aware of the unjust phenomenon and work toward not only educating the public but also fighting the inevitable prejudice of lookism.

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