It is a game that begins before it starts and finishes before it ends. It defines the concept of "judging a book by its cover." It stands beside racism, bigotry, and homophobia - it is lookism: the formation of one's opinion of another based entirely on their superficial attributes and aesthetically pleasing idiosyncrasies. Lookism pervades society like an insidious virus and is found everywhere: on TV, in magazines, in school. The following account is a true story and provides a look into the dark catacomb of lookism at its epicenter: Los Angeles.
The car door swung open and almost immediately the party began. The slender figures of palm trees framed the gilded doors of the hotel at Universal Park. Entering the hotel, we were inundated with a barrage of flashes - it was time for the Winter Formal Dance. This was my first time in California, but I arrived with preconceived ideas of how the girls in L.A. look - and I could not have been more right. The dance floor might as well have been a fashion runway, the hotel lobby could easily have doubled as a movie set, and the ballroom foyer could have been confused for a magazine shoot. The girls were indescribable; they were truly "L.A. girls."
As though at the end of a movie, the lights slowly filled the room to signal the end of the dance and the beginning of the after-party. The night could not have been better: limousines were ready to whisk us all over L.A. in the warm California night, and, of course, there were those girls.
There were no cameras flashing as we arrived at the after-party, which may have been an ominous sign. Entering the party resembled getting a shotgun blast to the stomach. The dark tans were replaced with cocaine, the blond hair with alcohol, and the picture-perfect smiles with marijuana. Who had done this?
These could not have been the same girls from the dance. As the party continued, every ounce of glamour drained from the scene. The models from the dance floor passed out in the corner, the lobby starlets found themselves vomiting in bathrooms, and the foyer cover girls meandered around in a drug-induced state. How impressive was this?
To call this an American tragedy would be an understatement. How could these kids who have it all waste everything? I flew home realizing that to these people everything really means nothing. They were L.A. girls, perfect in every picture and possessing what counts to most of us - looks. It had counted for me; I judged the book by the cover. They were gorgeous, and I'd assumed they must be worth knowing. I was wrong.
I made my judgment based on superficial attributes. I judged them as quickly as a racist would judge a minority. The difference, and danger, of course, was that I assumed these people were infallible, to be the paragon of beauty and of substance.
That danger defines lookism, it provides credibility to individuals who might not deserve it and steals it from those to whom it is truly owed. Unfair? Definitely. A game? Absolutely. This game began as soon as I saw them, and finished five minutes later. They were good looking, I was happy. Case closed.
But the real game began when I had to wash vomit from my shirt and after I witnessed friends cry as they checked on an unresponsive classmate. That game lasted much longer than five minutes. It concluded much later, after a personality, a real person, could be pinned to each of those pretty faces.
They say first impressions count. How much of such an impression is based on looks, and how much on substance - that is lookism.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.