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Pretty Privilege In Society- Is It A Real Thing?
As we continue to open up conversations about the current stigmas present in society, it’s important that we pay full attention to the wide range of existing issues. For centuries, we have witnessed the clear presence of “male privilege” in society. We are also becoming increasingly aware of the notion of “white privilege,” as we continue trying to eradicate long-seeded racism. One conversation, however, that doesn’t get discussed often is the existence of “pretty privilege.”
Pretty privilege- according to the Urban Dictionary- is the notion that individuals with attractive deemed looks are provided with greater opportunities and a leg up in society. It’s not to say that these individuals that meet societal beauty standards live a problem-free life, but instead that they live accustomed to many advantages that others don’t seem to have.
This phenomenon exists largely because of the looks-focused ideals our society is centered on. Whether it’s facial features, body structures, clothing choices, or material wealth, chasing these superficial appearances is commonly seen, and oftentimes highly praised.
Why do humans praise these ideals?
Subconsciously, we may be aware of the privilege that achieving these beauty standards may provide us, and thus place more emphasis on the exterior. This same notion is what’s continuously fed to us by the 532 billion dollar beauty industry that thrives on physical insecurity (Forbes). We value these pursuits because that’s what we’re told to value. As a result, society has been built to honor “pretty” people.
Janet Mock- an American director, television host, writer, and influential activist for transgender rights- recently published an article titled, “Being Pretty Is a Privilege, But We Refuse to Acknowledge It,” on her experience growing up in the media as a black trans woman. “Here’s the math,” Mock wrote. “If I did not look the way I do, then I would not be on TV or on two book covers. I would not have a beauty column or an Instagram with more than 100,000 followers. This does not mean that I have not put in work and effort and done my job well, but my beauty is not something that I earned. I did not work for it, yet it has opened doors for me, allowing me to be seen and heard. And for me to pretend that it does not exist denies the ways in which being perceived as pretty has contributed to my success and made the road a bit smoother” (Allure).
Pretty privilege, whether individuals are aware of it or not, is internalized in our judgments and actions. By being aware of this common partiality, we can work to minimize the effects of pretty privilege in everyday life.
Examples of This Bias
It can be strange to think of prettiness in this manner- that somehow winning the genetic lottery is like receiving a secret ticket. But to what extent is this “secret ticket” impacting day to day life?
Pulchronomics- the economics of physical attractiveness- is a field of study attempting to answer exactly that. Many researchers have conducted extensive work on the relationship between looks and economic well-being, and the findings are more drastic than what many like to believe:
“Attractiveness” is associated with decreased crime rate…
In a 1990 meta-analysis that examined 25 studies on the effects of physical attractiveness on mock juror sentencing, researchers Ronald Mazzella & Alan Feingold found a surprising correlation between the two. Based on their reports, mock jurors tended to give lighter sentences to attractive criminals than unattractive criminals; this phenomenon appeared in crime cases of rape, robbery, and negligent homicide. While jurors don’t make the final call, their power in court is immense in the decision-making process, and their opinions can clearly be swayed merely by the physical appearance of the criminal.
“Attractiveness” is associated with greater ignorance about inequality issues…
This is a very subjective finding; however, there is still a correlation to be observed. In a report done by Vox in April, researchers Margaret Neale and Peter Belmi conducted a series of five studies to determine the effect of perceived attractiveness on outward views. After asking participants for their thoughts on certain controversial statements, they found that participants who perceived themselves as more attractive tended to believe in ideas that legitimized their higher social status. Specifically, the majority claimed that world inequality was a result of individual characteristics, like talent and hard work, rather than being a result of more oppressive forces, like systematic discrimination and political power. These ideas of inequality shaped their actions in donation as well; those who perceived themselves as better-looking donated less, while those who perceived themselves as less attractive donated more. The presence of these ideas is what demonstrates “pretty privilege” in essence.
“Attractiveness” is associated with a higher salary…
Daniel Hamermesh, the author of the 2011 novel “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful,” explored the extent to which beauty leads to better jobs, better wages, and better spouses in his novel. He found that “the average worker with above-average looks would earn 3 to 4 percent more than a below-average-looking worker. That totals out to around $230,000 over the course of a lifetime” (Vox). With no evidence that the attractive workers were in any way smarter or more hardworking, he attributes this difference in salary simply to the discrimination of the eye.
Clearly, physical looks are more than simply a self-confidence boost or an added bonus in a relationship. Pretty privilege dictates just how successful an individual will become and how they’ll be treated by others, oftentimes leading to false perception. It is used when determining how healthy a person looks, how smart a person is, or how trustworthy a person seems, without proper evaluation of the individual. Due to its biased nature, physical attractiveness grants certain individuals with greater social, economic, and cultural advantages, and leaves others automatically disadvantaged and likely misjudged.
Who Decides What “Pretty” Looks Like?
The difficulty with pretty privilege is that attractiveness is subjective; there are no standard guidelines for attractiveness that are easy to gauge, nor is there one type of attractiveness that can exist. So what defines “pretty?” How did these standards first originate? Who decides who is benefited from them?
The truth is, society collectively decides these standards for physical appearance by what is generationally accepted. That’s why body types, clothing choices, and hairstyles are constantly changing and recycling over the generations because people simply follow the trends. Lighter skin is out, tan skin is in. Size zero frames are out, curvaceous figures are in. Low waisted clothing is out, high waisted is back in. We follow beauty standards like a herd, for the “guidelines” are always changing.
Those that meet the current beauty standards, therefore, are held on a pedestal by others and are at a greater likelihood of benefiting from their privilege. “If someone is easy on the eyes, the enjoyment we derive from looking at them colors our perceptions of other attributes,” says the American Economic Review in their 2006 study titled Why Beauty Matters. Someone’s mere physical appearance, which is so highly valued in society, is enough to skew the perception of them as a whole individual. This bias ends up advantaging some, and it disadvantaging others.
Awareness of Pretty Privilege
There are mixed views on the presence of pretty privilege in society, but many people continue to acknowledge its effects and argue to eradicate it, like Stanford University law professor Deborah Rhode. In her novel The Beauty Bias, Rhode criticizes the role that attractiveness plays in the self-image of individuals, particularly women. She argues that when individuals place so much focus on their physical appearance, it leads to the further judgment of others and “reinforces the subordination of groups with ‘unappealing’ characteristics while limiting self-expression” (Daily Vox).
Due to the changing definitions of attractiveness and the inability to define it completely, this discrimination is a lot more difficult to target and eradicate completely. As a result, some form of pretty privilege is always going to be present in society.
Regardless, an awareness of it is important in the steps to lessen its effects. With people like Janet Mock speaking on how their pretty privilege has helped them greatly, we’re opening up a conversation about another deeply hidden stigma. Many people may not realize their own biases in regard to outward appearances, and this awareness will help them understand more about themselves and others.
Ultimately, pretty privilege is real, but society can learn to place less emphasis on it.