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Friday, July 2, 2010

The Latest Face of Discrimination: Beauty Bias?

During the past 75 years or so in this country, the government has rightly expanded equal rights protection to cover a growing number of groups based on gender, race, religion, age and disability.

While there's been positive results on those fronts, more needs to be done regarding the various types of bias that somehow manage to linger.

However, despite those strides forward to ensure “equality for all” there is an emerging subset of the population that is facing a bias toward…well…their faces.

Unattractive, homely, uncomely – call it what you will but the ugly among us are being discriminated against. Here's the link below to a recent article in the Washington Post by guest columnist Deborah L. Rhode exploring this ugly phenomenon of “Beauty Bias”:

The idea of "Beauty Bias" is an interesting premise that makes for compelling-cocktail-party conversation – of course assuming that only the bold and beautiful have been invited to that party.

But there are inherent problems with making a legal fix for the unfair treatment of the unattractive or for a “Beauty Bias” discrimination.

The first problem is that the concept of beauty regarding face-and-body-type is subjective and that over the centuries, the definition of beauty has changed. During the 16th Century, artist Peter Paul Rubens was fond of painting more full-figured female forms such as that captured in his work Venus at the Mirror [see picture insert]. In fact Rubens penchant for that particular body type coined a description that bears his name Rubenesque.

Fast forward to the 1920’s and rail-thin Flappers were the standard of beauty. Additionally, the taste-setters and fashion mavens on Madison Avenue are ever vacillating between aesthetic extremes that range from “heroin-chic” to “preppie-girl-next-door.” The point being that there’s no universal standard for external beauty.

This leads to the next problem, that linking language such as “equality” and “discrimination” to an ethereal-ideal-of-face-and-body-type seems to cheapen other categories where inequality still exists based on disability, race and gender.

I guess what I’m saying is that for good or bad, beauty is in the ever-changing eye of the beholder. But if legal discrimination protection is expanded to protect appearance and unattractiveness – beauty will be in the hands of law-making bureaucrats.

I don’t think that’s where it belongs, but I would welcome comments on the topic.


  1. I have no doubt that this bias exists. I've seen the "experiments" on TV that show our preference for those who are more appealing to the eye. I must admit that I'm guilty of it myself.

    Considering his homely features and lack of "camera appeal" would Abraham Lincoln have been elected president in this day and age? No doubt it would have been much more difficult in an era that seems to value appearances over true substance.

    However, I still believe that looks can possibly get you far, but they won't keep you there. In my opinion integrity and ability will always triumph over a pretty shell, even though it could take a while for that to happen. I still cling to that naive belief that we can easily be fooled short-term by a sparkly package, but will not put up with lack of substance for very long.

    I like this passage from James:

    My dear brothers and sisters, how can you claim to have faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ if you favor some people over others?
    For example, suppose someone comes into your meeting dressed in fancy clothes and expensive jewelry, and another comes in who is poor and dressed in dirty clothes. If you give special attention and a good seat to the rich person, but you say to the poor one, “You can stand over there, or else sit on the floor”—well, doesn’t this discrimination show that your judgments are guided by evil motives? - James 2:1-4

    Either way, I feel that any attempt at legislation that would try to address this beauty bias issue would ultimately create more problems than it solves. If you're ugly, just outperform the pretty people. It works for me!

  2. @Larry, brillant thoughts expressed! I completely agree that substance trumps style in the game of life. I also like the scripture you referenced.

    How about this one from 1 Peter 3:3-4 "Let your beauty be not just the outward adorning of braiding the hair, and of wearing jewels of gold, or of putting on fine clothing; but in the hidden person of the heart, in the incorruptible adornment of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God very precious."

    As always -t hanks for the thoughtful engagement and comments!