When being incredibly good looking hurts

Research shows 'lookism' is subconsciously at play in recruitment processes. Photo / Getty Images
Research shows 'lookism' is subconsciously at play in recruitment processes. Photo / Getty Images

Life comes more easily to the beautiful. Doesn't it? Those higher mortals blessed with symmetrical features, chiselled cheekbones and enviable figures appear to float through life on a cloud of slack-jawed appreciation.

Studies over the years have suggested, variously, that a pretty face can open doors to better jobs, higher salaries, more attractive spouses and even the "golden tables" at the front of restaurants, while the less good-looking are relegated to spots near the loos.

One University of Texas study of MBA graduates, in 2011, found a 10 to 15 per cent difference in earnings between the most and least attractive people in the group.

But could there also be a surprising price to pay for being too beautiful?

Last year, author Michelle Miller - a Stanford graduate who was a wealth manager at JP Morgan before she left Wall Street to write - posited a surprising theory: that her success was not only down to skill and determination, but the fact that she was (in her own words) a "seven out of 10" on the attractiveness scale.

Miller noticed that it paid to be just attractive enough. Because, while women may be damned for not caring about their appearance at all, they can also be deemed too attractive to be taken seriously.

If she had been any less good-looking or any more beautiful, Miller suggested, she would never have made it through the door.

Psychologist Dr Emily Lovegrove, a research fellow from the University of the West of England, agrees that such subconscious "lookism" is often at play in the recruitment process, whereby very attractive women are considered to be a liability in the workplace. Not just because they may distract their male colleagues, but because it is believed they won't have the corporate loyalty of their less attractive counterparts.

"It is thought that attractive women don't have staying power, partly because with their looks they could go anywhere," says Dr Lovegrove, who specialises in appearance-related bullying.

"We are easily intimidated by those we perceive to be more beautiful than us. For instance, if you are a woman, you might not want to give a job to a much younger, more attractive woman, who you worry might overtake you in the workplace."

This point was, infamously, made by the much-mocked Samantha Brick, who went viral back in 2012 with an article claiming "women hate me for no other reason than my lovely looks".

We are easily intimidated by those we perceive to be more beautiful than us.
Psychologist Dr Emily Lovegrove

Not that it's just women who may pay a penalty for their attractiveness - or let jealousy cloud their judgment. Last month, research by University College London's School of Management and the University of Maryland in the US found that particularly attractive men can also be discriminated against by male interviewers.

The study revealed that if men are being recruited for jobs in which they may one day compete against the person who is hiring them, their looks may be perceived as a threat.

According to Dr Lovegrove, beauty can, disturbingly, even play a part in the courtroom. One might imagine attractive defendants would be likely to get more lenient sentences, receive bigger financial settlements, or even get off scot-free. Not so.

"Research shows judges give longer sentences to good-looking men, because they are assumed to have had advantages that less attractive men don't," says Dr Lovegrove.

The reality, she adds, is that the way we look affects "pretty much everything we do, because we judge everybody on first impressions".

And while our hearts may not bleed for the "10 out of 10s" who are sitting at the chef's table, yet struggling to be taken seriously in the workplace, there could also be an uncomfortable truth, here, for the rest of us to address.

Although we may have spent our careers putting our professional progress down to pure merit, there's a chance our bosses simply deemed us unthreateningly average-looking enough for the job.

- Daily Telegraph UK

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