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How Beautiful Do You Have to Be to Get a Job?

As we near the end of high school and get closer to our professional futures, we begin to think about what field we would like to go into, and how far we can rise in that field. We also must consider the means necessary for achieving our career goals. Clearly, picking the right college major and doing well in college is crucial. No doubt that having connections will help. But what about appearance?  

Keeping a professional appearance in the workplace is something that seems to be universally important. Buying a respectable suit seems reasonable. Plus, a nice tie or shoes. But what about losing weight or even altering your features? Is changing your appearance to appeal to a certain “professional” group of people who are not your partner a reasonable expectation in finding a job? 

The question is: how far would you go to mold yourself into a perfect aesthetic fit for a job that is supposed to be about using your brain and that is presumably measured by your work ethic? The evidence shows that appearance matters — and it matters overwhelmingly more for women.

The reality is that a woman’s appearance is often a large factor in the hiring process, occasionally taking the place of more job-related factors like experience, intelligence, and merit. According to a study reported by the Daily Mail, men and women are not being held to the same hiring standards. Specifically, in a study carried out by psychology lecturer Dr. Graham Scott from the University of West Scotland, when mix-gendered interviewers were shown the Facebook accounts of potential candidates for jobs, the information gathered by eye-tracking technology showed that the interviewers, regardless of their gender, relied more heavily on the pictures of women when assessing their job candidacy than they did when assessing men. When evaluating men, the interviewers spent more time assessing their entire profiles.

Some interpret this focus on women's appearance to signify that women who fit society’s definition of beautiful have an advantage. Fortune magazine claims that “attractiveness has been found to lead to more job interviews, more job offers, higher income, and greater overall success.” And there is some evidence proving this. According to The Guardian, women who are considered overweight, a trait that has been deemed unattractive thanks to mainstream media, earn less than women of “average” weight do—$9,000 less a year, according to a 2009 study by Forbes. “Being thin, it seems, is an unspoken requirement if you’re after a fatter paycheck.” Women who are considered underweight make even more than those who are of average or above average weight: they earn $22,000 more a year than the average woman. Although there is a correlation between weight and income—people who make less weigh more—this kind of weight-to-money relationship is not seen as drastically with men. In fact, “it turns out that about half of male CEOs are overweight, but only 5% of female CEOs carry extra pounds” (Forbes). This makes part of a woman’s job qualifications include how pleasing she is to look at. “Many women trying to climb the ladder of success believe they need to enhance their looks or face career doom” (today.com).

Although talking about the importance of a woman’s appearance in the workforce is not a politically correct topic, there are some public figures that have acknowledged it. Donald Trump, a presidential candidate most noted for his blunt and occasionally painful honesty, stated, “I mean, we could say politically correct that look doesn’t matter, but the look obviously matters… Like you wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t beautiful” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDPCmmZifE8). As you may think this is par for the course for Trump, The Dalai Lama, an icon for gentleness, also acknowledged the fact that women's appearances matter a lot in terms of gaining power. In a BBC interview he was quoted saying “I mean if female Dalai Lama come, then that female must be very attractive. Otherwise, not much use." 

Some might argue that this works to a woman’s advantage. Women can use their sexual appeal and get ahead. Yet, this “loophole” is not a productive way of evening the power imbalance men have over women in our society. In fact, stating it is a “loophole” for women actually puts them at a disadvantage; ultimately, it benefits heterosexual men, since women are put against each other because “any woman in the office who is thinner, younger, or prettier than you is [now] The Enemy” (thenewagenda ). Additionally, most women are excluded from this “loophole” as they age.

As women age, they lose some of the qualities that once made them desirable. According to a study by Bloomberg, “Looking at more than 40,000 job applications across a variety of industries, a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found ‘robust’ evidence of age discrimination in hiring female candidates and ‘considerably less evidence’ for age discrimination against male candidates. The finding suggests that age discrimination is especially a female problem. Older women may in fact experience more discrimination than older men, because physical appearance matters more for women and because age detracts more from physical appearance for women than for men" (Bloomberg.com).

The irony is that while a woman’s perceived attractiveness can benefit her progress in the workforce, women who are too sexual or feminine are not taken seriously either.  Although the Fox News correspondent Megyn Kelly is clearly successful, there is speculation that her looks were instrumental in landing her broadcasting job for Fox News. Fox News is a network that makes no secret at all of its preference for hiring attractive and largely blonde women to deliver the news while wearing very dense makeup. For many women, there is also the question of whether and to what extent they should prioritize or promote their appearance to advance their career. While being attractive may have helped Megyn Kelly land Fox News, it has prevented her from being taken seriously. After asking Donald Trump questions about his offensive diction towards women, Donald Trump retweeted a picture of Megyn Kelly posing in a sensual GQ shoot captioned “And this is the bimbo that's asking presidential questions?” The definition of a bimbo is “an attractive but empty-headed young woman, especially one perceived as a willing sex object.” Because Megyn Kelly was sensual, her work ethic was no longer legitimate to the thousands that liked and retweeted this tweet.  As one reporter asks, “Is it even fair for Kelly — or for that matter, other women — to have to contemplate how their appearance and behavior are perceived and how that can or will shape their careers?”(The Washington Post)  

The fact is our society has “an obsession” with womens' look, according to Jennifer Newsom. “Unfortunately, our culture has bought into this whole double standard that a woman’s value is her beauty not her capacity to lead” (Jennifer Newsom in Today. com). The way it stands today, women alone as a gender face the “Goldilocks syndrome” when it comes to looks, forced to adopt appearances that are “just right” in order to sustain themselves in the workplace.

Sources

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2016/01/28/the- real-problem- with-donald-trump- retweeting-those- provocative-pictures- of-megyn- kelly/?postshare=6071454027303146&tid=ss_fb

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3388287/Women- judged-appearance- job-hunting-Employers- sexes-rate- women-photos- judge-men- words-application.html

http://www.theguardian.com/money/us-money- blog/2014/oct/30/women-pay- get-thin-study

http://www.forbes.com/sites/lisaquast/2011/06/06/can-being- thin-actually- translate-into-a-bigger- paycheck-for- women/#5c81f47b3dc4

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-3388287/Women- judged-appearance- job-hunting-Employers-sexes-rate- women-photos- judge-men-words-application.html

https://thenewagenda.net/2009/12/17/why-using- your-looks-to-get- ahead-in-business-is-a-really- bad-idea/

http://www.forbes.com/2009/12/05/appearance-work- pay-forbes- woman-leadership-body-weight.html

For businesswomen, femininity is both an asset and a liability

http://www.tricycle.com/blog/dalai-lama- says-if- successor-female-she-must- be-very-attractive

One Comment

  1. Carol Van Auken June 10, 2016

    Doesn't this just really bother you??  Honestly.

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