We all agree that judging a book by its cover it’s not fair. As well as judging a person based on their sex, race or religion is wrong. But when it comes to discriminating against people based on other aspects of appearance, we find it hard to acknowledge the problem. Quite the opposite indeed, we find appearance-based discrimination permissible.
Our society is obsessed with the way we look; the beauty industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and continues to thrive. Most products are sold to us under the premise that they will increase our desirability. So in a world where we are constantly told what products to buy, what clothes are the most flattering, and what foods not to eat, it becomes clear that we are expected to be nothing short of beautiful.
It’s called pretty privilege and it’s the concept that pretty people benefit in life from being perceived as beautiful. Those who benefit from pretty privilege are seen as being more intelligent, more capable and are more likely to be employed or picked up at a bar. This is a psychosocial phenomenon where being more physically attractive gets you more opportunities in life compared to those who don’t comply with today’s beauty standard.
The people who happen to meet these standards often experience social advantages and better treatment by those who perceive them as attractive; while unattractive people experience significant disadvantages in comparison to attractive people. Researchers Mobius & Rosenblat went as far as to describe these disparities as comparable to the income gap between genders or ethnicities. On top of sexism, racism and ageism (all of which influence beauty ideals) where we fall on the physical attractiveness spectrum can determine our quality of life; irrespective of our personality, skills, talents or anything else we may have to offer.
Surely, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and while anyone can be beautiful, in a society where notions of beauty have for so long been bound to whiteness, white women are more likely to experience and benefit from pretty privilege.
Like most other biases, pretty privilege is something we're all aware of—whether we have experienced it first-hand or not. Yet, it's not often that we are willing to admit it, especially if we're on the receiving end of its benefits. But thanks to social media things are trying to change. The topic of pretty privilege has been trending on TikTok recently, with the videos tagged #prettyprivilege getting a total amount of nearly 70M views.
More and more people are raising awareness about this issue, especially because the fact that beauty standards are fluctuating ideals with extremely narrow criteria, ensuring that only a few can actually attain them, is not something accepted anymore.
So what can we do about pretty privilege? And again, can beauty bias be unlearned? Pretty privilege may be something that is seemingly engraved into our society. At this cultural level, researchers have suggested that the main way to combat these privileges is to unlearn the bias we have towards physically attractive people. Researchers explain that beauty bias is something we are conditioned to from as early as birth, and that continues throughout our lives. However, even if it will be hard to unlearn those biases, it is still something doable.
Studies have been conducted to show the effects of counter-stereotype training. In the paper Training away bias, researchers have discovered that counter-stereotyping significantly reduced implicit bias and that when participants became aware of their own biases, they began feeling motivated to self-regulate.
Pretty privilege reinforces social inequalities by privileging white, thin, able-bodied individuals. By being more conscious about our own biases and the way we give and/or receive pretty privilege could help create well-being and a more equal society.
Credit photo: Gettyimages.com
Written by Paige Trimbly