Tips for Thought

A Closer Look at the Impact of Pretty Privilege

I recently attended a wedding and noticed that the atmosphere seemed to shimmer with enchantment. The celebration was a beautiful spectacle of love and happiness, yet amidst the jubilation, an unspoken truth lingered in the air—the undeniable presence of the “pretty privilege.”

In a world where appearances seem to wield increasing influence, the concept of pretty privilege has silently woven itself into our society. It’s an elusive yet powerful phenomenon that bestows advantages upon the aesthetically pleasing, often leaving others yearning for a taste of its elusive benefits. This silent but potent force influences numerous aspects of life, from professional opportunities to social interactions, subtly shaping our paths.

How does it shape our perceptions of self-worth and beauty standards? What are the consequences of a society that inadvertently favors the attractive? And how can we strive for a more equitable world that values substance over superficiality?

But first, what is it?

Pretty privilege is a term used to describe the unearned advantages people consider conventionally attractive receive. These advantages can be seen in many areas of life, including the workplace, school, and social interactions.

There is a growing body of research that suggests that pretty privilege is real. For example, one study found that attractive people are more likely to be hired for jobs, earn higher salaries, and receive preferential treatment in the courtroom.

There are reasons why pretty privilege exists. One reason is that we associate beauty with positive qualities such as intelligence, competence, and trustworthiness. This is known as the “halo effect.” As a result, we are more likely to give attractive people the benefit of the doubt and assume they have other positive qualities.

Another reason for pretty privilege is that we are likelier to notice and remember attractive people. This is because our brains are wired to pay attention to visually appealing things. As a result, attractive people are more likely to be the focus of attention, giving them an advantage in social interactions and other areas of life.

Pretty privilege can have a significant impact on people’s lives. For example, it can make it easier for attractive people to advance in their careers, make friends, and find romantic partners. However, it can also lead to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt for people who do not meet traditional beauty standards.

Here are some other examples of pretty privilege:

  • Being given more attention in social situations.
  • Attractive people are more likely to be hired or promoted.
  • Being treated kindlier by strangers.
  • Attractive people are more likely to be seen as leaders.
  • Being paid more money.
  • Attractive people are more likely to be successful in dating and relationships.

At the Wedding

During the cocktail hour, the bride’s younger sister, Emily, conversed with several of the groom’s friends. Emily, a strikingly beautiful young woman, effortlessly captivated the guests’ attention with her radiant smile and charming demeanor.

As the conversations flowed, it was evident that Emily’s looks had granted her a distinct advantage in social interactions. The groom’s friends seemed naturally drawn to her, engaging her in more extended and animated discussions than others. They laughed at her jokes, eagerly listened to her stories, and appeared genuinely interested in getting to know her better.

On the other hand, Amy, a close friend of the bride who had been part of her life for years, struggled to capture the same level of attention and engagement. Amy was undeniably intelligent, charismatic, and an excellent conversationalist, but her appearance didn’t conform to conventional beauty standards. Despite her many qualities, she somewhat blended into the background, receiving less interest and recognition during the cocktail hour.

This example illustrates how pretty privilege can manifest in social situations, subtly influencing how others perceive and treat individuals based on appearance. Emily’s beauty seemed to create an initial bias in her favor, leading to more positive interactions and connections, while Amy, despite her numerous admirable qualities, faced an invisible barrier to forming the same level of immediate rapport with others.

It’s essential to recognize that pretty privilege operates almost imperceptibly, affecting social dynamics without anyone explicitly acknowledging its presence. These nuanced advantages can impact individuals’ self-esteem, social experiences, and opportunities, ultimately reinforcing the need to address and dismantle beauty-based biases in our society.

Let’s say I am Emily. How can I act in this situation?

  • Recognize that pretty privilege exists and that you may benefit from it in certain situations. Awareness of this dynamic is the first step toward understanding how it can impact others.
  • Utilize your platform and influence to advocate for fairness and inclusivity. Speak up if you notice instances where others might be disregarded or overlooked due to their appearance. Support initiatives that promote diversity and challenge beauty standards.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of someone who doesn’t experience the same privilege. Empathize with others and be mindful of your actions and words to ensure you don’t inadvertently perpetuate unfair biases.
  • If you have the power to influence decisions or recommendations, strive to create equal opportunities for everyone, irrespective of appearance. Encourage practices and social interactions that focus on substance, skills, and personality over external attributes.

Let’s say I am Amy. How can I address this?

  • Build your self-confidence and recognize your worth beyond appearances. Celebrate your unique qualities, skills, and personality traits that make you who you are.
  • Don’t let societal beauty standards define your self-worth. Remember that beauty comes in diverse forms, and it’s essential to challenge society’s narrow definitions of attractiveness.
  • Surround yourself with friends and allies who appreciate you for your true self and uplift you. Positive and supportive relationships can bolster your self-esteem.
  • If you encounter instances of pretty privilege, address them calmly and respectfully. Educate others about the impact of beauty-based biases and encourage discussions on the importance of valuing substance over appearance.

We need to recognize and challenge beauty-based biases in our society. Pretty privilege is a complex and often subconscious phenomenon that can significantly impact individuals’ lives. By acknowledging its existence and understanding its effects, we can take steps toward creating a more equitable and inclusive world.