Can you be successful if you have the brains of Einstein but look like Shrek?
Daniel S. Hamermesh is the Sue Killam Professor in the Foundations of Economics at the University of Texas, Austin, and professor of economics at Royal Holloway, University of London. His latest book, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, might possibly be the only economics book that most of us will read in its entirety, and when we do, we will either head straight to the cosmetic surgeon to improve our career prospects and earning power or simply shrug our shoulders and use our plain looks as an excuse for not reaching our ‘full potential’. Hamermesh is on to a good thing here.
But are attractive looking people financially better off? Apparently yes, according to Hamermesh, and in fairness, we all know that life is not fair. Let’s face it; an attractive mug is gentler on the eye. We have all, in our time, encountered those endowed with the triple whammy of luck that maddened the rest of us – those who radiated beauty, cleverness and sincerity. I suppose sincerity doesn’t take the same Trojan effort when you’re not already weighed down with average looks and intelligence. You might say it lightens the load. Indeed, may I go so far as to say ‘shame on you’ if you happen to be attractive and clever but not a very nice person.
Hamermesh demonstrates how beauty really does pay – in fact – one could surmise that having an attractive mug is almost like having a second job or constantly doing nixers. He says that “the attractive are more likely to be employed, work more productively and profitably, receive more substantial pay, obtain loan approvals, negotiate loans with better terms, and have more handsome and highly educated spouses.” So, the next time you need a loan from the bank bring along the most attractive person you know (or their spouse) to discuss the terms. Come to think of it; why not just ask them for a loan, sure between the pair of them they must be loaded.
But to return to the substantive issue of looks – imagine a world where the more beautiful you are, the higher you are paid for doing the same job as your less attractive colleagues. Of course, women were treated like this for generations – being paid less than their male colleagues for doing the same work. So, if you happen to be an Irish woman over the age of fifty-five you don’t need to use your imagination, you just have to remember. Now your daughters and grand-daughters might experience a new type of discrimination, unless of course they look like Shakira or Beyonce; sure then they’ll be grand.
Look at all the lucrative careers that ugly people can’t pursue. You’ll never see ugly people on the cat walk or presenting the Eurovision song contest. You’ll never see a repugnant person reading the news or chairing a panel discussion on television. Unprepossessing faces do not appear on the cover of Vogue or Maire Claire. The best that a homely person can overhear about themselves in the compliments department at say a wedding is “sure she has lovely hair” or “she dresses very smartly.” But can you take comfort from the fact that if your nose doesn’t match your face at least your bag can match your shoes?
How can the plain people of Ireland benefit from reading this book? Should we form an advocacy group for plain people? Should that advocacy group lobby the government to put measures in place to give plain people a fair start in employment? Should there be a quota system whereby all large organisations have to employ an agreed number of plain people regardless of their abilities? Why not have a handicap system depending on your level of ugliness – ‘face like a workman’s bench’ – start at point seven on the increment scale; ‘face like a sack of hammers’ – start at point five on the increment scale; ‘mingin’’ – start at point three on the increment scale. If you are repulsive enough you might even start at the top of the scale. But seriously, what if you are a ‘looks-challenged’ (as Hamermesh describes it) person and you score highest in an entrance exam? You go for interview and the interviewers visibly recoil when they meet you. What to do? Find the highest scoring candidate who’s a looker? But what if their score is sub-standard? Juxtaposing beauty and intelligence – it’s a minefield.
Readers look into your hearts; look into your workplace; look at your colleagues; look at your bosses; if you are a boss – look in the mirror. If you are not the boss – are you ‘looks-challenged’? If you are the boss – are you incredibly attractive? Maybe the kind of places I have worked in all of my life are the type that skew the findings because I am wracking my brains trying to recall a hunk of a boss – nope – give up – I just can’t do it.
If, according to Hamermesh, the good lookers earn approximately €172,000 more than the plain people over their working lives, is that so significant? A ‘butt-ugly’ person would surely fork out that much on cosmetic surgery and dental work, wasting the potential extra earnings on home improvements. I wonder how many of our elected representatives did this calculation.
Just think about who was in charge when Ireland crashed? Is that why we were brow beaten and bullied by the ECB? There is no doubt about it but Jean-Claude Trichet possesses a certain gravitas and élan that were entirely missing in any of our political and financial leaders. Furthermore, if beauty pays then why isn’t Dail Eireann full of divas and studs? The ugly truth is that these people are being started at the beauty point on the scale without having reached the standard. And by the way, they never did an entrance exam. Look at what gets elected. Weeks before election they are plastered on every ESB pole, and just in case we don’t remember them, their mug shot is beside their name on the ballot paper. ‘Only the face a mother could love’ springs to mind. But armies of mammies always come out and vote. I blame the mammies of Ireland for putting these specimens in power.
As my old friend Keats confided in me,
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.’