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Do good-looking people have a better life?

Research seems to say so. But in a world where beauty (for men and women) seems to matter more than ever, what can someone not-so-good-looking do? Parul Khanna explores.

brunch Updated: Nov 09, 2013 17:11 IST
Parul Khanna

We can’t escape it, this obsession with being beautiful. And so we try to embrace it, by being part of the clique of pretty people. Since we were children, we have seen pretty babies getting more attention. In school, the pretty students always had more friends, while the rest had to work hard to get noticed.

The grown-up world is no different. Especially if these statistics are to be believed: A study by the University of Messina, Italy, titled Searching for a Job is a Beauty Contest, cited in The Independent this year claims that attractive people are more likely to be recommended for a job, considered more qualified for a job, and more likely to succeed at work. Daniel Hamermesh, author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful and an economics professor at the University of Texas, USA, wrote an article, On the Job, Beauty Is More Than Skin-Deep in The Wall Street Journal in 2011, where he said said that the bias doesn’t stop once you have been hired. Attractive people are also more likely to be paid more for a job, and less likely to be fired.

Author of Survival of the Prettiest and practising psychologist Nancy Etcoff goes to the extent of saying that physically attractive defendants are less likely to be perceived as guilty when they’ve been charged with a crime.

Hollywood actress Marilyn Monroe's beauty is universal

You’ll have to admit that there’s some truth to all this. “If you’re not defined by your good looks, you are more likely – at first – to be ignored in a room,” says fashion guru Prasad Bidapa, who has groomed many models to become stars. As Nancy Etcoff adds, “To tell people not to take pleasure in beauty is like telling them to stop enjoying food or sex or novelty or love.’’ She says that her argument is not new and her book cites studies which reveal startling facts. For instance, infants will stare longer at faces deemed by adults to be attractive.

It’s a harsh world. Good-looking people are taken more seriously, at least initially. That’s why ‘beautiful’ people are everywhere, selling everything. Popular culture reinforces this ‘truth’. It seems to be telling us: you are not good looking? You just got served a raw hand by God.

But here’s the real tragedy: in the process, we aren’t laying enough emphasis on developing other aspects of our personalities.

Fashion and popular culture writer Shefalee Vasudev says that along with the pressure to look good and be well-groomed at all times, there’s an additional pressure to be ‘with it’. “There’s this accent on visibility, on being ‘amazing’ and ‘happening’. On the one hand, the coded message in popular culture is ‘look good’, and on the other hand, it says ‘be smart’ (or appear smart). In the process, we are not giving intelligence, kindness, flexibility, sensitivity or empathy a place in the popular narrative,” she points out.

First, are you a looker?
Doesn’t beauty lie in the eyes of the beholder? Social commentators say that on the contrary, beauty is actually quite universal. Of course, the definition keeps shifting – from region to region, culture to culture and country to country. But research has shown that there are people who would be considered attractive anywhere, and others who would be considered plain anywhere. Think of Aishwarya Rai or Angelina Jolie or Marilyn Monroe or Madhubala. Celebrity advertising guru and social commentator Prahlad Kakkar says of Rai, “Her appeal is universal. It transcends decades, as well as geographical borders. She’s scientifically established as a classic beauty – her face is heart-shaped, her torso-to-legs ratio is perfect and she has an aquiline nose.”
Good for her, but not everyone is born with those near-perfect statistics.

This universal definition is fed to us by the media and the movies. And it’s often blamed for being an incorrect representation of larger reality. Arun Nair, national creative director at Lowe Lintas, points that images of beautiful people are as unreal as the glossy hair in shampoo ads. “I have never seen anyone having such glossy hair outside the studio where the commercials are shot,” he says. Bidapa adds that the kind of good looks we see are a myth. “Today, Deepika Padukone is a stunner, but she wasn’t always so. People may spot her at the airport and find her plain. She has been extensively groomed.”

Life beyond it
So if you’re not lucky enough to be good looking (and let’s face it, most people aren’t), what do you do?
For starters, make the best use of what you have. Aim for optimum maintenance of what you have (proudly). Embellish your personality. “Be smart, intelligent, informed, funny, interesting and emphatic. These are qualities that are not easily available and will give you a lead,” says Vasudev. In short, work on the inside so it shines through.

Adds Bidapa, “When I groom girls, I teach them how to carry off the features they have, move themselves, tilt their neck and head. Create a vibe. I believe it’s basically a vibe that translates into evoking and inspiring devotion, rather than beauty. Be smart and know what you can polish and what you cannot.”

Replicate the benefit
Being beautiful gives you an edge, but what exactly is it? What do good-looking people have that the ‘not-so-good-looking’ people don’t? Daniel Hamermesh says that being pretty creates a boost in self-esteem and confidence. Confidence translates into more productivity. So how do you get that confidence?

Communications consultant Dilip Cherian says ‘content’ is the key. “Content translates into confidence. If you have content, looks can be polished. There’s an incorrect fixation that by enhancing looks, your content is enhanced too,” he points out. In other words, confidence is self-belief. It can be built by working very hard, and aiming to be best at what you do. “And do it again and again, and there you have it.”

“If your self-belief is punctured, you won’t have confidence. Look around you,” says Vasudev. “You need to have belief in your abilities and knowledge of what you are good at. It could be your ability to work hard, persevere or be emphatic. Even our popular-culture icons are not the most good-looking people; they are people who have the right amount of belief in themselves.”

Life coach Priya Kumar says that the one way to assess if you have self-confidence or not is to ask yourself, “Can I do it again? If anything gets wiped out from my life, do I have to ability to create it again? Then how much can someone take away from you?” Self-belief is doing what you do ‘damn well’, continually growing and continually being able to “do it again.”

Nancy Etcoff says that people who focus on their looks as a major source of their self-esteem tend to be less happy than people who focus on, say, their social life. Why? “In general we’re social animals, so people without good relationships tend to be less happy; the same is true if you’re not doing activities that bring out your strengths. Those are the sources of real happiness,” she writes.

So, don’t fret. Restore what you think needs work, get your confidence going. As Bidapa says, “It’s all about the vibe”.
Follow @ParulKhannaa on Twitter

Hollywood actor Cary Grant would be considered good looking anywhere in the world

Women considered attractive across the world have these features in common:

1. Symmetrical face: The distance between the eyes, nose, lips are in sync.

2. Classic hour-glass figure: Buxom. The waist is only 70 per cent of the width of the hips.

3. Features: Big eyes, full lips, small nose and chin.

4. Hair: Long and vivid coloured hair, preferably till the hips. Eyes should be in a vivid colour too.

5. Face shape: Oval, round.

6. Skin: Clear, healthy skin.

Subconsciously, the parametres that make a man universally attractive indicate his virility (for a woman, they indicate her fertility):

1. Rugged looks: Someone who looks masculine and has a square jaw.

2. Skin: Surprisingly, a man with clear and healthy skin is considered handsome. It shows that he is healthy enough to procreate.

3. Hair: Vivid coloured hair.

4. Physique: A V-shaped body, wide shoulders and strong arms.

5. Adonis ratio: The shoulders should be a little more than double the waist, eg: if the waist is 28 inches, the shoulders should be 45.3 inches.

From HT Brunch, November 10

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