The hypocrisy of judging those who have become more beautiful

When I read it recently As for the leg lengthening operation, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of absurdity in the whole idea. Although I’m not above average height—I’m 5’9, thank you very much—genuinely liking the men mentioned in the article didn’t come naturally. Even when it happened, my sympathy was mixed with an element of comedic pathos, like for a man who had just been kicked in the groin.

Since then, however, I have begun to suspect that my visceral reaction to leg-lengthening surgery, or any surgery designed to enhance physical attractiveness, might be contrary to egalitarian ideals. Physical beauty is completely random, and you have no more control over your sexuality than the zip code you were born into. Not being, so to speak, a “tenner” is no more a reason to feel shame or pride than not being born in a duchy. Correcting deficiencies beyond our control generally does not result in charges. However, the desire to undergo significant physical enhancement is often seen as rude, even though it directly targets a widespread but overlooked type of discrimination: lookism.

For the uninitiated, lookism means discrimination based on physical attractiveness. While most forms of discrimination are limited (often by definition) to certain demographic groups (for example, misogyny cannot be applied to men), lookism spares no one. And I mean nobody, because time eventually betrays even the most famous beauties. Remember that in the film Top Shooter 2Kelly McGillis replaces Jennifer Connelly. If singling out McGillis sounds sexist, it’s because lookism also has a gendered dimension, with Tom Cruise reprising his role 36 years ago. (So ​​do Indiana Jones and many James Bonds, while Charlie continues to replace his Angels.)

Even outside of Hollywood, of course, sexiness pays off. Psychologist Nancy Etcoff illustrated lookism in her 1999 book. Survival of the most beautiful: the science of beauty with a startling statistic: only two US presidents, James Madison and Benjamin Harrison, were below average height. The legal system is not immune, as more physically attractive people also receive lighter sentences and pay smaller fines. A 2021 study by sociologists at Harvard University and Washington University in St. Louis even found that income differences caused by perceived attractiveness are comparable to or even greater than the income gap between blacks and whites.

Having become puppets of evolutionary mechanisms (hell, even birds choose their feather partners), humans have always been complicit in lookism, which may also have been responsible for the destruction of a civilization or two. (A homely Helen or Cleopatra, one suspects, might have made the story unfold differently.) But lookism remains a relatively obscure term that has not yet entered critical parlance and that even few scholars engage with.

The term’s closest analogue, “beautiful privilege”, suggests a frivolity that undermines its serious implications and is perhaps one of the reasons why “lookism” is ignored: beauty is seen as too superficial a concept to explore. Another problem when discussing lookism is the blurred line between victims and perpetrators. Claiming to be a victim is admitting that you are ugly, and calling someone a victim is a real insult. (The truth may be that we all play the role of both the oppressed and the oppressor.) There are other complications, since engaging in lookism can invite many unkind interpretations. If we consider height enhancement surgery to be socially acceptable, do we prefer short stature to a biological defect? Is facial asymmetry becoming a kind of congenital disease? Are we pathologizing the lack of beauty?

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