We’ve all heard the saying ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ and ‘All that glitters is not gold.’
Well, these sayings are often spot on. Very often people are judged, at least on first impact, by their looks. Sometimes, they are judged favourably due to their perceived good looks, and sometimes they are judged negatively because of their perceived bad looks. This sort of bias has been termed, rather awkwardly perhaps, as ‘lookism’.
It is a well-known fact that physical attractiveness, both facial and physical, is associated with good, positive qualities. People are attracted to good looks and want a bit of that magic to rub off on them, as well. Since good looking people are judged favourably, they are highly likely to get the best jobs, the best salaries and therefore the best social statuses, as well. Attractive people usually have better social skills, more friends, more choice of partners and more active sex lives. Although this does not necessarily mean they are happier, most often than not, we think that they must be terribly happy and positive people!
What about people who are considered less attractive? Where does that leave them? Unfortunately, it is true that people who do not possess the height, body shape and facial features which are regarded as being attractive and desirable, are often discriminated against.
We usually think of prejudice in relation to gender, race or ethnicity as these are often the groups that are targeted most. But a movement which has largely gone unnoticed in Malta is the ‘fat acceptance movement,’ which fights against the discrimination of fat people.
When we refer to someone as being ‘fat’ we are generally simply describing a body shape. Just as ‘thin’ is another word we use. However, it is the meaning ascribed to the word ‘fat’ which, to my mind, can be discriminatory. Most people will agree that calling someone ‘thin’ is a compliment, whereas the word ‘fat’ is often used disparagingly.
The manner in which we decorate our body can often be an issue, as well. Locally, although the tattoo business is booming and most people have one, there is still an acceptable amount of tattoos that you should have. Depending on your line of work you might want to get a discreet tattoo, something which can be hidden underneath a shirt, perhaps. Because in the corporate world, they are generally still frowned upon. Even piercings can be an issue and the same goes for different hairstyles and hair colours.
Although these things are not a natural body phenomenon but an adornment, they obviously affect people’s perceptions, especially in relation to attractiveness, expected moral values and behaviour in general. A punk or rocker look, for example, are often associated with trouble makers. On the other hand, someone wearing a suit and tie and carrying a briefcase, will often be regarded as a civilised person.
This is all very misleading as the outside packaging of a person does not necessarily reflect the person’s character and personality. It is highly unfair that we should let looks be the judge of an individual’s intrinsic worth. Worse still, people often internalise society’s assessment of them as individuals and this may psychologically affect them and usually not in a positive way.
The problem, however, is that you cannot quantify prejudices about looks. Although there are general qualities, such as height and average body weight which are considered universally attractive, in reality, attractiveness is very subjective issue.
So where does that leave us? I believe that it is only through education and a greater general acceptance of diversity that unrealistic and hurtful prejudices can be avoided.