Lookism

Jan 06 2016 Published by under Uncategorized

An op-ed in the NYTimes about being ugly hit some good points, but sort of skirted some of the important issues. The main message was don't lie to kids and tell them they are beautiful when they're not.

One of the points the author,

I loved the Lord of the Rings, books and movies. I still go back and watch the scene where in the movie of The Two Towers, the elves show up to help defend the men when I need to remember I have allies in this world. I listen to the soundtrack when I need inspiration.

But, in books and movies,  it was very clear: evil means bad teeth, bad skin, bad hair. Good means clear skin, even teeth and occasional bathing, even in battle. One of the strong points about Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (the books, not the movie, read the books) is that evil comes cloaked in a pretty package.

The op-ed is mostly about raising children and their perceptions. What's not discussed (and really, one can only do so much in an op-ed), but worthy of consideration are the adult repercussions. We are judging all the time: not just grades and papers and grants, but which undergrad to take into our lab, who the work with, who to ask for help. The unconscious biases of race and gender and age play a part, but so do how people look. The intersection between look and race and age and gender is pretty strong, too. Older women in particular have issues (as does the internet, trying googling "older women" and just about anything, or even by itself - oye), since in females age and beauty are strongly linked (and evolutionary psychologists, please don't tell me we evolved for this, we also evolved to fight wolves, but don't do that so much any more). We can't solve all the problems in the world. But, keeping it in mind is a simple way to fight it.

9 responses so far

  • DJMH says:

    I've always thought the use of looks in kids books is an interesting topic, because it's not as simple as the Op-Ed makes out. Consider the number of times that a very good person is disguised in an ugly exterior, and the test of good character is whether someone treats that ugly person well. Eg, the woman who casts the spell on the Beast, as well as (eventually) the Beast himself; or the Frog Prince. Admittedly these characters turn better looking when they are "revealed", but still they set the message that looks are exterior, not what we truly value.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Malfoys, hot. Weasleys, not.

  • Zuska says:

    This is what's so great about the original Shrek movie - the true form is not the traditional beauty, the true form of the beloved is the ogre. Shrek is actually a deeply subversive movie but since most folks don't spend a lot of time analyzing movies it became a hit anyway and people let their children watch and love it. The ones who need it got the message.

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