Ask Belle: Pretty is as pretty does.

Jun 8, 2012

Belle,

I’m sure you’ve seen this article, but I thought it would make a good discussion post.  I don’t think the woman was very smart, complaining about being treated badly because she’s pretty.  But do you think she was right?

KL

The article the reader references was written by a 41-year-old British woman named Samantha Brick.  The title?  ‘There are downsides to looking this pretty’: Why women hate me for being beautiful.

Whether you think Samantha Brick is attractive or not (the jury is out on that one), we all know that people are treated differently and judged based on the way that they look.  Studies have found that tall men are seen as better leadersBrunettes are viewed as being smarter than blondes.  And there have been times in all of our lives where the treatment we received from others was based on our physical appearance.

In the article, Brick laments the horrible treatment that she has suffered at the hands of women jealous of her beauty–never being asked to be a bridesmaid, being turned down for promotions at work–assuming that all of the slights were based on her appearance.  But reading the article, I think that the attitude developed by thinking you’re the “fairest in all the land” is the more likely culprit.  After all, what woman wants to be friends with someone who is so stuck on herself that she “can’t wait for the wrinkles and grey hair that will help me blend into the background?” 

The trouble with believing that you are treated well or poorly solely based on your looks is that it prevents you from considering the possibility that there is another reason for the treatment.  Several years ago, a junior employee expressed to a group of our co-workers that she felt I disliked her because she was prettier than I was.  The truth was, I had a negative opinion of her because she felt her job was beneath her and often behaved in shockingly immature ways. But in her mind, the only reason for my negative opinion of her was my own jealousy.  That lack of perspective is truly dangerous in a professional setting.

So maybe Brick is right.  Maybe men give her free things and treat her well because they are so taken with beauty.  Maybe women loathe and despise her because she is prettier and slimmer and blonder than they are.  But the real problem with her attitude is that it prevents her from considering the possibility that there might be another reason.

And one final thought before I close.  It’s empowering when a woman says, “I think I’m beautiful despite my flaws.”  But when a woman says, “I am beautiful, and I’m treated differently because of it,” it’s ugly.  Because the former is indicative of a positive self-image, and the latter is indicative of a self-centered attitude.

So what do you ladies think?  Have you been treated differently because of your appearance?  Do you think it’s unfair how much backlash the Brick has received?

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  1. Jen says:

    Great discussion piece! I was trying to articulate this the other day but couldn't seem to find the words to say it: sometimes I do feel like there are missed opportunities for me in the workplace because of my age and looks. I'm 24 and going into my third year of law school. In a male dominated profession, I feel like some men don't take the time to reach out to or mentor younger women because they are afraid of the perception. I'm attractive but I don't think I'm just jaw dropping beautiful either, however, relative to the community I'm probably considered very attractive. No one has ever said anything directly to me or ever insinuated anything negative about my age or looks which also makes me think that I am making this up in my head?

    Does anyone else feel insecure about approaching older men for a meeting or lunch just to discuss their careers because they don't want to make the man feel uncomfortable?

  2. Mallory says:

    I have no sympathy at all for Ms. Brick. I believe that if she (or any individual) really had been consistently passed over for promotions due solely to their physical appearance, the proper (and mature) course of action would have been to address the so-called slight with a boss or supervisor. Chances are, she was passed over for legitimate reasons (an undue sense of entitlement or bad attitude, perhaps).

    I've read her article and, personally, it reeks of the angsty teenage posts you see online, when some 15 year old posts a photo of themselves looking perfectly fine in an outfit, whining that “Ugh, I'm sooooo ugly/fat/gross/phishing for compliments!”

  3. Belle says:

    Jen: That's very common esp. in politics. It's why we need more female mentors because sometimes the men don't feel they can mentor young women without drawing negative attention.

    There is an old Hill Life post on the topic that you may want to read: https://capitolhillstyle.squarespace.com/capitol/2011/8/17/the-hill-life-cross-gender-networking.html

  4. A fan! says:

    Ms. Brick has some valid points:) Women can be catty and in some cases, being “attractive” is a detriment. I am no supermodel by any stretch, but was once told by a male manager (we're in the IT field) that there's no way I could possible be a technical writer. Too good looking…

  5. LW says:

    Belle, totally agree with you. Maybe Ms. Brick has been treated differently, for better or worse, because of her appearance. But to assume that ALL of those things are because of her appearance is irrational. I think she needs to look deeper into what else could be causing these perceived slights, and if she wasn't ready for the public backlash, she shouldn't have written an article about it.

  6. jvb says:

    I've read the article by Ms. Brick and agree with the general consensus that she might not have the best point of view.

    As a young looking, attractive woman, I experience situations regularly where my (suspected) age and looks have been brought up by team members and coworkers. This is sometimes positively (a compliment), sometimes in a derogatory fashion (“Don't give me that Stepford Wife smile”, “Aren't you an intern?”).

    I personally always wear my wedding bands and another ring on my right hand, and I try to gently remind people that I'm married/older than they think/ an upper-level employee. I also find that it's best just to reply to complements with a “Thank you” and change the subject. And, I always do my best work and complement others. The whole Audrey Hepburn beautiful eyes quote applies in the workplace too.

  7. Amber says:

    From a 6-decade perspective, if other women/men perceive you to be attractive, they may very well react negatively. They may also prove to be quite immature in other ways.

    Mature women/men, of any physical age, don't waste time on physical characteristics. but get quickly to mental, emotional, ethical qualities. Goodness has a radiance all its own.

  8. K says:

    UGH! This article is so frustrating. If she has such a hard time with catty girls, why doesn't she get hotter friends? I find it hard to believe no other females in England can measure up to her beauty. Perhaps she likes being the hottest one in the room – and then its unsurprising to see why her friends resent her.

    For the work environment, clearly first impressions are primarily based on looks. But then too prettier people have the advantage. In my experience, (studying in a technical field with not many females so in context I was considered pretty) people tend to think I'm ditzy, so when it turns out I'm competent I get inordinate amounts of praise. There's a lower bar set for attractive people because they're deemed to be stupid, so it's easy to work a bit harder initially to change this attitude and get disproportionally favorable reviews of your work. It's similar to what Hillary Clinton called the “talking dog syndrome” – for some (sexist) people, having a competent woman is so rare that if it happens they're praised for things they should already be doing. If pretty people come in with an entitled attitude, it will be harder to shake than if they were ugly, and then I can see where the complaints come from. But then again, it's more of a factor of their bad attitude vs. their attractiveness.

  9. RMS says:

    I agree that it is not the level of attractiveness but the attitude that rubs people the wrong way. I feel like I've been surrounded by beautiful women my entire life and whenever I've had an issue with anyone in school or at work, it wasn't because one of us was prettier, it was because one of us needed an attitude adjustment.

  10. Kate says:

    I mean she says right in the article what is likely making other women uncomfortable. She mentions having flirted with male superiors to get ahead at work which she is “sure other women do.” I have a feeling that if she finds that acceptable, there may be some truth to her friends feeling uncomfortable with her being around their partners or why female superiors seem to not be willing to promote her. Also note that it's other women who tell her “Oh she's just jealous of you.” That to me sounds more like a friend trying to comfort someone than a legitimate piece of workplace 'intel' so to speak. I agree with an earlier poster that it seems more than a bit unprofessional on her part to not address such an issue face to face with a superior if she truly thought it was such a petty issue that could be potentially harming her career.

    Also, she openly puts other women down in this, saying that she is putting “work” into her appearance by working out and not “succumbing” to chocolate, which implicitly says that these other women are not TRYING to look good and if they only stop being so weak and eating desserts, maybe we could all be getting free bottles of champagne.

  11. M says:

    Reminds me of a recent Glamour article discussing how “overweight” or “thin” women are perceived by other women. Not exactly the same, but worth reading. Here's a summary from HuffPost:

    https://www.huffingtonpost.com/margaret-wheeler-johnson/overweight-women-thin-glamour-survey_b_1476335.html

  12. BBB says:

    RMS – Agreed 100% about the “attitude adjustment.”

    If you (meant as a collective) are constantly being passed up for things, or treated in a way that you deem to be unfair, whether you feel it is because of your looks or some other reason…at some point, you have to look inside yourself and ask, “is it me?” It's easier said than done – no one likes to admit fault or flaws. I'm not great at practicing what I preach. But at some point, you have to realize that EVERYONE else can't be crazy, and they can't ALL be wrong, either.

    Also, does anyone remember Jessica Biel saying she can't book jobs because she's too pretty? https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/19/jessica-biel-in-allure-my_n_205115.html

    If I recall, JB's comments didn't get quite the backlash that Ms. Brick's did.

  13. Kate says:

    It (somewhat) sounds like the author is describing the “The Queen Bee Syndrome.” I've heard this term mentioned in research in the academic areas of management and labor economics. As I understand it, queen bees are known for being more critical of female subordinates and less likely to help other (often younger) females succeed. Sadly, I experienced this first hand during my doctoral program. Thankful, I had other wonderful mentors that helped me through the process.

    Now personally, I feel some (or most) of the author's statements in this article are a bit ridiculous. I am a firm believer in working hard, not whining, and being the best you can be. I am on my second career (as an academic), and it appears to have worked so far. (In both careers, I was in male dominated fields).

  14. Well said, Belle. This was the response I had to this piece, too, but you worded it far better!

  15. LAG says:

    Not exactly on topic, but the issue of beauty/fashion in the workplace comes up for me often. I work in a very academic field, and while women are not scarce in my field, women who dress fashionably, wear makeup, and appear what is commonly viewed as “presentable,” are. Just this week I attended a conference, and I often felt out of place due to the fact that I was wearing (slight!) makeup and had a few pieces of jewelry on.

    The presumption is that, if you look “too good,” you have spent too much time on your appearance and not time working and studying. I hate this! I do not believe that I need to appear frumpy to be considered intelligent enough or legitimate enough- and I welcome the day when I feel more comfortable presenting my ideas AND looking good while doing it. Maybe some of that will come with age, I don't know.

  16. A says:

    “I'm 24 and going into my third year of law school. In a male dominated profession, I feel like some men don't take the time to reach out to or mentor younger women because they are afraid of the perception. I'm attractive but I don't think I'm just jaw dropping beautiful either, however, relative to the community I'm probably considered very attractive. No one has ever said anything directly to me or ever insinuated anything negative about my age or looks which also makes me think that I am making this up in my head?

    Does anyone else feel insecure about approaching older men for a meeting or lunch just to discuss their careers because they don't want to make the man feel uncomfortable?”

    Jen, the men normally approach you and don't feel bad about approaching them. It was painfully obvious in law school that some professors and practitioners were more interested in being around me than my male peers. Obviously don't actually do anything inappropriate with them, but work the advantage that some men like being around younger attractive women more than young or old men.

  17. EJ says:

    I've been on the hill for some time now, but when I first started out I didn't have any mentors except for a few older (40ish?) male chiefs of staff that I had some previous connection with (friend of a friend). I got a lot of great advice from them, but eventually both started making uncomfortable passes at me. Eventually, both blatantly propositioned me. One was married, one was not, but both were aware that I had a boyfriend at the time. I'm pretty average-looking, so I don't think that was a factor. It sucks, but I guess this is kind of a reality. I ditched both for a couple years and found a female chief of staff who I became great friends with. I've reconnected with my former mentors and the message was received. It's just another added hurdle to being a successful woman on the hill.

  18. Jennifer says:

    I read her piece and found it shallow and full of self-importance. Could it be that her personality has prevented her from receiving a promotion, from being a bridesmaid? I am in a male-dominated field, but instead of “flirting” to get ahead, I try to look presentable and let my ideas speak for me. Though I do think that some females could be intimidated by a very attractive co-worker, but if you have a nice personality and are humble, that can go a long way to smooth ruffled feathers.

  19. Sarah says:

    Whatever. No discussion necessary, she's vapid and feeding the sharks….and she has creepy dead stalker eyes. shudder

  20. Maharani says:

    I had several reactions to this: my first was the strongest. I grew up in England and lived there till I was 26-the Daily Mail is a rag like the now defunct News of the World-I wouldnt take anything in it as serious journalism.

  21. Artemisia says:

    Belle, I think you have it exactly right. Something about her is repelling people but as long as she reverts to “they're just jealous”, she'll never buckle down to the hard work of getting over herself and developing some self-awareness, humor, and caring/empathy/respect for the people around her.

    Her thesis just doesn't hold up to scrutiny in the real world. There are millions of drop-dead gorgeous bridesmaids and best friends and rising execs whose looks are secondary to their lovely personal qualities and competence.

    If anything, good looks benefit women. I'm totally average-looking but in a setting where I'm relatively pretty (I work in tech….) my opinions and work get a lot more attention and consideration. It's obvious enough that I might think twice about working in a setting where I was relatively old and unattractive compared to my peers. Wow, I can't believe I'm admitting that online.

  22. B says:

    I actually read an article the other day (in a German newspaper, sorry) about a study that showed how attractive women actually do statistically have a harder time getting hired if they're selected by the company's own HR department rather than and independent HR firm and if said HR department is predominantly staffed by women (as is often the case). The scientists' explanation was that the women selecting the candidates would be disinclined to select women they perceived as more attractive than themselves. In very large firms or where hiring was outsourced to an independent HR company and the women wouldn't be sharing the workplace in the future, the effect disappeared. Apparently, there seems to be something to this, crazy as it may sound.

  23. Lurker says:

    I dunno. Maybe she's overstating it, but HATERISM is a true fact of life, whatever it's basis – jealousy of your beauty, wealth, salary, intelligence, success. I've always thought (and personally observed) that some degree of attractiveness ALWAYS helps you professionally. Seen any butt ugly U.S. Presidents lately? Or even politicians, for that matter. (Remember how everyone mocked Janet Reno… ijs). Also, I'm in Law, and generally big rainmakers are almost always “attractive” as well as charismatic. I know there are some homely law partners, but they tend to be in tax, real estate, patent prosecution and other legal areas where you're at your desk more than in front of clients. JMHO.

  24. RA says:

    Its all in her head…she is not that pretty. Average at best….with a terrible work ethic and ego. She's trying to blame this on looks? Maybe she would benefit from some old fashioned hard work.

  25. gingerr says:

    I've never been a bridesmaid, have been turned down for good assignments, yelled at in big meetings and generally trampled upon.

    Except for the bridesmaid thing I always assumed it was because I'm a sub-contractor. Life kind of sucks that way when you're at the bottom of the pile. Ocoursese when everybody needs something to happen I'm the one they love.

    I guess now I know it's not because I'm a sub, it's because I'm attractive.

  26. GoGoGo says:

    Wow, Samantha Brick is a piece of work. Well said by many commenters already.

    I tend to think your attitude is ultimately everything. Your looks play into the attitude you project, but physical appearance has to be really extreme to “doom” someone to success or failure at something.

    There's a popular statistic that tall men make more money. (This is slightly different than the study Belle linked to.) For a while, it was just accepted as dogma that employers must look at tall men and think that they're better specimens of manhood, and deserve more raises and advantages.

    Then these researchers went back and looked at the same data. They found that it wasn't the height a man was at the time, but the height he was at age 16 that was a better predictor of his adult income.

    The idea then is, it's not that the world is coming at men with a pro-height bias. It's that a man is comes at the world with a given attitude. If he was a tall, maybe athletic teenager, he's more likely to enter the workforce with certain kinds of confidence and poise and maybe aggression and other traits that translate into professional success.

    Women have all kinds of relationships with how they look over the course of their lifetime, which turn into all kinds of complexes about how we deal with people. I think these complexes certainly have an impact on our professional selves, but it's the complexes and not the faces that are the bigger issue.

    Some people have burns, birth defects, really extreme features–those women must be legitimately constrained back by their looks in their lives in frustrating ways. But for the rest of us, I think if we can't figure out a way to play with the hand we're dealt, and look good and feel good about it, that's on us.

    https://www.economist.com/node/1099333

  27. Sam says:

    I concur with Lurker: Charisma, natural gregariousness and conventional good looks are definitely hallmarks of Successful People™. Lawyers, presidents, etc. If people find you attractive — not necessarily sexually attractive, but pleasing to look at and comfortable to be around — they will have an easier time liking you and listening to what you have to say.

    Not that this is fair or anything. Just human nature.

    That said: This woman rubs me the wrong way in so many, many ways. You know what's not attractive? Complaining that you're too good-looking. If she was attractive in personality as (she seems to think) she is in looks, she wouldn't draw the dislike and contempt that she does.

  28. Rose says:

    Biases do exist, and we are treated differently because of our look. But not getting a promotion or never being invited to be a bride-maid due to her appearance is hard to believe since those happening lie a lot on how she acts.

    Even if some of her claims are true, she could have done something about that. People can be jealous, but it's hard to hate well-intention people as well.

    After of all, it's largely up to her deciding how people view her as a person.

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