Could beauty be a business liability? According to a recent edition of Harvard Business Review, it just might be. Well, if you are a woman that is. Professor Lead D. Sheppard of Washington State University and Stefanie K Johnson, an associate professor of the University of Colorado Boulder, published a study that showed how people will rate more attractive women in the workplace as “less truthful, less trustworthy as leaders and more deserving of termination than their ordinary-looking counterparts.” (“For Women in Business, Beauty is Liability”) Haven’t we heard that beautiful men and women have a leg up in business? I’ve written about this in a number of past posts (“Hotties Get More For Free” and “Did Newsweek Get It Right?” to name a few.) The article does point out that other studies have shown women rated high on the appearance scale did benefit from being seen as more competent. While that too reflects bias, I can see how that makes sense, i.e. if you assume those women who care for their appearance may also care for their work. But to assume anyone, based on their looks alone, is more or less truthful and honest, is disturbing, to say the least.
Was it the methodology that was out of whack? Doesn’t appear that way. The professors had participants in the study read fictional articles about certain people with their photos attached, and then these participants were asked to rate the honesty of the people featured. The articles were quoting leaders explaining why certain people were laid off due to economic conditions (vs anyone’s failures). While the content remained the same, the pictures changed. There were pictures of more or less attractive men and women. Attractive men were regarded the same as unattractive men with regard to the different attributes. Not so for women.
The professors attribute some of this bias to our long history of believing women use their attractiveness to lure men. (Scary that this STILL is so deeply embedded in us.) Another reason for this bias is the long history of some women using their attractiveness to compete for men to climb social and economic ladders. Think beauty contests for example.
Many would argue that attractive people have it easier in life. There have been studies showing how attractive people get more attention, higher salaries for example. But that’s based on bias too! I’m so thrilled to say that we are now living in time of pushing to bust our biases, and a call for inclusion ALL people — all genders, ethnicities, backgrounds, in our schools, offices and media. But there are many other forms of bias we have to be aware of too. And women’s appearance, especially, is one of them. Let’s start by recognizing this is an issue, and remind ourselves that ALL people deserve a fair chance. Sexism is NOT ok. End of story.
In this week of heightened awareness of violence against women (first with the win of A Girl in the River: The Price for Forgiveness at the Oscars and second thanks to the march against violence by the UN Women for Peace), it seems an odd time to chat about beauty. It amazes me — no, downright depresses me — that violence against women is so rampant.
The topic of beauty seems so frivolous in comparison to issues of violence. Some even argue that the social pressures around beauty are a form of violence — think anorexia, Body Dysmorphic Disorder, and general low self-esteem. Oh, yeah, and you could claim that the pressure to be beautiful is a way for ensure women’s subservience to men.
But hang on there.
No question a focus on beauty can lead us down some dangerous paths. But it can also be a form of expression, rebellion and pride. From Afros and long beards in the 60’s to goth make-up in the 90’s, clothing, make-up and other things of beauty, have been powerful signals of revolt. I’ve written about this a number of times in Beautyskew over the years.
In one instance, Disturbing But Awesome, I highlighted how a famous beauty blogger, Lauren Luke, urged women to fight against domestic abuse by NOT covering up their scars with heavy make-up. She uses the extremely popular medium of beauty-how-to videos to implore women to stand up against their abusers. It is extremely powerful.
In another post, Clothing is Power, I referenced a story about a woman who wears her high heels as sign that she CAN. This is the story told by Jasvinder Sanghera, who founded Karma Nirvana in Great Britain to help victims of forced marriages and honor-based violence. In an interview with 48 Hours, she tells of a women who escaped after two years of being held captive by her family for rebelling against their traditional ways, and not marrying the man chosen for her. When Jasvinder met her for the first time after her escape, this girl was determined to express her freedom via her attire…no matter the weather or circumstances.
As I referenced in this same post, this story reminded of my college studies about Iran (a course that propelled me to study Anthropology throughout the rest of my college career). We learned how westernized, highly-educated women were forced into subservient, second-class roles in society after the revolution. No surprise they were forced to wear the chador (black veil) as a way to further limit their mobility (physical, social, educational, etc). And yet, women found little ways to rebel. How? They would wear the chador in a manner that would appear as if it were “accidentally” pushed back on their heads. Or they would sew tiny silver threads into their chador that only a few could see up close.
Lastly, our sexuality and attractiveness should be celebrated not downplayed! Why? In “Look at My Ugly Face!“, Sara Halprin, psychologist, author, and documentary film-maker explains that in ancient societies, “women’s procreative power was understood to be linked to all sorts of creative abilities.” Goddesses ruled!
So, as we gather to march or, at the very least support the UN Women for Peace March, let’s be proud to be strong, beautiful women and men who can use our power — beauty-oriented or otherwise — to change the world!
For more information about the UN Women for Peace March on Saturday March 5, visit: http://www.unwomenforpeace.org/march-in-march/
RISE. UNITE. and MARCH with us this Saturday!
“As the force of physical attraction, beauty drives fertility, inspiration, creation, and reproduction. Beauty ricochets through the body and mind … Beauty has been the root of deep division and politicization. But our attraction to beauty endures.” — Andrea Lipps and Ellen Lupton
This sums it all up for me.
I stole the quote from a great review by CNN of the “Beauty—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial” exhibition. The article describes how the exhibit’s artists, ranging from jewelry designers to ceramists to lighting designers, bring to life the many different definitions of beauty. I’ve summed up these diverse explanations of beauty as follows:
- Ever changing. Objects of beauty transform, e.g., we age or clay hardens. And of course, beauty ideals alter, e.g., overly tanned skin was out then in and now out of style.
- Expresses the passing of time. To quote the article directly: To honor his grandmother’s failing memory, Tuomas Markunpoika welded small rings of steel around a hulking wardrobe. He then burned away the wood, leaving behind a lacy shell of blackened metal.The piece became “a physical memory of the furniture—kind of a smoky, shady, semitransparent memory of it.”
- Ignites our senses. Beauty isn’t just visual but can stimulate our aural and olfactory senses as well. In one instance, visitors can experience the scent of New York Cit’s Central Park.
- Challenges our perceptions. From dresses made out of straws to images of decay, beauty pushes us to react, think, analyze and see the world anew.
This last description is, by far, my favorite. In fact I’ve been especially taken by beauty as represented by death and decay (see my post: Beauty in Decay, Dirt and Death). I know I may sound gruesome, but that’s not my point. Rather, I’m blown away by expressions of beauty that challenge our expectations.
And that is the real purpose all my posts. Originally, I chose to focus on beauty because I spent a number of years working with beauty brands, and it’s a topic that never goes out of style. But as I dug deeper into the topic, I realized how complex, fascinating and wondrous our relationship to beauty truly is. The topic of beauty can be a source of fun, angst or even ridicule. But downplaying our understanding and reaction to it isn’t the answer. Things of beauty may just strike us at first glance, but upon deeper reflection it becomes a window into our culture and ourselves. It can open our eyes to how we live, what we value, and how brilliant and creative we, human beings, truly are.
If you get a chance to visit the exhibition, let us know what you respond to.
Musings by @APosner on the @NYTimes article “Art From the Holocaust: The Beauty and Brutality in Hidden Works”
If you think beauty is a luxury and not a necessity, think again.
While in hiding or in work camps during the Holocaust, Leo Haas, Bedrich Fritta, and Nelly Toll, just age 8, struggled to survive. Smuggling food, staying sheltered, and trying their hardest not to get sick — the basics of basics — were a daily challenge. And yet, they spent their hours imagining and capturing beauty. And what’s more? They would risk their lives smuggling art supplies into their rooms to fulfill their need to express their talents.
Interestingly, Haas, Fritta and Toll didn’t depict images of horror or suffering as we would expect given their circumstances. No, they painted or drew glorious images of landscapes or fantastical paintings of fairies.
How could they let their imaginations go there? And how could they even think about beauty, let alone, risk their lives to obtain beauty supplies? What about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs? Logic tells us that we focus on immediate needs in order to survive, like food, water and shelter. Certainly art should be the last thing from our minds.
What’s going on here?
As Ms. Toll, now 80 years old, explains in the NY Times article “Art From the Holocaust: The Beauty and Brutality in Hidden Works“: ‘“When you’re fighting for your life and your basic human needs,”… creating art “is not just an escape, it’s an active choice of defiance.”’ Bedrich Fritta depicted Jewish concentration camp workers in his pieces, not as feeble, ugly and downtrodden victims (as the Nazi’s liked to show), but as muscular, proud and handsome men. He was later executed because of these works.
We often analyze art to better understand the times in which the artists lived. We learn about what sorts of technology was available or their cultural values. We effectively see the world at the time through the eyes of the artist.
But what’s so interesting in this case is that the very act of creating art — not necessarily just what it depicts, is a form of defiance and rebellion. Art was these victims’ lifesaver. It was as necessary as food and water.
Now, I’m going to tread into familiar ground. But I still feel like we have to talk about this.
Our society values the arts. Our schools have art classes, philanthropists fund museums, and city governments create boardwalks and parks. But when the budgets are cut, what’s one of the first items to go? The arts. After all, we need to learn math more than art, right? And art won’t prevent us from getting diseases. Art won’t lower the crime rate. Net, net, we don’t need art to survive.
Ah, but we do! The arts not only reminds us of what is good in our world, but it fortifies us, challenges our thinking and sparks our ingenuity. And without that those things, we, as individuals and as a community, cannot survive. If some people are willing to die for it, shouldn’t we at least raise the arts to the level of daily necessities?
These paintings are now on display at the Jewish Historical Museum in Berlin and accessible via web. Take a look and I guarantee you they will fuel your imaginations and emotions.
My buddy John alerted me to this fascinating story from the Telegraph, Is this the first Instagram masterpiece? A well-regarded young artist, Amalia Ulman, spoofs the Instagram’s selfie phenomenon to not only make a point, but to create her art recent exhibition: “Excellences & Perfections.”
This story captivated me for so many reasons. Ulman never revealed the motive behind her selfie project. Instead she shared pic after pic of herself in images typical of so many young, female-selfie-addicts (think the Kardashians). As the article says: “In some of them she posed in lingerie on rumpled bed sheets in boutique hotel rooms. In others she offered cutesy close-ups of kittens, rose petals, and strawberries and pancakes captioned “brunch”…. She was mindlessly bragging about her supposedly enviable lifestyle in LA, as she attended pole-dancing classes and underwent breast-enlargement surgery.” She admits that people started hating her as a result of these images, even warning her that her cutesy, sexy and showy attitude was going to damage her career.
But all of this was a ruse. After a year and a half of this photo diary, she collected all of her selfies and is now exhibiting them at the Tate and Whitechapel Gallery. Her point? As she tells the Telegraph:
“I wanted to prove that femininity is a construction, and not something biological or inherent to any woman … The joke was admitting how much work goes into being a woman and how being a woman is not a natural thing. It’s something you learn.”
Clearly this mastermind fooled us all.
But the other reason I love this story is that she proves a phenomenon that I’ve been witnessing and writing about for a while. We don’t speak in words, paint, or photo paper as we used to. We are visual thinkers. and we speak through the medium of a digital cloud using digital pictures, videos and memes.
Instead of using the traditional art mediums of the past, Ulman recognizes the lingua franca of today’s younger generation. As Ulman says:
“The idea was to experiment with fiction online using the language of the internet,” she explains, “rather than trying to adapt old media to the internet, as has been done with mini-series on YouTube. The cadence and rhythm were totally different.”
While our new language may seem frivolous or self-absorbing at times, it can be quite profound. It can be THE way to send a powerful and provocative message for social change. We have to dismiss our preconceptions (e.g., selfies are for ditzes) and look a little deeper. Actually check out the selfies below taken at Davos, the least ditzy place on earth right now! And when we start looking deeper, it’s amazing what we can learn about the world and ourselves.
The world-renowned New York Times columnist and author, David Brooks, published a piece on Friday that initially depressed me. In his Op-Ed, “When Beauty Strikes,” Brooks laments our lack of deep appreciation for the spiritual gifts of beauty — an appreciation that dwindled after the end of the era of Humanism. Brooks writes:
“These days we all like beautiful things. Everybody approves of art. But the culture does not attach as much emotional, intellectual or spiritual weight to beauty.” He concludes with: “The shift to post-humanism has left the world beauty-poor and meaning-deprived.”
Of course I see his point. There is no doubt that in our current times of hyper-rationalism, we don’t have the same relationship to beauty as we once had. We see it as something that defines things, like a nice object or people, versus something that stirs our souls. It is often something we critique.
So is that it? Should we just cry in our soup? Can we change this?
I refuse to be deterred by Brooks article. Not only do I believe we want to have a deeper connection to beauty, I think we are driving towards it more and more every day.
Why do I feel this so strongly? Thanks to increasing globalization, we are being exposed to world views that challenge the assumptions that come with Western culture. In Hinduism, for example, beauty is one of the “triad of ideals.” “Appreciating beauty fully and in the right manner is to experience Brahmananda—the joy of being one with the universal one.” (Source: What When How)
Also, in this digital age, our relationship to beauty and creativity has changed dramatically. The internet has helped us create, capture and communicate in a much more visual, aural and creative manner than mere words ever can. We now observe the world differently thanks to our smart phones. Open up a Facebook page, there’s no question visual communication is far more disruptive and engaging. And our access to beauty is so much greater! Look at the picture I used for this post. This was among thousands that I was able to get my hands on in a matter of seconds.
And with the advent of digital, came the ability to put our creativity to amazing use. Sure, sometimes we just want to upload something silly. But the act of developing pictures, creating and editing videos and music, even mashing up others’ clips is not just fun. It is exciting, mentally engaging and, yes, even spiritual sometimes. What better way to appreciate beauty than when we are creators of it! No doubt this creative process taps a powerful, spiritual side of us.
Do I agree that our culture often has an unfortunate relationship with beauty? Hell yes! But do I think we should be resolved to live with it? No way. And the good news is that there are ways to tap the more spiritual side of beauty. We can seek out the interpretations offered by other cultures, and we can continue to push our own creativity. We are seeing changes in Western culture thanks to digital, and especially social media, and how these have affected the ways we interact and see our world. Let’s harness these changes to help us reconnect with beauty in deeper, more powerful and more fulfilling ways.
Over the past week I noticed a number of stories about beauty contests in my feed. That’s not unusual. What WAS weird was the type of stories. Of course there were a few about the Steve Harvey guffaw at the Miss Universe contest, but there was another about a terrorist threatening to kidnap the recently anointed Miss Iraq and, even more bizarrely, one about a beauty contest for camels!
What gives? Why are there so many beauty pageants out there. And more interestingly, why do we care so much that people write stories about them, adapt them for their cultures (and local animals) and even want to kill people associated with them?? It’s 2016 already! Haven’t we evolved past the old fashioned notion that people’s beauty should be judged?
Some of you reading this may be saying to yourselves: “frankly, I don’t care about pageants, move on.” I can understand that. But understanding why some of us care about something seemingly insignificant can open our eyes into what makes us ALL tick.
I could write a whole masters thesis on the pros or cons of beauty contests. But I won’t. And I’m not making any judgements here. I just want to understand why people all over the world create and support such spectacles. And I’m not the only one who is scratching her head here. There have been scholarly works (The Why’s of Beauty Contests), books (Beauty Queens and the Global Stage) and a PBS series (Origins of the Beauty Pageant) developed around answering this question.
None of these sources have fully answered the question for me but in reading them all, I think I see some explanation.
Let’s begin by recognizing that beauty matters. Whether we like it or not, every culture admires, creates and rewards beautiful objects and people. Of course every culture has a different interpretation of what is beautiful, but in the end, each and every nation has written poems, novels and songs about someone or other’s beauty.
Ok, but why do we have to judge it? Why should beauty become something we compete over? To be fair, the human species competes over, well, almost everything. That’s why we have the Olympics, national sports, Emmy awards, you name it. Hey, we even compete with ourselves thanks to Fitbit. Because beauty is one of those things that we care about, it too has become a source of competition.
But then why can’t beauty pageants just remain another harmless form of entertainment? Why do they matter so much to people? Based on my research (albeit somewhat limited) I learned that beauty pageants, especially outside of the Western World, are loaded with political, cultural, and social significance. On the one hand, there is a strong antipathy toward them, as they are a blatant and, for some, immoral import from the West. (These contests actually started in ancient Greece but took shape in the U.S. thanks to Phineas T. Barnum (yes, as in the circus :)) On the other hand, most cultures take this construct and reshape it to match their cultural values, i.e., judge beauty but their own standards. In a way, the pageants become a source of cultural pride. Even in the U.S., some early pageants were a form of rebellion. I wrote a post last year (The Racial Dimension of Plus Sized Women) about the history of African-American’s elaborate dress code for Sunday church services. Dressing up hearkens back to the slave era and how Sunday was the one day a week when slaves could dress with dignity and beauty. Slaves would parade down the streets to show off their beauty and claim ownership of their humanity.
Beauty pageants are clearly fraught with conflicting ideals and a mix of emotions. That is exactly why they matter to people. These contests are a response to our innate and global love for beauty. But they also tap into the debasement that we fear comes along with admiring people for their beauty alone. They are examples of Western infiltration but a means to rebel against it at the same time. They tap into our love for competition and our fear of losing. Whether we support these contests or not, at least we have a better understanding of why so many of us care about them. And maybe we just have a slightly better understanding of us all.
We are taught, and still teach, our children to look beyond people’s exteriors to truly appreciate who they are. And I would be the first to endorse that.
But this doesn’t mean we should ignore people’s beauty. Beauty has become such a source of conflict in our culture. We worship and demonize it at the same time. We see it as the holy grail or petty and shallow. And we don’t want others to think we only appreciate them for how they look. (See last week’s post as proof of this.)
The result? We can’t fully accept it — either in ourselves or others. And that’s really not healthy.
There is a great independent video by teenage Chicago student, Shea Glover, that’s being circulated in social media. One day she took her video camera to school, stopped individual kids — some she’s friends with and some she isn’t — and told them that they were beautiful. It is a must see! Every teenager she approached looked different. Some were girls and some were boys. Their skin colors, styles and facial features represented every look you can imagine.
What strikes me is how almost all of them reacted in the exact same way.
First, each is surprised, even shocked, at being called beautiful.
Second, each giggled with embarrassment by the compliment, and responded with a degree of disbelief (one of her friends even curses at her!)
Finally, they all smile — I mean REALLY smile — with happiness and gratitude. As one said: “That is so nice. This has been such a great day.”
Glover explains on YouTube: “I want to clarify that my intentions were not to get a reaction out of people. I was simply filming beauty and this is the result.” For more on the video, “Things I find Beautiful”, read this story.
It’s a simple but powerful video. While it only features teenagers, I bet you most of us, no matter our age, would react similarly. It shows us that we still have a long way to go to feel confident about how we look. And it also reminds us that we need to raise the next generation — our kids, students, loved ones — to not shy away from their beauty but appreciate it. Not only will they feel better about themselves, but will see the amazing variety of beauty in others! As the video concludes: “There is so much beauty in the world. If you blink, you will miss it.”
What is also so clear to me is power of making others feel beautiful. This few seconds of interaction with Glover gave each of these kids a wonderful boost. Imagine if they felt this beautiful everyday!?!
What can we do? Appreciate our own beauty for one thing. But also help others appreciate theirs. Think of what it would like if we told at least one person every day that we thought he or she were beautiful? Maybe it’s a friend or total stranger. Plus, it’s easy! And it doesn’t cost anything. The result is so worth it. Oh, and your kids and friends will see you do this and maybe, just maybe do the same.
Hey, we are in the middle of the holiday season, scratching our heads as to what to give are friends and loved ones. How about whole-heartedly complimenting them on their individual beauty?! That’s pretty a nice gift.
Of course we are a lot more than just physical beings. But as this video shows, appreciating all of our outward beauty can make us feel oh so beautiful on the inside too.
I came across this stat in a study conducted by Girl Guiding, a charity for girls and young women in the U.K. Though the study is a few years old, it was recently quoted in a Guardian article, “From Social Media to the Catwalk: Is Fantasy Beauty Failing Young Women?”
As you can imagine from the article’s title, the Guardian story reflects on the preponderance of images of models and idealized portraits of women in social media, and how this imagery gives false and harmful notions to our girls about their own bodies. The statistic is indeed alarming, and unfortunately a belief that will be hard to break. Why? Not so much because of the actual imagery put out there. Frankly, I think we, as a society, have begun to show a greater range of what’s considered beautiful. After all, Kim Kardashian in by no means a size 0. And digital’s ability to cross borders means we get to see images of people from all different ethnicities and backgrounds that we never have before. Check out the posts I wrote: Beauty From Around the World and Why It’s Contagious or What’s the Definition of Beauty Anyway? (a story celebrating people with “abnormalities”) both of which tap into digital’s revealing of new ways to think about beauty. Do I think we can go even farther in presenting more realistic images of girls and women? Sure! But that’s not going to change our being judged by our looks.
The reason this will be a hard habit to break is that we are a visual species. Our ability to analyze information is far more sophisticated and quicker via our eyes than via language. That is why we’ve glommed on to all the photo taking, altering and sharing in the digital space. And it’s not such a bad thing! By taking, sharing, and appreciating images, we get to see a deeper story behind people’s lives. Images give so much more texture than mere words. Images offer nuance and emotional details that our texting would normally leave out. Moreover, these images remind us of the tremendous beauty that’s around us or oceans away. And that reminder elevates our daily lives — showing us how amazing our world truly is.
We make assumptions, draw conclusions and make judgments based on what we see, first. Should we be content with the high percentage of girls who believe they are judged by what they look like alone? Of course not. We have to face the reality that our eyes will draw conclusions. Let’s not ignore that. What we can do is urge one another to not STOP at what we see, but rather dig into what’s behind the exterior. And we must start with ourselves.
I actually think there’s even another way to look at this issue. Let’s not devalue the exterior beauty of what and who is around us. Let’s certainly NOT pretend it doesn’t exist. We SHOULD recognize it. In fact, let’s appreciate all people’s beauty, and recognize that how people uniquely appear is part of the story to be sussed out and listened to. It’s not an all or nothing proposition. We should value all the amazing characteristics of things and people — their unique beauty along with their origins, their stories, their talents and generosity. If we see — and remind our children and friends to see — that all people are a collection of traits, some physical, some emotional, some spiritual and some intellectual, we will value people as a whole that much more.
We have the amazing power to look AT and look INTO our world. Let’s do both and maybe that statistic will be a thing of the past.