I finally finished reading Deborah Rhode’s Beauty Bias.  (I gave my thoughts on the New York Times’s review of the book in an earlier post, A Legal Approach to Beauty.)

Rhode’s offers a compelling case for broader legislation against appearance discrimination.  Whether you’re obese or stick thin, sexy or frumpy, tall or short, wear no earrings or 10 of them, etc., your appearance should never be a factor in performance evaluations.  If you can do the job, appearance shouldn’t be an issue.  Ever.

Sounds great, right?

But wait a second, think I, this approach can have a dramatic impact on the brands I help create!  Why?  Because brands do a lot more than sell products.  They sell an image.  And that image is made up of many experiential and intangible elements, including the very people who sell it.  In other words, the appearance, behavior, and sense of style, i.e., the image, of personnel that come in contact with customers is itself a skill set.

Example: let’s say you own a luxury brand, and it’s critical that all touch points of the brand reflect the beauty and aspirations that your brand hopes to impart to prospective customers, especially since most luxury brands don ‘t have the “luxury” of using mass media to tell their brand “stories.”  I would advise you to design a magnificent showroom, create glossy, highly-styled print ads, and invest heavily in a captivating digital site that brings the splendor and details of the brand’s products to life.

But it would also be important that all personnel who come in contact with your customers reflect the brand’s values.  As such, they would need a variety of particular talents, and significant among these is that they would appear a certain way, e.g., polished, stylish and “aspirational.”  (By the way, the same holds true if we’re talking about brands on the total opposite end of the spectrum.  Can you imagine a coiffed, high-heeled sales professional with long talons at Home Depot advising you on how to install a kitchen in your home?  Would this person really inspire you to buy the product?)

Rhode is right in saying that if someone is able to do the job, he/she should never be discriminated against on the basis of appearance.  But what Rhode misses is that sometimes because of people’s appearances they actually can’t do the job.

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