It's What's On The Outside That Counts

school marm

The ugly truth is that looks matter.

Just last week we were extolling the virtues of being a late arrival to the pretty game.

"Being a late bloomer," our clever blogger Jed wrote, "usually means you're either super smart, really good at something, or used to be, well, less attractive. In any of these cases, it's a positive."

Indeed, wouldn't most of us — if forced to choose between the two — rather grow into our looks than out of them? We think so. But that got us to thinking about something else: What happens if you start off not so pretty and never grow out of it?

According to a new piece in the New York Times, it means you have a tough road ahead — because, as it turns out, attractiveness is one of those areas in life in which stereotypes tend to be self-fulfilling.

As Professor Susan Fiske, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Princeton University, tells the Times, attractive people are "credited with being socially skilled...if you're beautiful or handsome, people laugh at your jokes and interact with you in such a way that it's easier to be socially skilled."

At the same time, Dr. Fiske says: "If you're unattractive, it's harder to get all that stuff because people don't seek you out."

And what, according to Dr. Fiske, makes a person attractive? Well, if you're a woman (unfortunately, she does not talk about men), it means you "have baby-faced features," "don't look dominant," and are percevied as "not threatening."

What then, is an intimidating, man-faced woman to do?

Apparently, there aren't a lot of choices. But one thing you can try to do is contradict everyone's preconceived notions about you.

Think, for example, about Susan Boyle, the overweight, middle-aged Britian's Got Talent sensation. Audiences — looking only at her exterior — presumed she had little to offer them. But when she began singing angelically, their expectations were belied, and the novelty, according to Rutgers Unviversity anthropology professor Helen Fisher, led to a "dopamine reaction" in their brains that made them feel good.

In other words, she forced people to see beyond their shallowness.

So take note, ugly ducklings, while you may not necessarily grow up to be a swan, or even the amazing Susan Boyle, you do have the ability to surprise people. So practice those tap-dancing routines or show tunes or whatever else you have underneath that terrible hair and awful wardrobe. It might just be the case that — as soon as you expose your magic to the world — people will see everything beautiful about you that they're normally too blind to notice.