Women, including those in our Sixty and Me community, know what research confirms: one is fortunate to be good-looking. Physical attractiveness is a major factor in how we are treated.

The Beauty Bias

Books have been written about this beauty bias: Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, by Nancy Etcoff; In Your Face: The New Science of Human Attraction, by David Perrett; Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful, by David S. Hammermesh; The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law, by Deborah L. Rhode; Looks: Why They Matter More than You Ever Imagined, by Gordon Patzer, Ph.D.

Dr. Patzer’s comprehensive, research-based book Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined is the source for much of the rest of this article.

 
 

Lookism

In chapter after chapter, Dr. Patzer demonstrates the effects of “lookism” as documented by a variety of studies on: dating, mating and marriage; family dynamics and favoritism; treatment in school; advancement in the workplace; treatment before the law, especially in trials; election to public office; beliefs about marriage and career possibilities; the “dark side” of anorexia and bulimia; the Big Business of beauty.

Biological Bases

The ancients often thought that beauty was a sign of God’s approval and homeliness a sign of disapproval, however, evolutionary biologists explain our preference for attractiveness as part of the battle to pass on more of one’s genes into the succeeding generations.

The classic womanly hour-glass figure has been found to correlate with female fertility. Men prefer slender, busty women, just as women prefer tall men with lots of dark hair and even beards.

In fact, “a multitude of studies shows that [physical attractiveness] is by far the most important factor in evaluating both prospective mates and prospective dates.” Women most notice a man’s height, and men most notice a woman’s weight.

Internet dating has shown, yet again, that appearance is generally the most important element in how a potential date evaluates him or her, regardless of résumé. Besides choosing flattering profile photos, some try to enhance attractiveness by adjusting height, weight, and age in any written description.

Partly, beauty is an absence of flaws. Some genetic inadequacies are related to one another; absence of visible flaws may signal the absence of significant unseen flaws.

In general, humans find beauty in symmetry. Again, symmetry also suggests the absence of some genetic errors. Attractiveness is having features that fall within the typical ranges for humans, suggesting genetic suitability.

Cosmetics and Clothes

It has been said that “clothes make the man.” Indeed, being well dressed is a plus, but women have been even more focused than men on fashion and cosmetics throughout our recorded history.

Reproductive attractiveness is enhanced by the changes that women undergo once a month. Some makeup mimics these changes; some cosmetics mimic the changes women experience during sexual arousal.

Birds of a Feather

We tend to see ourselves as more or less attractive depending on the attractiveness of those around us. Feeling attractive tends to raise self-esteem. It’s nice to be one of the Beautiful People. However, hanging out with others much better looking than ourselves tends to undercut our confidence. Some seek unattractive friends rather than those who might be more competition.

The Mating Game

Unfortunately, perhaps, physical attractiveness strongly influences success in finding and keeping a mate. Attention to weight and health and musculature can help, along with good grooming, careful selection of clothing and use of cosmetics, and enhancement of those secondary characteristics that play small but real roles in being viewed as all-around attractive.

Less attractive, yet prosperous men often obtain good-looking women as dates or as “trophy wives” to enhance their own reputations. Some women appreciate the access this grants them to money and connections they would not have otherwise.

A noted marriage counselor maintains that lack of physical attractiveness due to excessive weight gain is a major factor for almost all couples where one partner complains about the appearance of the other.

Friends and Family, Too?

Attractive children and adults are treated better, even by their friends and family, than are unattractive children and adults.

It’s Everywhere, Everywhere

Hospital nurses give more attention to the more attractive infants. Babies spend more time looking at attractive adult faces then at unattractive ones and will even cry due to the close approach of faces that adults would characterize as ugly.

Children prefer those who are generally physically attractive, and “most teachers expect better-looking kids to perform better, and they devote more attention to children they think have greater potential.”

A study entitled “What Is Beautiful Is Good,” summarized its findings: most respondents ascribed positive characteristics to attractive people, negative characteristics to the physically unattractive.

Summing Up

The race is not always to the swift, when looks count, too.

We should do the best with what we have. It pays to invest, within reason, in keeping ourselves trim and well-dressed, and in using appropriate cosmetics. In some unusual instances, surgery may be warranted. What we cannot change, we should accept.

Finally, we should, ourselves, try harder not to judge others by physical appearance.

Do you still care what other people think of your appearance, now that you are in your 60s or better? How far are you willing to go to enhance your own appearance? Please join the conversation.

Douglas Winslow CooperDouglas Winslow Cooper, Ph.D. is a former Harvard science professor. He still publishes and helps others write and publish their books, via http://WriteYourBookWithMe.com. Douglas’ life’s central theme has been a half-century romance with his wife Tina Su Cooper, now quadriplegic due to multiple sclerosis and receiving 24/7 nursing care at home, as discussed at their website here.

Let's Have a Conversation!