You know them (perhaps you’re even one of them), those girls that turn every head when walking down the street. The should-be Victoria’s Secret goddesses and Kate Moss look-alikes – they’re the girls you’d probably sell your left kidney to look like. But what if we told you that being beautiful is totally overrated? Yes, there are a slew of studies that show beauty can be beneficial to the genetically gifted, but these studies paint an incomplete picture. There’s a drawback to beauty’s every triumph, more or less leveling the playing field.
At the very core the one thing we all want is to be happy, and being beautiful appears to play a critical role in doing just that. After all, pretty people always look perfectly happy in the media. But, as Harvard psychology professor Daniel Gilbert pointed out in his book Stumbling on Happiness, our instincts about what makes us happy are often wrong.
To our subconscious, being beautiful serves three basic purposes: 1. Getting laid 2. Getting rich 3. Getting famous. Ironically, studies suggest that these very things have no effect on overall happiness. It’s what scientists call hedonic adaptation, which means that as a person grows increasingly rich and famous (and get’s their pick of hotties) one’s expectations and desires rise in tandem. Resulting in zero gains in happiness. And so if just being beautiful isn’t going to make you happy, beyond being nice to look at, what are the actual benefits of beauty?
One commonly cited advantage of beauty is that it is often confused by prospective employers (and the rest of humanity for that matter) with talent and intelligence. Meaning, if you’re beautiful you have an advantage in landing the job. Unfortunately, because beautiful people are judged as more talented even if they aren’t, the bar is raised disproportionately higher from the get-go, making it far more likely that beautiful people will disappoint their boss. In a study called “Judging a Book by Its Cover” researchers found what they called a beauty penalty. According to researcher Catherine Eckel of the University of Texas at Dallas, “People have very high expectations of the level of trust of beautiful people. When beautiful people fail to live up to those expectations, they’re punished more harshly than people who are not beautiful.” So any initial advantage beauty might have posed is rendered void.
If it’s love and admiration you’re after, beauty seems like a golden ticket. Unfortunately, the attention one gets from being beautiful isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, sometimes the people you want to attract will be attracted to you (i.e your crush). But the rest of the time you’re attracting people you really don’t want attention from. For many beautiful women, attention from men can be relentless and even disturbing, whether from a boss, whether it’s a man pushing a baby stroller and walking alongside his wife, whether he’s an older colleague or a straight-guy-friend who you just don’t think of in that way. For some this may sound kind of awesome (wow everyone likes me!), but it can be downright scary, especially in places where you can expect to find groups of drunk guys with lowered inhibitions and a shaky sense of propriety. And when you consider that a lot of men don’t take lightly to being ignored or rejected, these women are bound to face plenty of male hostility in such situations.
But perhaps most alarming is the fact that beautiful women have a harder time making friends. As McMaster University psychology professor Tracy Vaillancourt pointed out, “studies suggest that women are intolerant of attractive females and use indirect aggression to derogate potential rivals.” Sad but true. In a world that continues to insist that a woman’s greatest value lies in her physical attractiveness as well as her ability to snag a husband, beautiful women are more likely to be viewed as enemy number one by other women.
And so, as great as it may seem, looking like a supermodel might actually do more harm than good, at least if it’s long-term happiness you’re after. At best, it’ll leave you no better or worse than your not-so-supermodely counterparts. Being beautiful implies a responsibility to a beauty-obsessed culture that makes countless assumptions about what it means to be pretty. Beautiful women rarely have the luxury of simply being people, because the world seldom allows them to forget that they are, first and foremost, alluring sex objects. The power to blend in, or stand out as one chooses is perhaps the greatest superpower of all, giving women a chameleon-like flexibility, allowing them to adapt to any social situation and be as pretty or un-pretty as they damn well please.