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The Boston Globe


Who will fight the beauty bias?

It’s deep, unconscious, and surprisingly universal—and means beautiful people get a much better deal. But righting injustice isn’t easy when no one wants to call themselves plain.

It’s not your imagination: Life is good for beautiful people. A drumbeat of research over the past decades has found that attractive people earn more than their average-looking peers, are more likely to be given loans by banks, and are less likely to be convicted by a jury. Voters prefer better-looking candidates; students prefer better-looking professors, while teachers prefer better-looking students. Mothers, those icons of blind love, have been shown to favor their more attractive children.

Perhaps even more discouragingly, we tend to assume that beautiful people are actually better people—in realms that have nothing to do with physical beauty. Study after study has shown that we judge attractive people to be healthier, friendlier, more intelligent, and more competent than the rest of us, and we use even the smallest differences in attractiveness to make these judgments. A startling study published earlier this year found that even identical twins judge each other by relative beauty: The more attractive twin assessed the other as less athletic, less emotionally stable, and less socially competent. The less attractive twins agreed, ranking their better-looking siblings ahead. If even minute differences in attractiveness affect us so deeply and predictably, the authors wrote, “the power of appearance-based stereotypes is greater than any study has yet suggested.”

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