Do Good Looking People Actually Have Better Lives?

Article in the Mindscape Section of the June 2016 Issue of Stayfit Magazine by Vinesh Sukumaran

I recently had a somewhat animated discussion with an image consultant about the impact of good looks on corporate and social success. Her point of view was simple yet direct. She said that good looking people find it easier to get a job, keep a job and grow in that job to senior positions. She also added that another natural outcome of being good looking is that you end up having a better circle of friends and in turn a better social life. Now obviously, she isn’t alone in the “good looking people have better lives” bandwagon.

Various Universities seem to conducting research on the benefits of good looks. A Yale University study found that attractive men and women earn more than their average looking counterparts. Another Harvard University study found that investors were more likely to put money into businesses if the man making the pitch is handsome. In fact there is also a study that was conducted at the University of Zurich that correlates higher levels of human endurance with good looks.

This bias towards good looks is not just confined to the corporate world. Its reach spreads way beyond that, including into various social settings. Someone once told me that in many parts of the world it is almost impossible to find an extremely beautiful woman doing the job of sweeping streets or clearing trash. Likewise, it might be equally challenging in many parts of the world to find an extremely handsome gentleman doing a low end, menial job. It is almost as if merely being good looking assures you a better job and a better position in society. For the most part, you might also observe in social circles that it is the good looking people who are more likely to be the social butterflies.  As I mentioned earlier, this is the point of view that the image consultant had and it is one that gets established by the popular media’s huge focus on good looks. Whether it is the age old print medium, banners, billboards, television or the internet, as long as there are visuals, there is bound to be a focus on good looking people. The popular media are almost addicted to good looks. How often do you see an ugly looking man or woman in a fashion, cosmetic or clothing ad? In fact it is almost as difficult to find models who are not good looking even in ads for products like cars, chocolates, soft drinks, mobile phones or home accessories. People playing the lead roles in commercial movies are almost always good looking. On the face of it, this entire obsession with good looks could seem overwhelming and in a world of Bariatrics, Botox and Anti aging, people like the image consultant I was speaking to are actually not out of place.

While the media might flood us with visuals and slogans to keep the importance of good looks in our active consciousness; if we took a step back, we realize that there’s also the other side. There is an inner side to humanity that overshadows the outer synthetic covering and gloss. With some amount of reflection and recollection, anyone would recognize that in almost every field, there are numerous examples of people who don’t necessarily look good physically but who are extremely attractive because of who they are. Even Hollywood and the silver screen in general has numerous stars who are admired by their endless number of fans for qualities beyond looks, like their dialogues, their acting skills and sometimes even the characters they played in movies.

Almost the whole world would unanimously agree that there is a point in everyone’s life when the importance of qualities like inner peace, satisfaction and happiness outweighs the importance of good looks and physical attraction. People are beginning to realize around the world that merely having good looks is not everything. In fact lead researcher James McNulty of the University of Tennessee talks about how absolute beauty is important only in the early stages of a relationship for young couples and that the role of physical attractiveness in well-established partnerships, such as marriage, is somewhat of a mystery. Patricia Sellers of Forbes magazine, who in her 30 year career there has interviewed CEOs, billionaires and other titans about what made them succeed. She published a couple of years ago the 10 things that she has learnt from the world’s most successful people and good looks doesn’t figure anywhere on that list. Also, Eric Barker of the Time magazine published once in its psychology section the 8 Things the Most Successful People Do That Make Them Great, and good looks doesn’t feature there either.

While physical attractiveness and good looks are important, they are only a part of the whole and are in no way conclusive indicators of a better life in any respect. When you first see a person from a distance, the only data points you have are likely to be the ones pertaining to their physical appearance. The way they are dressed, their skin tone, physique or the clothes they wear. As you keep observing the person, you will start to detect more data points related to the way the person walks, moves, gestures or even the overall behaviour. And if you begin to actually interact with the person, you are likely to be swamped with data points pertaining to the person’s profession, background, interests, attitude, values or even beliefs. If you like some of these elements that you discover from your interaction and if they resonate with your own, the person might actually start looking better to you. And I mean this literally. Here are a few examples. An average looking person might start looking great to you after you discover that he or she is a self made business tycoon or is the author of a few best sellers. On the contrary, even a good looking person might start looking average when you realize that he or she reeks or doesn’t have a sense of humour. You are likely to find an average looking person better looking if you get to know that that person has similar ideologies and values as you do. Several mediocre looking individuals start to look better in the eyes of the world after attaining high levels of success in their fields or after striking glory of any kind.

As a matter of fact, there are several examples in the world of people (celebrities included) who might not even appear on the actual radar screen of good looks but who are rated as good looking in public opinion polls mostly because of their achievements and other qualities. Certainly, this is a rating that they would not have received in the absence of their other achievements or qualities. High levels of competence and expertise have a kind of magnetism that goes beyond physical features and appearance. Intelligence, a sense of humour and genius are attractive, at levels that is far beyond the clothes you wear or your complexion. Kindness, compassion and niceness build relationships that far outlive momentary bonds of infatuation or one night stands.

Good looks can’t possibly be the secret to fame, fortune and glory. The real perks in this generation go to individuals who capitalize on their biggest strengths, whatever they are. Barring a few fields in the sphere of entertainment like modelling, in most others, good looks might be nothing more than just an add-on. With the direction in which the world is headed, there are an increasing number of areas of work and entire fields with limited direct human interaction. And this phenomenon is only going to increase in the future with majority of our communication shifting to emails, mobile phones and texting.

These were my closing comments to the image consultant while she still stuck on to her own perspective. I’m sure we might have found each other far more attractive had we agreed on each other’s points of view. After all “good looks” is just another possible entry into the theatre of a better life.