” It is amazing how complete is the delusion that beauty is goodness. ”
You may have known the oft-repeated fact about how babies tend to stare longer at good-looking faces. What is lesser known are a string of researches that prove a bias in favor of attractive faces while hiring for jobs and the greater likelihood of attractive defendants to be let off in the court of law. To an extent, it is not that surprising. We worship beauty, we have since ages. We have placed it at a pedestal higher than any other. We regularly appraise others based on their attractiveness and beautiful faces are, as a rule, universally adored. Beautiful people are judged as being more intelligent, friendly and better adjusted; this is the ‘halo effect’, wherein we tend to assign other desirable traits to a person based on the knowledge of a single one.
I have often wondered, upon reflection, whether beauty really is the greatest virtue that one could possess. Beauty does seem to arouse fervent reactions, from gushing admiration to an instant likeness. It is almost as if we are rewarding the person just because they are beautiful. Other things come later; even if we know twenty other wonderful things about that person, we still choose to acknowledge their beauty first.
Beauty, today, pervades everything. Even the news channels don’t make do without attractive faces. Then there are the countless advertisements, products promising a solution to everything under the sun- tanned underarms, balding, rough hair, dark circles, crow’s feet, cracked feet. Youth rules and it is almost as if we are so afraid of accepting our physical flaws that we fall victim to an obsessive urge to look ‘perfect’. So when not naturally beautiful, go for ‘apparently’ beautiful. Just goes on to highlight how much we feel that looking ‘good’ will contribute to our happiness.
On the one hand, cosmetic surgeries are on the rise and gone are the days when people used to hide going under the knife. Now they proudly proclaim doing so on the front pages of newspapers. On the other hand, some of the ads by two highly reputed cosmetics brands have been banned in Britain (Lancome’s Teint Miracle foundation featuring Julia Roberts & Maybelline’s The Eraser foundation featuring Christy Turlington) for excessive use of Photoshop. Even magazines make no qualms about the fact that they regularly fall back upon the magical effects of Photoshop for their monthly features on celebrities.
Talking about unrealistic beauty standards, especially for women, and increasingly for men as well, would probably take up the space of another article; so circling around, what is it about beauty that appeals to us at such an unconscious level? Is it mere sense gratification? Or something that runs deeper? It remains to be wondered whether this preference for beauty really is all that innate, or whether it is instigated, partly, by our socialization processes. We are constantly exposed to associations of beauty with glamour (actors and famous celebrities), success (think of beautiful skin/hair/face being related to professional and interpersonal success in ads) , happiness (the attractive faces always have-it-all) and even confidence. More importantly, all of these are seen as a ‘consequence’ of being attractive, and not the other way round.
It is, no doubt, a hard question to answer, as all questions are, when they relate to us chaotic, unpredictable humans and our subjective perceptions. Meanwhile, have a look at some of the interesting findings that have been thrown up over the years on how beauty seems to hold a powerful stead over the impressions we form about others- http://www.nytimes.com/1981/09/01/science/effects-of-beauty-found-to-run-surprisingly-deep.html?pagewanted=1