Beauty Can Get Pretty Ugly Sometimes

Oh, the ways to be irritated are many.  Here I am thinking about Elena Kagan, the fabulously historic wonders of having three women on the Supreme Court, when a friend said, “My teen daughter said, “She could dress a little better.”” Another friend said, “She’s not very attractive.”  What’s wrong with these people?  Nothing.  Appearance and the pros and cons of it are debated twenty-four seven in our country.  It seems that if a woman is pretty, she is probably dumb unless she is pretty without trying to be pretty:  does she color her hair?  Has she had Botox?  Is she overweight?  These topics and more are delved into in Deborah Rhode’s new and worthwhile book,  The Beauty Bias.  The lawyer in  Rhodes comes out, too.  She doesn’t just list the many instances of beauty bias (for and against beauty) but she offers some ways to counter it. 

Reading Rhode’s book and thinking of my own love-hate relationship with my appearance has made me wonder about the burden of appearance judgments on women in leadership positions.  I’ve never forgotten the words of a communication professor colleague  who described a new administrator at her college as, ” an Avon lady, real estate salesperson type.”  I wondered:  what type is that?  I realized that I’m probably one, too if it means preferring suits over separates, wearing mascara and lipstick and shoes with heels.  Does that wardrobe make me look less competent as a college professor?  I guess according to my colleague.  Avon anyone?

When I research women in politics and I note their clothing choices, I think, this is a “war” drobe — they go to battle every time they show up in an outfit because they are darned if they do and darned if they don’t.  

And this new writing project:  women who “could” have been president.  One of my colleagues said that appearance matters and we need to talk about it.  What do I know about what they look like?  What is attractive?  OK:  maybe many people will agree that Angelina Jolie is universally attractive, but let’s get real here.  I think Elena Kagan looks great.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  So let’s try to remember that.  

 Nichola Gutgold is an associate professor of communication arts and sciences at Penn State Lehigh Valley.  She has written a review of The Beauty Bias for Senior Women Web and will share the link on Facebook once it is up!


3 Responses to “Beauty Can Get Pretty Ugly Sometimes”

  1. 1 Deanna Reiter
    July 2, 2010 at 5:14 pm

    This an interesting look into the eyes of society and just what they see, Dr. Gutgold.

    Personally I have never been someone to follow fashion. My closet is stocked with good ol’ jeans, t-shirts, a hoodie or two, and then way in the corner a couple of nice outfits. I have never been able to doll myself up in what society sees as good looking, beautiful, or even sexy (which seems to be the current trend). Granted I do not have to dress up in a suit or matchign separates, I feel that I am a confident, stable, and successful person for my age.

    As written above, it seems society is fixed on the outside rather than the inside when it comes to first impressions of important people. I have realized that this does not only pertain to singers/actors, but also politicians and the every day person looking for a job.

    I do think it is important to put forward some effort in dressing yourself every day. Certainly we wouldn’t want to come to school or work dressed in clothes we reserve for bumming around the house or painting in, but I don’t think we as a society should be so concerned with the label that’s on the inside of our shirts, or if ‘roots’ are showing in someone’s colored hair. And I certainly think it’s important to make decisions about people after looking at what they have on the inside, rather than what they’ve decided to wear on the outside that day.

  2. July 2, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Great observations, Deanna. I keep thinking more and more about this. As far as I know, PSU doesn’t have an HR policy for a faculty dress code. Some of my colleagues wear jeans, some suits, and most others a little of everything in between. I guess we wear what we like or what we think we look good in. Same with students. That’s liberating. Now if we could free our thinking!

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