(’17) To what extent are people judged more by their physical appearances than by their abilities?


(Introduction) Ability speaks for itself. That is the ideal that we would like to believe in, but, in today’s modern reality, more often than not, we become inevitably judged more by our physical appearances. (More, as in, more common, significant, or long-lasting) Hence, although it may be superficial, but, this trend is increasingly, indeed there and present.

(R) Some argue that people are judged more by abilities, because that is what is critical to a person’s character. The most well-established, successful individuals are, in the end, not the ones who look the best, but those who truly have the capabilities and talents to achieve extraordinary feats. A Nobel laureate would not have been judged by his or her appearances, neither would people like Albert Einstein, Mother Teresa, nor Gandhi. A person’s ability, their will and spirit to persevere, overcome challenges and reach their goals is, in the long run, the foremost thing that reveals a person’s character to others and determines how they see or judge you.

(S 1) But, I disagree. While the above cases are valid, those individuals are especially outstanding, and hence only a tiny proportion of the population. For the majority of the ordinary population, ability is difficult to see and record continuously. On the other hand, what others see first and immediately (all the time) are our appearances, and these can silently allow them to form all types of judgments about one’s character. Even if it is the first impression, the consequent judgments someone may form (based on appearances alone) are long-lasting and significant. For instance, Researchers from Princeton University have found that people make judgments about traits like trustworthiness, competence, and likeability within a fraction of a second after seeing someone’s face. In their study, it was found that participants judged trustworthiness the quickest (within 100 milliseconds). Even when given more time their judgments typically did not change, which meant the initial split-second assessments are relatively permanent. In a News at Princeton interview one researcher explained, “…It appears that we are hard-wired to draw these inferences in a fast, unreflective way.” Even in the job application process, while there is the interview process to judge the applicant in a more holistic way and gauge their ability, one’s dressing and how they present themselves forms the first impression that may solely determine their success. At the very least, if the applicant did not adhere to the correct dress code, or dressed shabbily, such already tells the interviewer what kind of person he/she is (one who does not care), and a much greater effort may be required, such as extremely outstanding abilities or talents, to secure a success. On the other hand, being properly dressed leads to a more positive judgment of being professional and invested/serious, and consequently a greater chance of success. Hence, because appearance is something others see first easily (all the time), it determines the judgments they make immediately and at first, which are inevitably more common, and sometimes even more long-lasting, or significant than ability; thus, people are judged more on that.

(S 2) Furthermore, to make this judgment process even simpler, more direct and automatic, society nowadays already inherently classifies and stereotypes (even discriminates) people based on their appearances. Such causes us to have preconceived expectations or labels about how someone should be like from their appearances alone. This leads to certain groups of people being judged positively (more valued), while others are judged negatively (discriminated against or less valued). Such can be seen concretely with trends and associations between physical traits and pay/salary. Besides well-documented, common patterns of pay gaps between genders, or people of different colors, certain other forms of discrepancies also exist due to appearances. For instance, fat people are paid less, according to a George Washington University study that cited data from the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in 2004. This is more significant for obese women compared to obese men. For women, those who wear makeup are paid more, as they are seen to be more competent and trustworthy. A study in the American Economic Review found they can earn more than 30 percent more compared non-makeup wearing workers. These kinds of pressure can be so common and immense in certain places that it even prompts people to alter their natural appearances to fit a certain ideal. For instance, In South Korea, one in five South Korean women has had some form of cosmetic surgery, according to the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons. As such, because of these modern societal pressures, and pre-formed stereotypes and expectations based on appearances, people become judged more automatically and significantly by their appearances.

(S 3) Lastly, in certain professions, the important factor is physical appearance. It is everything. It largely equates to, or even overshadows, ability, and individuals are judged accordingly based on that. In the entertainment industry, with singers, actors, models (and more), these people need to sell themselves, and having certain appealing or marketable physical appearances are a must. In modeling, there are stringent requirements in place for age, height and weight, complete with bust, waist and hip requirements. For instance, to model for distinguished fashion magazines, or to catwalk on runway shows, the female’s height must be 1.75m and above. In another example, South Korea’s K-pop industry is one that is carefully and intentionally crafted in every way to maintain a certain image. The management companies behind the K-pop stars and bands control and manage everything from their vocals to their face shape. Again, plastic surgery is a large part of this, to the point where K-pop stars even advertise for surgical companies. For instance, in a video on the Cinderella Clinic website, singer G.Na says, “This clinic is where Dr. Jong Phil is. As you are aware he gives a really kind consultation. Come and become more beautiful.” Such shows that physical appearance is a major factor in these industries. Individuals are judged, not only by their audiences, but by their employers, which require them to look a certain way to be employed and be marketable. Whether truly talented or not, they are first judged, and selected by appearances. (In South Korea’s case, even for the ones with potential, appearances will be altered if not up to par.) Hence, in these industries, given the nature of their work, physical appearance is the major factor that is stringently controlled and maintained, affirming its importance as the thing that individuals are judged more heavily on.


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