Lookism is a term used to refer to the positive stereotypes, prejudice, and preferential treatment given to physically attractive people, or more generally to people whose appearance matches cultural preferences. Physical attractiveness is associated with good things, such as beautiful princesses, and physically unattractiveness is associated with negative things, such as wicked witches. Based on physical appearance, many people make automatic judgments of others that influence how they respond to those people.

Research on the "What is beautiful is good" stereotype shows that, overall, those who are physically attractive benefit from their good looks. Researchers found that physically attractive individuals are perceived more positively and that physical attractiveness has a strong influence on judgements of a person’s competence.[1] In return, physically attractive people benefit from these stereotypical beliefs. Research shows that on average, physically attractive individuals have more friends, better social skills, and more active sex lives. However, attractiveness does not have any effect on the level of happiness experienced by the individual.[2]

Who is considered physically attractive?

In United States culture, many cannot define what attractiveness is, but they know it when they see it. Research shows that both adults, children, and even infants seem to have high agreement about which faces are more attractive than others. This shows that judgements on attractiveness are not entirely influenced by culture.[3] On average, smooth-skinned, youthful, symmetrical faces are seen as more attractive. Those with muscular body types are seen as more attractive, healthy, and adventuresome. Overweight individuals are often stereotypically categorized as unattractive. Although there has been little research on the topic, taller people seem to benefit more from their stature and are more likely to get dates, be hired, and be seen as competent and powerful. A study by Timothy Judge and Daniel Cable (2004) showed that individuals who are 72 in. tall are predicted to earn almost $166,000 more across a 30 year career than an individual who is 65 in. tall.


The term was first coined within the Fat acceptance movement. It was used in the The Washington Post Magazine in 1978, which asserted that the term was coined by "fat people" who created the word to refer to "discrimination based on looks."[4] The word appears in several major English language dictionaries.[5]

Lookism has received scholarly attention both from a cultural studies and an economics perspective. In the former context, lookism relates to preconceived notions of beauty and cultural stereotyping based on appearance as well as gender roles and expectations. Important economic considerations include the question of income gaps based on looks, as well as increased or decreased productivity from workers considered beautiful or ugly by their co-workers.

Empirical support

According to Nancy Etcoff, a psychologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, "we face a world where lookism is one of the most pervasive but denied prejudices."[6] Referring to several studies, Angela Stalcup writes that "The evidence clearly indicates that not only is there a premium for prettiness in Western culture, there is also penalty for plainness."[7]

In the article "Is Lookism Unjust", Louis Tietje and Steven Cresap discuss when discrimination based on looks can legitimately be described as unjust.[8] Tietje and Cresap quote evidence that suggests there exists "a 7–to–9 percent 'penalty' for being in the lowest 9 percent of looks among all workers, and a 5 percent 'premium' for being in the top 33 percent". While accepting that the evidence indicates that such discrimination does occur, the authors argue that it has been pervasive throughout history. Therefore there can be no clear model of injustice in such discrimination, nor would legislation to address it be practicable. The authors conclude: "We do not see how any policy interventions to redress beauty discrimination can be justified."[8]

See also

Het leelijke jonge eendje

The Ugly Duckling, book illustration by Theo van Hoytema.


  1. Eagly, Alice; Ashmore, Richard (1991). "What is beautiful is good, but...". Psychological Bulletin 110: 109–128. 
  2. Rhodes, Gillian last2 = Simmons (2005). "Attractiveness and Sexual Behavior: Does Attractiveness Enhance Mating Success?". Evolution and Human Behavior 26: 186–201. 
  3. Game, Florence; Carchon, Isabelle; Vital-Durand, Francois (2003). "The effect of stimulus attractiveness on visual tracking in 2- to 6-month-old infants.". Infant Behavior and Development 26: 135–150. 
  4. John Ayto, 20th Century Words, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0-19-860230-9
  5. — "Lookism". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000.
  6. William Safire. "The Way We Live Now: 8-27-00: On Language; Lookism", New York Times Magazine, August 27, 2000.
  7. Angela Stalcup. The Plainness Penalty: Lookism in Western Culture.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Louis Tietje and Steven Cresap. (2005). "Is Lookism Unjust?: The Ethics of Aesthetics and Public Policy Implications". Journal of Libertarian Studies 19 (2): 31-50.

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This article uses material from the Wikipedia article Lookism, that was deleted or is being discussed for deletion, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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