Brace yourself for the most thorough compendium of research I’ve seen about how good-looking people get more of everything. The book is Looks: Why They Matter More than You Ever Imagined, by Gordon Patzer, professor at Roosevelt University in Chicago and former dean at California State University.
It is well-documented that good-looking people make more money than everyone else. Taller men make more money than shorter men. If a woman is just 13 pounds overweight, she is penalized at work. (Hat tip: Recruiting Animal.)
We are hard-wired to treat good-looking people better and it’s pretty much impossible to overcome this tendency. Patzer shows that this salary discrepancy is true even in law firms, where the partners doing the hiring are acutely aware of how illegal it is to favor good-looking people. Researchers at University of Texas, found that even mothers treat good-looking children better than average-looking ones.
Unintentionally, of course.
Before you complain about how unfair all this is, Patzer shows that good-looking people are actually better for the company’s bottom line. This is because highly attractive people actually earn more money for a company than average looking people. One study in Holland, for example, showed that companies with better looking management consistently billed more hours at higher rates than companies with average looking management.
And, while good-looking executives cost a company more money (because they have higher salaries), they actually increase the bottom line so much that the unconscious premium in pay that people give to the good-looking is actually a wise investment.
So what should you do if you are not good looking?
1. Stay out of sales and management.
These areas are where tall, good-looking people have the strongest advantage in objective performance measures, according to a study by management professors Daniel Cable, of the University of North Carolina, and Timothy Judge of University of Florida. This makes sense to me because leadership is so much about charisma, and charisma is so much about looks. And it makes sense that people will buy more stuff from you if they are attracted to you. (Hence the huge industry of turning cheerleaders into salesgirls.)
2. Be honest with yourself.
The more honest we are about where looks matter a lot, the less time we’ll waste doing something we probably won’t excel at. (This is where women have an advantage over men because women better understand where they fall in the spectrum of good-looking.)
For example, all else being equal, a good-looking woman will negotiate better for a company than anyone else—even a good-looking man, according to research by Sara Solnick of the University of Miami and Maurice Schweitzer from Wharton. Good-looking women drive harder bargains than everyone else, and good-looking women get more concessions than anyone else. (Makes sense, right? Since these are the women in highest demand for reproducing, the genes for good looks must come with genes for having a sense of entitlement when it comes to negotiating a good deal.)
3. Get plastic surgery. Maybe.
Before you get all over me about how insane this advice is, think about this: When I was a young girl, I remember hearing women talk about if it was “okay to dye your hair.” Today we don’t think twice about it. No one cares if you do or don’t, and many styles actually emphasize unnatural hair colors.
To be honest, I am way too scared to cut anything on myself. But still, plastic surgery makes total sense to me.
We don’t flinch when we hear that Cameron Diaz got a nose job or Brad Pitt had his ears pinned. It seems like a reasonable thing to do given their profession. And look at Chelsea Clinton. She did a few changes just as she hit the adult world as a consultant at McKinsey. She’s not an idiot, and she certainly does not seem obsessed by her appearance. But she realized that she was not great looking, and the plastic surgery seems to have made some improvements.
And just ten years ago, I remember talking with my friends about how gross Botox is. But my friend Sharon, who is a hairstylist in Los Angeles, says that the majority of her clients—who range from normal housewives to corporate lawyers—have had some sort of Botox injection. She says it’s so mainstream in Los Angeles that it’s almost a statement if you don’t have it.
My editor tells me that I’m going to get killed with this post. So here is my first pre-emptive strike: This post stems from my genuine worry that I will be behind the curve. I worry that I will be philosophizing about plastic surgery while everyone else is getting it and not even thinking about it. Like Botox. Or, here’s another example: Shaving off all of one’s pubic hair. Gen Xers debate it and philosophize about it while I just learned from Cosmo magazine that more than 75% of women in their 20′s just do it. No big deal.
Second pre-emptive strike: Every woman I know who is considering plastic surgery after having kids never ever would have considered it before that. It’s a time-of-life thing more than anything else, I think.
So my prediction is that soon we will all capitulate to the undeniable evidence that we have more opportunity in life if we are better looking, and it’s relatively easy to buy good looks. So we will. It will be something everyone does as they graduate from college, and not just the most rich and privileged kids. Plastic surgery will be for the go-getters and career-minded. Just you wait and see.