Beauty versus ugliness has always been a contentious subject since the eye of the beholder differs greatly from one person to another.
Although a beautiful person is unlikely to be viewed as ugly by the great majority of people, an ugly person is rarely found to be attractive except by very few dissidents. Vision can sometimes play havoc in determining the vast difference between the two extremes but in general it can distinguish between symmetry in looks and lack of it.
It is now claimed that ugly people are doomed to a life of discrimination because, unlike other historically oppressed groups, they will never rise up together to demand the same rights as their more handsome rivals.
That’s the opinion of academics who have been studying the inequalities between the winners and losers of life’s lottery of looks. They claim that the age-old beauty bias has been allowed to run rampant through society, in a way that racism, homophobia and sexism have not. The reason stems from the fact that there are no campaign groups for the foul of face.
‘Why haven’t we been as concerned with oppression of the ugly as with other forms of oppression?’ asked Jonny Thakkar, a lecturer in philosophy and humanities at Princeton University. ‘One point is that we tend to address oppression when the oppressed themselves band together to campaign. But ugly people do not band together; there is no conscious group formation around the idea of ugly. Part of this is just that one doesn’t like to admit one’s ugliness; ugliness is always deniable especially given the fact that standards of beauty are culturally relative.’
Mr Thakkar said that unlike other groups whose long and continuing battle for equality have led to protection in law, there is an additional obstacle standing in the way of the facially unfortunate. Membership of the group is arguably a matter of opinion. ‘Membership of the group can be temporary, whether because cultural standards change in your favour or because your own looks change,’ said Mr Thakkar, whose essay ‘The Ugly Truth’ was published in the digital magazine Aeon. He added that the oppression of the ugly was most similar to the situation of the working class.
One of the few cases to reach the courts was that of Shirley Ivey, who sued her former employer, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs in Washington, in 2011, on the grounds of ‘personal appearance-based’ hostility after she was told by her boss that he would like her better if she was prettier. She was awarded nominal damages.
Such cases are rare, said Daniel Hammermesh, professor of economics at Royal Holloway, University of London, because so few of the aesthetically challenged are prepared to stand up and demand compensation. ‘I don’t think many people want to stand up and say: “Yeah I am ugly, give me the money,”‘ said Professor Hammermesh, author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful. He argues that the ugly and oppressed deserve their own legal protection, saying: ‘It is as hard to change your looks as it is to change your gender or your ethnicity. That being the case, I see no issue in extending protection.’
His studies showed that those on the bottom sixth of the attractiveness scale suffered a loss of earnings equivalent to missing as much as an extra year and a quarter of education, when compared with their more attractive counterparts in the top third.
‘These are substantial differences,’ he said. ‘Better-looking people really are happier. There is no question about that. As well as all other direct effects such as increased income and improving success in the marriage market, it also makes you happier because you feel happier about yourself.’
I am not so sure that beautiful people are necessarily happier, or, for that matter, those who have reached the zenith of their professions be it in terms of wealth or idolisation. The complexities of defining beauty and the benefit it brings is not an easy subject to analyse.
There is also the assumption that ugliness is always off-putting, which is not often the case.
Sexually, some ugly women are torridly engaging in the bedroom as well as intellectually seductive. They become what we might call ‘attractively ugly’ with a dominant personality to make one’s eyes glitter and see beauty in a different dimension.
I have encountered many a stunningly attractive and successful woman whose husband was truly ugly and yet he had invariably the sort of charisma that made women flutter around him with girlish, school-like excitement.
In many ways, it goes to prove that inner beauty is more potent than an external one and that ugliness often carries with it inborn humorous tendencies that make life more pleasant and tolerable.
And lastly, equating ugliness with sin is a parody that does not ring true.