The Double- Edged Sword of Attractiveness

By Rosanna Cappetta, Age 25

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The other night I was watching Grey’s Anatomy –yes, it’s finally back- and one storyline really stood out to me. For those of you who are not familiar with the show (you’re lying), Dr. Bailey is set on becoming the new chief of surgery and believes she will get the job she always wanted. That is, until she meets the other candidate. Of course, the person she is up against is a woman who is younger, pretty, blonde, put together and extremely intelligent. At one point, Dr. Bailey says to her husband: “I tried to hate her, but I can’t. She’s fantastic.” This got me thinking about a topic that is usually left unspoken: the double-edged sword of being attractive in the workplace. Yes, it has advantages, but I realized that it may hurt women more than help them.

First, let’s talk about the perceived “advantages.” Attractiveness is linked to greater success in the workplace: higher callback rates for interviews, more opportunities for promotions, and favorable treatment. For example, countless studies have focused on the issue of “beautiful” women receiving higher callback rates for job interviews. An Italian study found that beauty impacted whether or not an applicant would receive a callback. The researchers sent out over 10,000 of the same resumes to potential employers and only changed the name, address and photo of the applicant. While the average callback rate was 30%, it rose to 54% for “attractive” women. “Unattractive” women received a 7% callback rate. Infuriating, right? One would think that employers would look to an applicant’s academic credentials and past experiences. Nope! Attractiveness can and many times is a deciding factor in whether or not an applicant gets a callback. Never mind that the standard to determine what exactly qualifies as “attractive” is entirely subjective and also wholly irrelevant.

Despite the benefits of having a “pretty face”, being attractive may do more harm than good. How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, she just got the job because she is pretty” or “She’s really pretty; she can’t be that smart”? I particularly take offense to the first statement because it minimizes a woman to the point where nothing is important but the way she looks. Her education, accomplishments and prior experience are insignificant factors. Forget the fact that she worked hard to get where she is; her pretty face is the reason for her success! Unfortunately, this is a common way of thinking. Attractive women are not taken seriously and oftentimes, they have to work harder to prove themselves to their coworkers.

Another way attractiveness can hinder instead of help women is that oftentimes an attractive woman is viewed as a threat as a result of jealously. Hollywood has used this storyline time and time again. A younger, more attractive girl comes in the picture and she becomes the target of the other women. Because of this jealously, other women will not go out of their way to help an attractive coworker. So not only does she need to work harder to be taken seriously, but she also needs to make sure she does not intimidate the other women. This entire exercise undermines our ability to work collectively to advance and empower ourselves and other women.

I came across an interesting quote from a CEO who stated that it’s best to be attractive, but not too attractive. This puts a whole new level of stress on women in the workplace. Besides having to worry about proving themselves as competent employees, women also have to worry about being the right level of attractive. What is the right balance? What does it matter? Who even cares? I’m still trying to figure this out, so if you find it before I do, please call Dr. Bailey immediately.

Young Women Rising encourages Connecticut women ages 18-35 to raise their voices about issues they care about. Each writer speaks for herself as an individual and Young Women Rising as a whole does not intend to endorse the views of any particular writer. If you’re interested in submitting a guest piece please contact us at Michelle.Noehren@cga.ct.gov.

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