Who’s to say what “ugly” is anyway?
But I guess, we all know what the opposite - physically beautiful is. Even if it's by society’s standards, a tall person with good skin, a slender body, and a symmetrical face usually fits the bill. And for years, those people have been consideredthe top tier of society. Even scientific studies have proven that “human beings respond more positively to beautiful people,” says Dr. Peggy Drexler, professor of psychology in psychiatry at Cornell and author of Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family. We’ve been told that beautiful people have an easier life, make more money, get better jobs, and are generally treated better.
But according to Dr. Drexler, “very ugly” don't do so badly either—they may even have an advantage over the beautiful people. “Despite conventional thought, pretty people don't have all the power,” she tells Personal Space. There are a few theories why: one is that “ugly” people were simply more intelligent or better educated than their more attractive counterparts. Theory two, is that there is a human tendency to favor the underdog, especially among women.
“The very ugly may have an advantage. A recent survey found that those workers who rated ‘very unattractive’ earned more than anyone else, even those deemed ‘most attractive,’” Dr. Drexler explains. “The study suggested that perhaps the very ugly were more intelligent, or better educated. I tend to think that it has more to do with the human tendency to favor, and reward, the underdog. Ugly people are less threatening. Rewarding the ugly—the non-threatening—is one way to keep down those people who may be something closer to threatening.”
And unfortunately, women are the worst culprits, she adds.
“Women have an inherent desire to hold other women back, especially those women whom they perceive as better-looking, smarter, or wealthier than they are,” Dr. Drexler says. “The fact that there are fewer spots at the top at work, fewer eligible men to marry, less salary set aside for them, fewer top opportunities for women in general—has resulted in a drive to limit those who can truly compete. This is a form of self-preservation. And it’s why many women tend to surround themselves with those who they know won’t outshine them.”
How can women break this cycle?
“Breaking the cycle can only be achieved through a move towards greater equality in general,” Dr. Drexler says. “Once women, in particular, no longer feel such a need to compete for such limited resources and limited opportunities there will be less need to keep one another down. There will also, hopefully, be less importance placed on physical qualities. Because of course what the ugliness premium serves to reinforce is the idea that beauty does matter, if mostly in relation to how we view our own.”
Dr. Drexler adds that women keeping women down is a form of “intra-gender sexism,” and female misogyny.
“Rewarding the ugly, the non-threatening, is one way to keep those more threatening women down,” she says, “Women favor those who won't outshine them.”
It’s a pattern adult women have carried over from there teenage years, when they befriend an unattractive girl who makes them look attractive by comparison. For example, Dr. Drexler says, “It’s in the professional arena, when the female boss hires women who are good, but not too good as to pose a threat to her own hard-won power.”
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