Over the past decade or so, people have been increasingly talking about what it means to have different societal privilege in comparison to other people. If you’ve spent a fair amount of time on the internet in the past couple of years, you’ve probably stumbled across the term “pretty privilege” once or twice.
So here’s what you need to know about pretty privilege and how it might affect you.
I Knew I Wasn’t Pretty From A Young Age
It was apparent in the way adults described me—studious, adventurous, athletic—compared to my peers who were considered prettier. A more conventionally cute friend of mine and I could both dress as princesses for Halloween, and people would fawn over her and barely acknowledge me.
From an early age, it was easy to identify the pretty people: they always had a few more Valentine’s cards in their cubby, they were voted for class elections, and they were more likely to get the lead role in the school play. And the uglier ones? We just kind of accepted that it was the way things were.
What Exactly Is Pretty Privilege?
Pretty privilege refers to the way that people who are considered “attractive” by society are generally treated better than people who aren’t considered attractive. This means that on personal and institutional levels, attractive people are given advantages in life that are often not afforded to the “uglier” members of society.
It’s Not As Obvious As Other Types Of Privilege
Unlike racial, gendered, economic, and other types of privilege in society, pretty privilege is less obvious and tends to harder to identify. However, it can be apparent to anyone who isn’t considered “conventionally attractive” or someone who goes from being unconventionally attractive to actually being conventionally attractive.
I mean, no one actively says that they dislike or hate “ugly” people, but it’s clear that society is a bit kinder to people who are considered attractive.
There’s Even A Psychological Phenomenon Around It
There’s a psychological principle called the “halo effect,” which refers to the way that we tend to attach additional positive attributes to a person if we already perceive them to have one positive attribute.
Naturally, because physical beauty is one of the most easily perceived traits we can identify in a person, we also tend to believe that pretty people are also nice, smart, funny, and possess other positive traits. Likewise, we assume ugly people have negative traits. This can be further visualized in the way that villains in children’s shows tend to be “ugly,” while the protagonists tend to be conventionally attractive.
So What Does Pretty Privilege Look Like In Practice?
Pretty privilege affects the way people are perceived by society on many levels. Attractive candidates are more likely to be successful in getting jobs in comparison to their equally qualified competitors who are less attractive.
Pretty people tend to be afforded more lenience when they make mistakes, are considered funnier, and tend to be treated more favorably by people on a daily basis. It’s things as simple as getting into a bar without having to wait in the line outside because the bouncer finds them attractive.
Of Course, It Affects Women Even More Than Men
Because, historically, women’s appearance has been considered their main asset, their level of physical attractiveness plays a stronger role in their lives, and that even continues today.
Men are more likely to be praised for their other qualities—wealth, athleticism, personality traits, or intelligence—but women are more likely to be judged primarily on their appearance. This can be seen in the way male actors are often interviewed on their work on a film on the red carpet, while female actresses are asked about their dress, hair, etc.
Romantic Attraction (Or Lack Thereof) Blurs Our Perception A Lot
An ugly truth about pretty privilege in a male-dominated society is the way in which many men tend to show respect toward women they find sexually or romantically attractive and tend to disregard or disrespect women that they find unattractive.
Men with pretty privilege in romantic situations, conversely, tend to have their actions seen favorably, whereas less attractive men can be perceived as “creepy” or cruel for the same actions.
Prettiness Varies Across Different Cultures And Locations
Of course, not every pretty person is identical, and standards of beauty vary across countries and different social groups. For example, where extreme thinness is valued in some cultures, having big hips and curves is more important to others.
Being Pretty Isn’t All Fun And Games
There’s no doubt that being considered pretty is much better than being considered ugly in our society, but there are some disadvantages. For example, pretty women are often considered less smart/capable in certain fields of work, such as business or STEM.
Additionally, a disadvantage to the halo effect is that it causes us to tend to hold pretty people to a higher standard than less attractive people, making it easier for us to be disappointed in them.
Naturally, Pretty Privilege Compounds With Other Societal Privileges
Sure, people of all backgrounds can be considered pretty, but we tend to consider people who are skinny, able-bodied, and white to be attractive more often than we consider BIPOC, disabled, or fat-bodies to be beautiful. Additionally, pretty privilege is even more clear when someone is wealthy.
It Really Does Affect Your Everyday Life
As I grew older, my facial features became more refined and my body type became more “popular” in the mainstream, and suddenly, I went from being considered ugly to being considered attractive. Both men and women started to be nicer to me, more people held open doors for me, I started receiving random “special” discounts and things “on the house” that had never been afforded to me before.
Quite simply, life just seemed to come more easily once people thought I was attractive. My jokes, which were more or less the same over time, were suddenly funnier. People wanted to be friends with me more. It was shocking and simultaneously terrifying to know that the way I looked could control so much of my life.
So What Should You Do?
It’s important, as with any type of social bias, to be conscious of how it can affect you and the way you perceive others. It’s important to think about why we like and dislike people immediately, what traits we associate with people, and ultimately, to challenge standards of beauty that work to exclude different types of people.