There is little need to research the topic of popular New Year’s resolutions. Trust me on this one. Lists of common resolutions, though numerous, vary little from one source to the next. Whether from an online authority (AOL) or a print publication (PARADE Magazine) or the United States government, ‘Lose Weight’ tops each and every list. Related resolutions are almost always represented as well, including ‘Eat Better’ and ‘Get Fit.’
In other words, as this writer settled in with a fresh cup of French roast and a blank notebook, she found little fodder for a creative treatise to welcome 2014. Indeed, I tossed my pen aside, rolled my eyes at my dog and sighed, Who wants to read any more tired old, self-centered New Year’s resolution articles about fitting into skinny jeans or calorie-cutting salad recipes? Can’t we come up with something less superficial and more impactful upon which to focus?
Turning instead to a little headline skimming to clear my mind, I happened upon a Science brief in the New York Times. It highlighted new findings from the Society for Research in Child Development. “Better-looking high school students get higher grades,” asserted the item, adding that comely co-eds are also more likely to graduate from college.
I retrieved that discarded pen, the seed of an idea planted in my head. A few more clicks as my fingers did the walking, and I discovered more attractive stats.
Via Business Insider’s 8 Scientifically Proven Reasons Life Is Better If You’re Beautiful, I learned, “Beautiful people are typically treated better by others.” Citing a Harvard University study, the publication reported that “wearing makeup, shown to enhance a woman’s attractiveness, boosted people’s perceptions of that subject’s competence, likability, attractiveness, and trustworthiness.”
Coupling these two tidbits, I wondered, could it be that students who apply lip gloss and blush may actually, in some way, improve their futures? And, if so, could the same axiom apply to guys?
The Economist presented a similar argument, and answered my gender question as well. “Beauty is naturally rewarded in jobs where physical attractiveness would seem to matter,” I read in The Economics of Good Looks. “But it also yields rewards in unexpected fields. Homely NFL quarterbacks earn less than their comelier counterparts, despite identical yards passed and years in the league.”
Capping phase one of my research, the same article reported in no uncertain terms, “Physically attractive women and men earn more than average-looking ones, and very plain people earn less.”
Heading toward an inevitable question, the focus of this New Year’s article crystallized: Whether we resolve to ‘Lose Weight,’ ‘Get Fit’ or even revamp our wardrobes or hairstyle, more than mere vanity may be at stake. Might these seemingly fleeting, self-centered goals have a lasting impact on job performance, earning power, and self esteem?
For insight into this question, I took to my own contact list. Who better, after all, to comment on the real-life impact of being attractive than real-life people who are drop-dead gorgeous?
My secret poll comprised a group who shall remain anonymous. Those queried represent some great-looking and accomplished folks, but reserving their identities allowed me to elicit more candid responses. They were asked (1) to react to the informal research presented above, (2) whether they felt that being attractive had ever given them an advantage, (3) if being attractive ever made them feel more powerful, and (4) which qualities they found attractive in others. Their comments may surprise you.
“I think these studies are directly on point,” replied one handsome, dapper, and successful Texas businessman. “I am a true believer that the better you look, the better chance you have at succeeding. …It helps to push your personal brand, which I am a big believer in.”
When asked if his outward appearance has ever made him feel more powerful, this businessman didn’t mince words. “Very much so. That’s why I dress the way I do. I feel that when I’m dressed to the nines, and walk into a room, my first thought is I’m The Man. I size up the room, look at every man and what he is wearing, and whether a crowd is gathered around him. That’s when I try and seize the moment, and work the room.”
I was struck not only by this gent’s unwavering belief in the power of appearance, but by the fact that dressing well and projecting confidence are attractiveness-boosting tools that we all have at our fingertips. The response of another interviewee, a Dallas-based television personality, followed suit.
“Have I used my beauty to gain advantages? Of course – just like people use their size, strength, or intelligence. Is it easier to get attention by being attractive,” asserted this woman, who is so often in the public eye. “But part of that is also presence. How we stand or hold ourselves in public can be taught to anyone!”
A young and strikingly handsome fellow in his twenties who splits his time between modeling and a more down-to-earth job at a coffee shop echoed the sentiment: “Physical beauty comes down to symmetry and confidence.”
So far, so interesting. However, the thoughts of a final responder on the subjects of quantifying attractiveness and attractiveness and power, took my little project in a new direction.
“Being fit has made me feel more powerful. Success in school and work and being recognized has me feel more powerful – but, not attractive,” revealed this woman, both beautiful and successful in her work for a large tech company. “Actually, folks are nicer to me overall when I have no makeup on, and am dressed in sweats.”
“This is a sword that cuts two ways,” she continued on the subject of whether her looks ever gave her an advantage. “If you are in a situation, personal or professional, when you are a woman being accessed by another woman, it is a disadvantage being attractive. Women have a particularly difficult time being ‘fair’ to someone who they think is more attractive, or who [is perceived to] have a better social or economic situation than themselves.”
At this moment, a familiar adage came to my mind: Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
Indeed, the aforementioned television personality said, “Pretty people have to work harder to be approached by others.” The male model-slash-barista concurred, “Sometimes I feel as though being attractive holds me back. I can tell that I intimidate some people, and others, mostly older men, don’t seem to take me seriously.”
So, it would seem that physical beauty works in one’s favor – until it doesn’t. Confidence? A surefire plus. Fitness? Another great bet. But just plain looking better than those around you isn’t a clear-cut advantage. Several beautiful – and also really damned smart – people had made this point clear.
One final element of my research backed the idea. Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economist and professor at U.T. Austin, is the author of Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful. He is frequently sited by media outlets examining the advantages of beauty.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Hamermesh stated, “Looks are only one of many factors that affect how much one earns, how well one does in dating and marriage, [and] how happy one is. …It’s also important to quantify beauty’s effects to demonstrate that they are not so large as people might guess. They’re important, but not astronomical.”
Again putting down my pen and thinking of the year to come, I reviewed that list of perennially popular New Year’s resolutions along with my new findings, and I wondered about Hamermesh’s ‘many factors.’ The time had come to review my panel’s responses to the fourth and final question on my list.
What qualities do the most beautiful people I know find beautiful in others? Kindness, confidence, intelligence, a loving heart, and a positive outlook.
In conclusion, to paraphrase a common New Year’s anthem: Should old resolutions be forgot? I learned by writing this piece that looking good isn’t as valuable as confidence and self-esteem. I also learned what the most beautiful people I know find beautiful in others. For myself, think I’ll resolve to ‘Be Kinder’ in 2014. I’ll probably also eat more salads and go for a run once in a while, but not so that I can fit into skinny jeans.
Now, what’s your New Year’s Resolution?