Take a look around your friends and colleagues. The chances are that the most attractive among them possess not only beauty, but intelligence and potent charm as well.
Doors open for them as if by magic. People fall over themselves to help them and these charmed beings seem to have far fewer problems than the rest of us.
It may not be fair, but it’s definitely a big plus to have been born handsome or good-looking. You’re more likely to develop charisma, confidence and sex appeal…and you could end up earning up to 20 per cent more.
How do I know this? Because, as a social scientist. I’ve uncovered evidence from dozens of academic studies that all point to the same remarkable conclusion: people who are socially and physically attractive get a giant step up in life.
They’re more successful. They have better sex lives. They’re more persuasive. They’re less likely to get depressed. They’re more alluring to both sexes. They’re even slightly more intelligent.
All that and beauty, too! It’s enough to make an average-looking woman grind her slightly misaligned teeth.
The good news, however, is that attractiveness can be learnt…it’s a skill like any other that requires effort and dedication.
You may never have the symmetrical features and even-toned skin that are a vital component of the concept of beauty, but you can certainly acquire other related qualities.
At the heart of true attractiveness is what I call erotic capital. It’s an asset that’s been ignored in the stampede to analyse people’s economic capital (what you earn and possess), social capital (who you know) and human capital (what you know).
Erotic capital is a blend of beauty, sex appeal, liveliness, charm, social skills, sexual competence and talent for dressing well. In other words, it’s a crucial mixture of physical and social attractiveness.
Think of someone like Madonna. She’s not the most conventionally beautiful woman, and her voice is average, but she has transformed herself into probably the most famous woman in the world, certainly one of the most compelling and successful.
Then there’s Victoria Beckham. With her snub nose and famously bad skin, no one could argue that she is classically beautiful, but she was a member of one of the world’s most successful girl bands, bagged a handsome and successful husband and has reinvented herself as a style icon.
Think also of Jennifer Aniston, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Simon Cowell, Barack and Michelle Obama, Katie Price aka glamour model Jordan, heiress Paris Hilton, even Renee Zellweger. They might seem a disparate group, but what all these stars have in common is a charisma and success that transcends their, often very average, looks.
It’s true that the naturally beautiful are more likely to have it because they get a head start in the cradle. As babies and small children, they’re treated more warmly both by members of their family and strangers in the street.
They’re more likely to be fussed over, caressed, offered sweets and gifts, helped when in need and forgiven when they misbehave. Even professional care-givers…such as nannies and workers in nurseries…perceive six-month-old babies differently according to how attractive they are. And among their peers, good-looking children are often the most popular.
All this positive attention has lasting effects on the personalities of children, speeding up their intellectual and social development.
Indeed, 75 per cent of good-looking children are judged to be well-adjusted, socially attractive and competent…compared with only 25 per cent of unattractive children.
This makes perfect sense. If you grow up basking in the warmth and kindness of others, the world becomes a friendlier place. Surrounded by a kind of golden glow, you find it easier to get on with people, attract attention and get what you want.
According to one study, girls who are attractive in secondary school are not only more likely to marry, but more likely to have a higher household income 15 years later.
What’s more, their attractiveness is unlikely to fade with time. Studies reveal that an attractive 21-year-old will usually remain ‘attractive’ at every stage of her life, even well past the age when she would usually be considered physically beautiful.
Does this mean all average-looking women should immediately start saving up for cosmetic surgery? After all, at least one psychotherapist suggests that reshaping the features of unattractive people may be more likely to make them popular than years of therapy.
But very few need consider this extreme. The French, for instance, have always recognised that a woman can make herself extremely attractive by the way she presents herself…hence the expression jolie laide, or pretty-ugly woman.
When I was in my 20s, I took advantage of free make-up lessons being offered by big cosmetic firms and quickly acquired all the expertise I wanted.
And anyone can learn social etiquette, good manners, colour co-ordination and dress style…not least from self-help books and magazines. Anyone can also try to smile more often…as naturally beautiful people do…so the world smiles back.
The jolie laide may take longer to build up her erotic capital, but she can still reach the same destination as the woman who had a head start and an easy journey. This is not the hard-line feminist view, of course. The British lesbian political scientist Sheila Jeffreys, for instance, believes that any woman who tries to make herself look better is a ‘cultural dope’ who’s been brainwashed by men via images in advertising and pornography.
Other feminists argue that it should be against the law for employers to take any account of a woman’s appearance…even if she’s obese. Yet obesity is known to be a major health risk. Obese people are less likely to marry, more likely to have a low-earning spouse if they do, and generally have lower incomes themselves.
So it’s not surprising that many young women regard feminism as irrelevant. The steady growth in sales of cosmetics, fashions and cosmetic surgery suggests that rising affluence and everyday reality are more influential than any feminist rhetoric.
Consciously or unconsciously, everyone’s affected by looks. Motorists are 25 per cent more likely to stop for an attractive woman who has a flat tyre than her unattractive counterpart. Men with attractive girlfriends are rated more positively. So is anyone, male or female, who has attractive friends.
Attractive men and women also have, on average, twice as many dates and more active and better sex lives. Statistically, attractive women even have better marriages. When the wife has more erotic capital than her husband, the marriage is likely to be more mutually supportive and positive. Intriguingly, research shows a marriage is more likely to suffer when the husband is more attractive than the wife.
According to studies by psychologists, defendants who are attractive and smartly dressed are less likely to be found guilty of a crime, all else being equal. They’re also less likely to be caught in the first place, to be reported if they’re caught, or to be punished harshly if found guilty.
Still on the crime theme, let’s look at what happens to more physically attractive people when they come out of prison. In a unique American experiment, convicts were separated into two groups of unattractive men.
In group one, the men were given vocational training as well as years of therapy to improve their social skills. Group two had none of these advantages, but they did undergo plastic surgery before their release.
After a year of freedom, the men with new faces were the least likely to be in trouble again…with a reoffending rate that was 36 per cent lower than that of ugly men who’d had neither therapy nor surgery.
And for the ugly men who’d had all the therapy and training? The reoffending rate was 33 per cent higher. So why did the men who had surgery do so much better? Because beauty confers real benefits that appear to be universal.
An attractive person is usually assumed to be socially and intellectually competent…and that’s the way he or she will be treated. Even if, just a year before, he was an ugly convict in a prison cell.
OK, but surely education trumps erotic capital every time? Not necessarily.
The bald truth is that attractiveness has an equal effect to education on the level of your income. This is partly because the Western world has shifted away from agriculture and manufacturing to jobs that involve human contact — and, as we’ve seen, attractive people are more persuasive, have better social skills and more charm. So they attract more clients and customers, get more repeat business and sell more products.
That’s why possessing erotic capital gives you an average earnings mark-up of 15 to 20 per cent, according to experts. It also makes it more likely that you’ll land the job in the first place, and that you’ll be promoted later on.
It does not, by the way, mean women should immediately start baring their cleavages at work.
Your erotic capital includes your skill at presenting yourself…and that includes adopting dress styles that are appropriate for the venue or occasion.
In fact, a poorly-qualified, but well-groomed candidate for a job is more likely to be hired than a well-qualified but poorly-groomed candidate …ven when the people interviewing them are convinced that they’ve discounted appearance as a minor factor.
Interestingly, all studies report that there’s a higher concentration of attractive people employed in the private sector, where salaries tend to be higher. There is the perception that in the public sector, on the other hand, you are more likely to find employees who rarely make as much effort with their appearance.
Little wonder, perhaps, that the shabbiness and lugubriousness of some government employees can sometimes lead customers to feel they’re being treated badly.
It’s no use complaining that we shouldn’t value erotic capital because beauty is inherited. Intelligence is largely inherited, too, yet there’s little point in moaning that this is unfair.
The great thing about erotic capital is that anyone can develop it. After all, good manners, better dress sense and other social skills are not gifts bestowed at birth.
We all accept that it’s sensible to invest ten or more years in getting an education, often at huge personal and public expense. And while it might be taboo to admit, the evidence would suggest it makes just as much sense to invest time and effort in developing our erotic capital.
by Susan Floyd