Last week on the debut episode of our new podcast - SISTER TALK, we talked about ‘The Beauty Bias’, the misconception that women are unintelligent or shallow because of their looks. It is the unspoken discrimination towards women who pay particular attention to their physical appearance – the stereotype that because a woman is stylish and physically attractive, she is unintelligent and incapable of taking on challenges and delivering results.
The ‘Beauty Bias’ is in statements like “she has beauty and brains”, or “a pretty girl like you should not be doing…”, or “she is very beautiful but she is still able to accomplish…”, or “her beauty did not stop her from achieving…”. This stereotype places women in boxes on the basis of their physical appearance. It pushes a narrative that beauty and intellect are two separate entities and cannot co-exist within a woman.
Some might negate this sexist stereotype with the argument that the discrimination is not specific to women alone but is a common stereotype about ‘attractive people’. The concept that attractive people are favoured in different circumstances over people who are ‘not as attractive’. However, when we dig deeper into this concept, we will find that an attractive man is not underestimated because of his looks, he is further celebrated. More so, his success in life is also not tied to his physical appearance.
However, when it comes to woman with a stunning physical appearance, generally, there is already this stereotype (both amongst men and women) that she is not intellectually sound. There is also this misconception that whatever degree of success she attained was achieved because of her looks not because of her capabilities. Unlike with the man, her beauty is not just appreciated, it is used as a yardstick to judge all other aspects of her life.
So, the question is, how do we fight the ‘Beauty Bias’ how do we stop this misconception and segregation of women for their physical appearance? We asked a couple of women about the ‘Beauty Bias’ and how they dealt with it and this is what they had to say:
I was at the Bank the other day to make a transfer of over a million Naira. The cashier attending to me was extremely rude & disgruntled. I overheard her calling me a ‘Slay Queen’ to one of her colleagues. I was upset but, I ignored it. I know I worked hard for every penny. Her bias came from a place of insecurity.
My female boss always sends me to engage male managers whenever we want to secure approvals for projects. I thought it was because she felt I was competent until one day, she blatantly told me “I know you’re not smart enough to defend those memos, I thought you would at least use your beauty”. I lost all self-confidence.
One guy had been trying to get my attention to take me out on a date. I kept refusing. I finally agreed to go out with him and when I told him I was a practicing mechanical engineer he was like “a pretty girl like you?”. I was immediately turned off. The worst part was that he was sure I was lying, just because of what I looked like.
When I told my Mum (who was a housewife) that I wanted to study Medicine, she laughed and jokingly said in our local dialect “you are beautiful, just marry up and don’t stress yourself”. I was extremely disappointed by that statement. Since then, I’ve had this extra burning desire to prove myself.
What do you think about the ‘Beauty Bias’ and how have you dealt with it personally? Listen to the SISTER TALK episode where we tackled this issue and let us know what you think in the comments section.