Pretty Woman: The Perks and Perils of Being Attractive:
Chivalry is dead. Slapped down for calling a woman in the workplace good-looking, President Obama has stepped into the murky world of women’s rights.
President Obama’s great mistake resides in the fact that he called California Attorney General Kamala Harris the best looking AG in the country. For this insult, he issued an immediate apology. I know quite a few women who put in a lot of effort and invest tons of money to get that kind of attention from a man.
Compliments in the workplace, however, have always been tricky. In my book, Secrets of A Strong Mind, I talk about what it was like to be the only woman on my squad for years. My fellow FBI agents took care to do two things: compliment me on my 1) appearance, and 2) on the good work I was doing. One compliment never came without the other. They wanted me to know they appreciated the effort I took with hair, make-up, and clothes. They also wanted me to know they respected my work ethic. In turn, I frequently complimented them when they looked good—they were flattered and it bolstered their sense of self-worth.
I was never insulted by their compliments. They weren’t meant to be lewd or disrespectful. On the other hand, I never wore 5-inch heels to work or visited plastic surgeons . . . .
Women need to make sure their choices in the way they dress and look are sending the right message to others. Most women want to look feminine without being reduced to a sexual object at the same time (click to tweet). But that is harder than it sounds. Sex is introduced into every decision a woman makes as she prepares to meet the world—seductive eyes or a plain face, sexy heels or sensible shoes, flirty skirts or mannish suits . . . the list goes on.
The worst case scenario is a woman who tries to look and act like one of the guys. As an FBI agent, I’ve seen that happen a lot—female agents who try to hide their femininity as though they’re embarrassed by it.
As leaders, the majority of women I know instinctively understand that appearances are more than vanity or primitive sexual urges. The real issue is this: studies consistently demonstrate that physical appearance does matter and that people intuitively equate beauty with being smart and successful.
The psychology of physical attractiveness is well documented and used by seasoned marketeers around the world. The way we look and dress is a persuasive non-verbal way to communicate our attractiveness to others.
Here are 7 facts from numerous studies that have been conducted to measure the way in which our bias toward physical beauty influences our behavior.
Physically attractive people:
- Trigger the same kinds of brain networks in us that are activated when people become addicted to cocaine and gambling.
- Elevate the mood of others and are considered to be more effective than unattractive people.
- Give impressions of being smarter, successful, sociable, mentally healthier, and more dominant—whether they are or not. While this ‘beauty is good’ effect is moderately strong, studies show that attractive people are neither more nor less intelligent than less attractive people.
- Are considered to be more likable and more social. We are more likely to divulge personal information about ourselves to physically attractive people than we are to less physically attractive people. In addition, we are more likely to help attractive people if they are in trouble.
- Receive more lenient jail sentences if convicted of a crime than less attractive defendants.
- Less likely to be found guilty than a less attractive person charged with the same crime.
- Are considered to be less dangerous than unattractive defendants charged with a crime, independent of grooming or attire.
What did we learn from President Obama’s mis-step? That it’s not politically correct to admit to this bias and that it’s not OK to admit how much we like attractive people to anyone but researchers.
How have you noticed a bias in physical attractiveness in the workplace? Are there disadvantages to being physically attractive in the workplace?
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Read my book ““Secrets of a Strong Mind,” available now on Amazon.