As a study says attractive workers earn more money… Does ‘pretty privilege’ get you to the top? 

Clare Foges (pictured) says ‘winning the genetic lottery means the odds are already stacked heavily in your favour’


By Clare Foges

Heading to a political networking event in my 20s, I would ensure all bases were covered.

Was I well-briefed? Check. Had I read the day’s papers? Check. Was I fake-tanned, blow-dried, wearing false eyelashes so thick and luxuriant that, in the event of a storm, small animals could have sheltered under them? Check, check, check.

Though no Helen of Troy, in my 20s — with sincere thanks to Estee Lauder, Max Factor and friends — I could turn the odd head. And this, of course, I used to my advantage.

Working in Westminster and surrounded by grey-suited politicos, it helped to look attractive. Sit for an hour or so in the central lobby at the Houses of Parliament and you will see many beautiful young women click-clack by in high heels, their forms zipped into knock-off Roland Mouret dresses, their eyes on the prize of some plum special adviser role.

These aren’t bimbos — far from it. They are smart girls who know that looking pretty is a privilege. It opens doors, oils wheels and makes men and women alike warm to you.

I know whereof I speak for I have seen both sides of the pretty picket fence.

In my teens, I was the ultimate plain Jane, wearing spectacles so thick they shrank my eyes to the size of peppercorns. Gazing back at me from the mirror was a cross between Danger Mouse’s swotty sidekick Penfold and a potato. Then came lashings of make-up, hair dye and contact lenses — and new power. It wasn’t just men that reacted differently to me but other women.

Good looks are the great unacknowledged superpower.

Sometimes, I will read a rags-to-riches story of some beautiful young woman who claims she rose up ‘against all odds’ and I will scoff — for winning the genetic lottery means the odds are already stacked heavily in your favour. Pretty women are perceived as being smarter, healthier, more competent — even more moral, to the extent that pretty privilege is probably felt in our justice system.

Good looks are the great unrecognised superpower 

Several times, I have read of attractive young women committing serious crimes and receiving far lighter sentences than we would expect for a man found guilty of the same offence.

There is a reason why the global beauty industry is worth £370 billion. All those mascaras, facials and creams are our bid to get ahead of the rest of the pack when it comes to love, success and professional status.

Since long before Cleopatra ringed her eyes, prettiness has been a privilege. It might be unfair, but we don’t instruct people not to use their brains or sporting talents or other genetic gifts. If women have got ‘it’, who can blame them for using it to their advantage?

Janet Street-Porter (pictured) says 'women who use their looks to get ahead will only go so far'

Janet Street-Porter (pictured) says ‘women who use their looks to get ahead will only go so far’


By Janet Street-Porter 

You’ve heard of sexism, racism and ageism, but what about ‘lookism’ — the unconscious habit many employers have of picking people who are attractive even when they may not be the best person for the job?

Good-looking people aren’t just lucky, they are born with an unfair advantage because the rest of us have been conditioned from birth to judge a person by their packaging.

There are countless academic studies proving that attractive people have more confidence and better social skills, which make them more employable. But — speaking as a former boss — does that make them a better bet than their less attractive peers at rising through the ranks?

In my opinion, it does not. I want co-workers to be smart, intelligent, resourceful, kind and funny. I couldn’t care less what they look like.

And it seems I’m not alone. While studies show that handsome men can earn 13 per cent more than less attractive blokes, beautiful women, on the other hand, don’t do as well, frequently relying on a high-earning partner to boost their income.

Beautiful people often gravitate to careers or working environments in which they can exploit their looks — social media, the beauty business, modelling, acting and television. There they compete against other ‘perfect’ people.

Women who use looks to get ahead only go so far 

But in the real world outside these professions, when good-looking people fail, they tend to get treated more harshly than their peers. We secretly think ‘they had it coming’ as a bit of a punishment for making the rest of us feel inadequate.

In every business teams need a good mix, with very different personalities. Some people will be good at detail, others at brain-storming and developing ideas. Some want to stay in the background and hate the limelight.

I’ve discovered — through decades of recruiting in television and print media — that putting together the group who will be loyal and bring your ideas to reality requires a huge range of skills.

The ability to look great in a swimsuit or be able to attract millions of followers on TikTok is not one of them.

I’m not conventionally attractive and got where I am because of my brains. The women who use their looks to get ahead will only go so far. I don’t blame them, but I’ve not got time for the naive bosses who fall for their charms.

They’ll find out that brains and empathy beat the shallow charm of good looks in the long run.

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