"Beauty" in the "Real" World?

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | July 20, 2010 2:08 pm

More at Newsweek

Interested in readers take on this…

MORE ABOUT: beauty, Newsweek

Comments (13)

  1. I find it strange that most of the people I know who reject vitalism and tend to stick with a world view based on scientific naturalism are also generally the ones espousing that a genetic gift of intellect is somehow intrinsically superior to a genetic gift of physical beauty.

  2. Guy

    So long as your significant other finds you attractive, what does it matter?

  3. Anna

    @ Guy @ 2,

    It matters because it makes a difference in your job prospects, your love life and your paycheck.

  4. Nemesis


    I’m fooinnne and it hasn’t helped me. 😉 I guess it depends a lot on personality, too.

  5. As someone who isn’t particularly smart or good-looking, I can’t really know which one hurts me more. But my wife thinks I’m attractive, so I’ve got at least 1 person fooled. Go me!


    In my experience, beauty is a good icebreaker or tiebreaker, but it can’t sustain anything of substance. All else equal, I’ll chose the pretty one, but if it’s just pretty vs funny or compassionate, pretty is low on the list of important qualities.

  6. @Rhacodactylus

    Arguably, being smart is a bit more “productive” than being beautiful but that’s a road down utilitarian ethics I’d rather not travel.

    But it does bother me when people are dismissive of/rude towards/disrespectful of others who are not intelligent as them. We’re all people, and some are better at academics than others; but some are better painters than others, or better singers, or better at fixing a car. Etc. The only trait really worth disrespecting is douchebaggery, but lots of people forget that.

  7. Chris

    I thought Ugly Betty was pretty hot!

  8. Marion Delgado

    Newsweek is funny. One time a cover or cover inset said Sleater-Kinney were the best band in the world! I had to blink and look at it 3 times.

  9. Guy

    It matters because it makes a difference in your job prospects, your love life and your paycheck.

    Only in certain occupations where it makes a big difference─modeling, acting, etc. There aren’t many Ugly leading actors. The actress that plays Ugly Betty actually looks pretty nice when she’s off screen and not made up to look like a geek.

    Given that only a small percentage of people are considered to be supermodel beautiful then that leaves a much larger percentage that are not. I don’t know of many science careers that require you to beautiful. Maybe they do choose science communicators that are more appealing visually or just for the aesthetics. Having the ability to communicate effectively should be a higher priority. When on screen or on stage, people pay attention most to what they find attractive. Sometimes, the message can be what’s keeping the audience from straying, like when you insert some humor or good stories into your talk.

  10. Lindsay

    This is a really entertaining video – the statistic on infants looking at more attractive people for longer periods of time was particularly interesting. Surely some evolutionary psychologist has asked if we’re conditioned to accept a certain definition of attractiveness or beauty. Or maybe in the future society will find obese people more attractive, if the predictions of America becoming increasingly obese come true. But I do think it’s true that conventionally attractive people have it easier in work and in life, especially if they’ve got smarts to back it up. Beauty and intelligence are not mutually exclusive.

  11. Guy @9: Only in certain occupations …

    Nope. There have been numerous studies that show that people who hire, tend to favor the more beautiful people. That means physical beauty has an impact well beyond just “certain occupations”.

  12. Guy

    There have been numerous studies that show that people who hire, tend to favor the more beautiful people.

    Maybe there something to this ‘lookism’ theory that attractive people are generally more successful. I know one person who may have gotten promoted (in part) because she’s got a lot of charisma. She is thin, dresses in fashion, always look good, smells good, etc. She’s fairly good at the job too (dedicated), but there was some less attractive people that were just as qualified who have been employed with at same company much longer.

    Life isn’t fair. You have play the hand you get dealt as best you can.

    There is more to being attractive than just having a pretty face…

  13. Marci

    @Guy: did you even watch the video or read the articles? The point is that our preference for attractiveness pervades our decisions both consciously and subconsciously. Any waitress can tell you that wearing make-up means bigger tips.


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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.


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