Looks: Chapter 4
We’ve now learned that parents tend to discriminate against their less attractive children. What about teachers?
Yes. They expect more attractive children to perform better. As a result, the teachers devote more attention to children whom they think have greater potential. And because the teacher expects better stuff out of them, the children actually DO better.
Dr. Rosenthal of Harvard pioneered work on this. He had a fake non verbal test of intelligence done to a group of schoolchildren. Out of this group, a random group of schoolchildren were chosen as the experimental group. He told the teachers that certain scores on the test displayed that there would be a future spurt in intellect for the experimental group. However, the only real difference between the experimental group and the other group was in the teachers’ minds. All the same, the experimental group showed far more progress.
This kind of discriminating against those who are less attractive is called lookism. It has a corrosive effect on self-esteem.
Studies show that even when attractive and unattractive students earn identical records, teachers still believe that in the future, attractive students will do better than the unattractive students.
Not only that, they would punish the students who don’t look beautiful, while the attractive students get away without punishment.
Snow White from a picture book
Don’t forget the beautiful = good stereotype that we talked about earlier. A highly attractive person would be associated with a favorable personality and the best quality of life traits. Further studies show that children are more likely to attribute positive characteristics to better looking people than adults are.
Another trend noticed is that attractive females are more popular than attractive males. At least when they’re young. I’ve noticed this in Sunday school (@ church). The younger classes are full of an abundance of cute girls and cute boys. The cute girls get more attention than the cute boys. However, the cute boys could care less, while the cute girls seem to live for the attention.
An important factor in the development of this is parents. According to famous social psychologist Albert Bandura, social behavior is learned through observing and imitating the behaviors observed most frequently. Parents, teachers, TV are a good source for behaviors to be imitated. That means that if a child observes that the physical attractive person is good and gets treated better than the unattractive, he or she might adopt this behavior as his or her own. Because elders (along with TV) play such an important role in a child’s life, they are a possible cause.
Maybe this is why children as young as age 5 are sensitive to different body types, with a preference for normal weight bodies.
Back to my friend with two daughters. This lady is a compulsive dieter. She’s as skinny as a stick yet believes that she is too fat. (Problem?) Her oldest daughter (age 5) picked up this way of thinking. One day, she said to her mother, “I’m a princess. Daddy is a prince. Mommy, you cannot be a princess because you are too fat.”
Children who are of average size or are muscular are seen as happy, kind, smart, neat, strong, and popular. Plump children, however, are perceived as sloppy, lazy, stupid, and likely to cheat.
It’s scary but not surprising that many eight year olds diet nowadays.
Obesity is a national plague. Children between the ages of 6 to 11 are three times as likely to be overweight as in 1970. Obesity has come to rival smoking as a source of premature death. People who were obese when young have a greater frequency of psychological symptoms and emotional problems than people who only became obese when older.
I have a good friend named Henry who was overweight when he was very young. Sadly, he got a lot of teasing when he was in elementary and middle school. He started running and lost it all in high school. But when Henry was in college, he got an eating disorder. Right now he’s normal weight. He’s also pretty good looking. The women tend to swoon around him. But deep down inside him, he still feels the effects of that teasing years ago. How old is Henry? 28.
Speaking of teasing, I’m sure most of my readers remember the Columbine High School incident. Whitehead and Hoover of University of North Dakota reviewed the case and did research on bullying. They found that bullying had a link to body issues. And that at any given time, 60% of American women and girls admit to dieting.
Adolescence is a critical period of development. It’s more difficult for girls than guys as girls are more concerned about attractiveness and less satisfied with their appearance to begin with. Teenage girls were found by the same researchers to be concerned that their thighs, butt, and hips were too large. Younger girls were dissatisfied with their teeth, face, and feet.
Vanderbilt University psychologists set out to find the pressures that drive young women to be happy with their body image. Is it innate sense that their bodies should look a certain way? Or does it come from feedback from other people? They did conclude that already depressed women are driven to further despair by the idealized media images.
Other studies suggest that attractiveness is risky. Pretty women college students are at a risk for an eating disorder if their perfectionism combines with anxiety and the tendency to be hypercritical. They may also be more likely to criticize thin women for their efforts to stay slim.
There is hope for the bullied. Whitehead and Hoover found out that the most successful programs combine diet and exercise within a framework of significant behavior change. The programs should be implemented with schools, families, and doctors.
However, it is difficult to maintain these plans. Even so, PE programs that look at individual children’s needs may serve as a thread to reconnect those children with adults who care. Who knows what might have happened if my friend Henry had been in a program like that? Things may have been very different. Also remember that physical activity and exercise is more effective in treating depression.
Another way that the emphasis on physical attractiveness warps learning experience is in sexuality. Teens have a desire to attract the opposite sex. They also have a deep need for validation. A study of 280 college students showed that more attractive the sexual partner, the less inclination for students to take precautions.
How about students’ attitudes toward attractive versus ugly teachers?
Periodic student evaluations came in not a long time ago. These factor greatly into tenures and promotion. However, it seemed that looks were more important than teaching ability. I have been to ratemyprofessors.com to check the ratings of the professors I’ve had, and I saw that the ratings of a professor I loved in a class I enjoyed were very negative. A lot of the posts mentioned her rather unkempt appearance.
Several subsequent studies confirmed that students tend to rate their teacher’s performance more on the basis of superficialities like PA and clothing style than on the content of their lectures or their abilities to communicate.
So looks do matter. A lot.
Next: Physical attractiveness and careers