Lookism: It’s all in a look

Woman-applying-makeup-mirror-imageA comment thread on the NSVRC Facebook page got me thinking. This isn’t new…our Facebook community is always making me think. Smart folks! This particular thread responded to a post about a compliments sheet for the workplace. Several of the compliments reference physical appearance (i.e. “You have a beautiful smile” or “You look great today”).

The comment thread suggested that these sorts of compliments be amended to remove all reference to physical attractiveness. The reasoning was that these might promote sexual harassment in the workplace. I can see how this might contribute to an existing problem. Very thoughtful!

What got me thinking was the idea that it’s inappropriate to pay mind to physical attractiveness at all. It led me down the slippery slope of anti-oppression analysis, and I settled into an internal debate on Lookism.

I struggle with Lookism, because I think it’s very hard to ignore physical attraction. It’s a pretty normal part of a healthy sexuality. I also know there’s been a lot of research on the biological foundation for preferring attractive faces. Feeling attractive and confident about the way you look isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I think that what I’ve settled on in my Lookism debate is that it’s important to separate simple facts of life from systems of oppression. The problem with Lookism is not that people are attracted to other people, or that people feel good about how they look. The problem is that there is prejudice associated with physical appearance. It’s that people can be and are discriminated against based on the way they look. Even bigger than this is the problem of a pre-determined cultural expectation for what qualifies as attractive.

The reality is that what is attractive, or looks good, should be different for every person. I love the way this idea is discussed in the post “Dear Daughter, I hope you have awesome sex.” Thank goodness we’re not all trying to bed the same 10 people…that would just be creepy! The bottom line is that we all have a right to feel good about ourselves, as we look right now. We should all be free of an institutional expectation to look a certain way. We should all understand that attraction should be naturally coupled with respect.

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