Beauty points to the aspect of social identity that builds a reputation out of first contact appearances, expressions, and consistent behaviors observed and judged by others as an indication of overall individual life capital. Despite being a physical connotation, beauty is a flexible human element that forms an emotionally innate identity of an individual shaped by both interactions and social constructs, making it a subject of manipulations to meet the demands of different groups or cultures.
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According to Erickson and Turner (2016:44), beauty constitutes social constructs, ideas, thoughts, or physical attributes that appeal to human senses. This notion confines beauty to an emotional context locking out other spheres of life such as rehabilitative or corrective measures that naturally lower the satisfaction state. Thus, based on the element of social construct that varies depending on geographical settings, the standards of beauty differ significantly across cultures, societies, and times.
Since beauty has a double effect, that is, to provoke detestation or affection, it is necessary to understand that varying potentials of beauty draw varying degrees of these two opposing effects. Therefore, this concept of polarized tastes informs the choice of the topic to analyze the relationship between beauty and social inequality such as gender and class. In this line of thought, the process of influence follows Bourdieu’s concept of cultural capital, which is a social asset involving an established point for relative judgment that one inherits and builds from predecessors and the immediate environment (Croteau and Hoynes 2018:221).
In effect, stratifying and unjustly rewarding individuals for biologically influenced physical attributes dramatically affects people’s way of life. Thus, the interest to study the role that social ideas about beauty play in shaping individual lives further informed the choice of this topic. Therefore, in its association with social inequality, it is agreeable to determine the mechanism through which beauty favors or disapproves individuals based on the flawed premises that shape lives.
However, it is important to note that beauty is a social construct that emanates from human insecurities and develops majorly due to false perceptions. People construct elements of beauty based on their cultural and social interactions, and then attribute positive qualities to attractive features. Hakim coins the term “erotic capital” to refer to beauty as a form of power and profit, which combines social and physical attributes and explains the attraction between men and women (2010:515).
In this view, our positive expectation of attractive people turns beauty into a significant capital yielding reward in unexpected ways, such as popularity, friendship, power, fame, and in jobs involving customer service and entertainment. Thus, beauty, just like race, gender, sexuality, age, and other demographic characteristics, can be a crucial hidden factor enhancing inequality. From this perspective, this research paper examines beauty and discusses its contribution to social inequalities across life segments.
Beauty and Social Inequality
The mechanism through which beauty contributes to social inequality relates to its influence on opportunities established along the power of ideology, such as income avenues, gender stratification, and cultural capital.
The concept of judgment problem explores assessment disparities created from imperfect information valued on concrete facts. Reflecting on the benefit of the impression that superficially influences collective judgment, the reward of attractive people in both the job and social markets, such as marriage and relationship preferences, demonstrates the processes through which beauty pays. Beauty ideally illustrates the apparent tendency of society favoring beautiful or attractive individuals over the less attractive ones, positively attaching the physical appearance to personal character and abilities, a phenomenon that has no social association.
Therefore, “beauty pays” is a concept that hinges on the biases of social consensus in which a distinctive outward look forms a preamble for personal character and professional abilities. The weakness in human judgment is a factor of the halo effect, an ideology described by Forgas and Laham to rely heavily on potentially deceiving looks to link beauty with performance (2007:410). This concept highlights how society tends to reward physically appealing individuals with not only tangible elements, such as job opportunities or better pays, but also assumes they possess a better character or abilities. On the contrary, less attractive individuals, regardless of their professional abilities or moral standing, unjustly face impression-based criticism, depending on biological predisposition, thus denying them a chance to compete fairly with their opposite mates.
Practical examples of job opportunities augmenting the concept of “beauty pays” include the hospitality industry cutting across hotel and tourism businesses, and entertainment and advertising business sectors. On these platforms, hiring credentials take into consideration both visible and audio attributes to award scores and rewards an individual’s performance. A sociologist Hakim established that the benefit of beauty depends on the ability to stimulate collective emotional satisfaction, which is the content of the power of erotic capital (2011:509).
Placing a premium on attractive attributes is evident in the advertisement and prostitution industry where individuals with appealing looks find greater success than those with low erotic capital. In a sense, beauty is a social attribute that can independently move an individual up the competitive lane of the public market. As the basis of this understanding, erotic capital is a crucial concept of beauty that needs exploitation in equal measure as a professional attribute that positions individuals for better job opportunities and success in life.
Generally, given the inequalities resulting from beauty disparity, it is agreeable to identify physical attractiveness as an economic force that stratifies individuals based on their appearances and social desirability.
According to Hamermesh, statistics show that men and women who are below average in beauty earn 17% and 12% less than their beautiful counterparts, respectively (2013:42). This economic disparity points to the probable fact that attractive individuals have certain benefits over less attractive ones in all aspects of life, including getting better-educated spouses and competing for elective positions. Conversely, less attractive individuals have a low success rate in job growth, higher likelihood of losing jobs, and an increased potential to earn less money in life. These financial differences demonstrate the essential contribution of beauty in enhancing social disparities and creating class gaps.
Overall, these outright favors dominate the public environment stretching the benefits of beauty as a concept of social capital that society ought to cultivate or develop. This knowledge explains the rise in beauty shops numbers and the expansion of the advertisement industry.
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As people tend to balance biological conditions with social demands, it is necessary to note that the inclination towards making a good impression originates from the over-time evolution and molding of social preferences and choices. Thus, given the opportunity to decide on the selection and appointment of people to critical positions, all individuals tend to converge at a socially desirable point of preference, giving attractive individuals a better competitive advantage over their counterparts. In this case, social values positively enhance success outcomes for people with a better physique and provide them with more chances for job interviews, appointments to higher positions, and better remuneration.
The Gender Role
In social stratification, beauty plays a crucial role in setting standards and a measurement scale for each sexual category. The first line of discrimination involves identifying individuals along the dimension of social cognition, which provides the basis for gender-based judgment and preferential treatment within the economic market. The elements defining gender standards of physical attractiveness conform to society’s view of beauty in each sex category and expected roles.
Giselinde Kuipers reveals in his research that society has distinct concepts that define the standards of beauty among women with flexible qualities for men, depending on circumstances and the environment (Singapore Management University 2017). In this case, society demands clear and more defined attributes of attractiveness from women than from men.
Despite physical attractiveness playing a significant role in how society scores men’s abilities, another essential aspect of beauty in men involves adhering to the community-based ideal standards of masculinity. Different communities and social environments have varying ideas of qualities defining what constitutes a real man. However, the extent of attractiveness based on these standards still affects individuals’ opportunities to exploit their features. In most African and Asian countries, for example, the society discriminates and punishes men with physical looks almost considered as feminine within their local setting. Thus, this power of classification underscores the qualities of beauty along racial lines.
Some races, Africans in particular, view masculinity as a set of visible features defining beauty. However, regardless of race, the understanding of both gender and race facilitates the perception of the attractiveness of individuals based on social standards in any given context (Hakim 2010:508). In most settings, men of lighter complexion, receive less attention as the society views them as less masculine and are likely to attract negative treatment in social circles based on their appearance that fits the opposite gender. Thus, the ability of a man to ignite or raise emotions in other individuals whether through male attributes, facial features, or other factors that constitute the definition of masculinity among different communities forms the basis of unequal treatment and social discrimination.
On the other hand, factors that define female attractiveness in the global society tend to relate to an ideal body shape and complexion. However, the element of weight varies across regions, especially among African communities, where in some cultures being overweight is a positive attribute that puts women higher in the social hierarchy. According to Spade and Valentine (2008), men typically occupy positions of power to determine what they think is acceptable within the incessant definition and to set the standards of beauty for women.
Feminist expectations result from male oppression of women, making beauty an increasingly important prerequisite with far more significant effects on women’s success than that of men. Therefore, for women, attractiveness is considered a superiority badge that needs continuous improvement to enhance their individual market value and competitive advantage.
Examining the social discrimination of women based on gender, the impact of male power on defining tastes and standards of beauty for women increases their problems in searching for social opportunities. Thus, attractiveness of women is a weapon of mass influence that packages and stage-manages all other attributes in secular courts (Spade and Valentine 2008). Based on the concept of the power of erotic capital, feminine attractiveness has the potential to sway and program men’s views on women’s qualities and overall abilities. The emotional content of this implies that men can overlook all other attributes in favor of feminine attractiveness, making beauty socioeconomic capital that women can exploit to enhance their hierarchical status. Therefore, given the impact of the patriarchal view on female professional success, women must invest in cultivating this asset to ensure optimum life outcomes.
The Social Value of Taste in Beauty
The idea of tastes or preferences in physical characteristics primarily depends on individualized cultural capital, which is rooted in the idea that beauty can be socially developed based on one’s background and educational experiences. According to Croteau and Hoynes (2018:220), Bourdieu’s notion of cultural capital dictates that the family background is a dominant social force that shapes and sets individuals along distinct ideological paths conceived through the training and capacity of social interaction. In addition, Gartman (2002:257) recognized the fundamental contribution of socioeconomic status in defining social boundaries and enhancing class-based disparities in upbringing, forms, and the level of exposure.
In essence, a parental socioeconomic position profoundly influences the scope of their children’s social network and their learning experiences. Thus, children inherit their social skills and tastes from their parents and immediate environment, which transform into their behaviors and lifestyle (Croteau and Hoynes 2018:221). One good example is that some individuals wear a suit or expensive dresses to express their economic worth, while others dress casually despite their excellent financial status. This notion of simplicity is cultivated over time through social exposure that puts a value on other aspects of life such as educational attainment.
Conversely, educational opportunities divide individuals based on the parental financial status, the type of major pursued, the level of educational attainment, and the type of school attended, resulting in class-based differences. Croteau and Hoynes (2018:221) hold that cultural capital facilitates the development of approximately uniform and identical concepts within each social class with distinct characteristics.
Thus, individuals in the same class behave and relate in an almost similar manner, but different from those of other social classes concerning their choices and ways of expressions. In essence, resource distribution enables individuals from higher income backgrounds to access and internalize a broad category of social forces with a significant influence on their degree of preference for several items (Kwon 2007:68).
Based on this ideology, economic predispositions provide individuals with varying social exposures that prepare them for different lanes, creating social inequalities. For example, the kinds of sports and games that children play depend on the ability of their family to afford them and, subsequently, determine their chance to succeed in the social market.
Sociology highlights the positive contribution of beauty in the society, while also demonstrating its input in social inequalities. Despite being a social construct based on individual cultural, economic, and social capital, beauty dramatically influences the outcome of other attributes such as skills and abilities. Given this power to determine or set the success of individuals in social and economic aspects, it is possible to conclude that attractiveness can shape the way individuals live, interact, and negotiate their progress on a social scale. Thus, beauty plays a crucial role in the creation and establishment of social inequalities within different populations.
However, this contribution undermines the notions of biological differences and the social frame determining the level of application. Therefore, it is advisable to make sense of the fact that beauty is not a good source of information since physical appearances can be deceiving. In essence, assuming that the way someone looks represents a person’s character does not only discriminate but also facilitates wrong judgment and perpetuate corrupt practices.
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