ISM Number Seven: Ugly-ISM

by Michael Haberman on October 5, 2009 · 2 comments


Discrimination against the physcially unattractive has a long history. It has been written about for ages, as far back as Aristophanes’ play, The Assemblywoman, a Greek play about Athens being taken over by women and their attempts to even society out by making ugly people mate with beautiful people. The carnivals that roamed the country used to have sideshows that featured the bearded lady, or Siamese (conjoined) Twins, or some other “freak of nature” that was sure to facsinate and repulse people at the same time. The Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick, was one of the more famous ones, even having a movie of his life made starring John Hurt.

More recently we have had the popular movie Revenge of the Nerds and the series of knockoffs it spawned. And currently running on prime time TV we have Ugly Betty. All of these shows have as there theme the disadvantages of being physically unattractive. Real research has shown that less attractive people make less money and have fewer job opportunities than attractive people. The research was unsure if this was discrimination or if the fact that the more attractive people developed better social skills and more confidence that less attractive people. Body image, as mentioned in my FATISM post, plays a big role in how people feel about themselves.

The movies and TV shows people overcoming these difficulties. But I am not sure to what extent that actually happens. If you start off in life with less opportunity due to your physical appearance do you ever really have a chance to overcome that disadvantage? We would like to think so.

From an HR standpoint there is no law that forbids discrimination based upon ugly. At least none of which I am aware. There may at sometime be such an attempt, but Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron, first published in 1961 showed the darkside of trying to be too politically correct. As the plot summary states “In the story, social equality has been achieved by handicapping the more intelligent, athletic or beautiful members of society. For example, strength is handicapped by the requirement to carry weight, beauty by the requirement to wear a mask, etc. This is due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the United States Constitution. This process is central to the society, designed so that no one will feel inferior to anyone else. Handicapping is overseen by the United States Handicapper General, Diana Moon Glampers.”

The best HR solution is to have a culture of civility and to focus on job performance. Forget about artficially trying to make things “equal”.

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