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Friday(ish) roundup: Social problems edition

Posted by Robin Abrahams  August 24, 2013 11:01 AM

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The Globe is previewing an Ideas piece on "beauty bias":

IT'S NOT your imagination: Life is good for beautiful people. A drumbeat of research over the past decades has found that attractive people earn more than their average-looking peers, are more likely to be given loans by banks, and are less likely to be convicted by a jury. Voters prefer better-looking candidates; students prefer better-looking professors, while teachers prefer better-looking students. Mothers, those icons of blind love, have been shown to favor their more attractive children.

Perhaps even more discouragingly, we tend to assume that beautiful people are actually better people--in realms that have nothing to do with physical beauty. Study after study has shown that we judge attractive people to be healthier, friendlier, more intelligent, and more competent than the rest of us, and we use even the smallest differences in attractiveness to make these judgments ...

The galloping injustice of "lookism" has not escaped psychologists, economists, sociologists, and legal scholars. Stanford law professor Deborah L. Rhode"s 2010 book, "The Beauty Bias," lamented "the injustice of appearance in life and law," while University of Texas, Austin economist Daniel Hamermesh's 2011 "Beauty Pays," recently out in paperback, traced the concrete benefits of attractiveness, including a $230,000 lifetime earnings advantage over the unattractive.

It's an interesting piece, but it overlooks the role of money/class in appearance--or rather, presents it as one-way. Being poor takes a toll on a person's appearance as well as their physical and mental health. And it's much easier to look good when you have money and time to put into it. Good bone structure is something you're born with or not, and plays a big role in beauty in the early and later years in life. In the mid-years, though (30s-60s), a person's general levels of stress, health, and the amount of time and money they can put into physical upkeep play a huge role in how good they look. 

Which, in an increasingly stratified society, means that "looking good" correlates to "doing well," which means that beauty bias and class bias are going to be intertwined in all kinds of nasty and anxiety-provoking ways.

Hence, the increasing popularity of blow-dry salons.

In other news, I was extraordinarily psyched to read this NYT op-ed by actress Anna Gunn, on her experience of playing the much-loathed Skyler White in "Breaking Bad." Ms. Gunn is dignified and eloquent about the misogyny that she has experienced:

At some point on the message boards, the character of Skyler seemed to drop out of the conversation, and people transferred their negative feelings directly to me. The already harsh online comments became outright personal attacks. One such post read: "Could somebody tell me where I can find Anna Gunn so I can kill her?" Besides being frightened (and taking steps to ensure my safety), I was also astonished: how had disliking a character spiraled into homicidal rage at the actress playing her?
But I finally realized that most people's hatred of Skyler had little to do with me and a lot to do with their own perception of women and wives. Because Skyler didn't conform to a comfortable ideal of the archetypical female, she had become a kind of Rorschach test for society, a measure of our attitudes toward gender.

You don't have to like Skyler. It's quality cable drama, it's not about liking people anymore. But the hatred Anna Gunn has been personally exposed to is frightening, and it's not an exception, either.

Speaking of quality cable drama, check out this wonderful video (analyzed in some depth here) of two dogs facing off over kibble. Don't worry, there's no violence, just body language as nuanced as any dialogue from "The Sopranos":

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About Miss Conduct
Welcome to Miss Conduct’s blog, a place where the popular Boston Globe Magazine columnist Robin Abrahams and her readers share etiquette tips, unravel social conundrums, and gossip about social behavior in pop culture and the news. Have a question of your own? Ask Robin using this form or by emailing her at

Who is Miss Conduct?

Robin Abrahamswrites the weekly "Miss Conduct" column for The Boston Globe Magazine and is the author of Miss Conduct's Mind over Manners. Robin has a PhD in psychology from Boston University and also works as a research associate at Harvard Business School. Her column is informed by her experience as a theater publicist, organizational-change communications manager, editor, stand-up comedian, and professor of psychology and English. She lives in Cambridge with her husband Marc Abrahams, the founder of the Ig Nobel Prizes, and their socially challenged but charismatic dog, Milo.

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