Dating, Relationships, & Sex, Race & Politics, Theory & Essay

The Practicality of “Ugly Affirmative Action”

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Yeah, it's not looking good for his earning potential

I’m a pretty big fan of words. I enjoy typing them, reading them, researching them, and, on many occasions, inventing them. (What, you thought “cunnilingusness” was a real word?)

In fact, it’s not uncommon for me to type a sentence, be “eh” about a certain word, go to a thesaurus at dictionary.com or Merriam-Webster to find a more appropriate word, and lose myself there; spending 20 minutes clicking on and learning new definitions, tenses, and antonyms. Along with my latent nerd tendencies, I think this obsession with finding the perfect word comes from a fear of being misunderstood; a neurosis that manifests as me making certain there’s no wiggle room when trying to convey some points.

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because, despite this need to be perfectly clear, there’s one word I try my damnedest not to use even if it seems like the optimum fit; a word so pejorative and condemning that I’d rather create a euphemistic phrase for it instead of just typing or speaking it: Ugly

What separates ugly from other common non-vulgar pejorative adjectives (dumb, stupid, fat, etc) — and why I’m reluctant to use it — is that it’s rarely accurate (“ugly” suggests a universal aesthetic belligerence — a quality very few people possess) and, more importantly, ugly sticks.

You can laugh off and forget being called stupid or dumb or even “unattractive” (the ultimate kind euphemism for “ugly”), but ugly tends to dig a tad deeper and tends to sound a tad meaner. We’re aware that being ugly might be the ultimate human albatross, and even jokingly giving a person that distinction is basically saying “your life is always going to suck, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

And, if you think I’m being too harsh about the burden of ugliness, check this out.

From “Ugly? You May Have a Case”

BEING good-looking is useful in so many ways.

In addition to whatever personal pleasure it gives you, being attractive also helps you earn more money, find a higher-earning spouse (and one who looks better, too!) and get better deals on mortgages. Each of these facts has been demonstrated over the past 20 years by many economists and other researchers. The effects are not small: one study showed that an American worker who was among the bottom one-seventh in looks, as assessed by randomly chosen observers, earned 10 to 15 percent less per year than a similar worker whose looks were assessed in the top one-third — a lifetime difference, in a typical case, of about $230,000.

Beauty is as much an issue for men as for women. While extensive research shows that women’s looks have bigger impacts in the market for mates, another large group of studies demonstrates that men’s looks have bigger impacts on the job.

This excerpt was written by University of Texas economics professor Daniel E. Hamermesh, whose new book “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful” explores a “duh!” premise and finds some intriguing results, including the “fact” that there actually is a universal standard of beauty and ugliness.

You might argue that people can’t be classified by their looks — that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That aphorism is correct in one sense: if asked who is the most beautiful person in a group of beautiful people, you and I might well have different answers. But when it comes to differentiating classes of attractiveness, we all view beauty similarly: someone whom you consider good-looking will be viewed similarly by most others; someone you consider ugly will be viewed as ugly by most others. In one study, more than half of a group of people were assessed identically by each of two observers using a five-point scale; and very few assessments differed by more than one point.

Basically, we’ll debate exactly where people on the top ten and people on the bottom ten percent of the looks scale should rank (“Yeah, she’s good looking, but she’s an 8.7 instead of a 9“), but we’ll all come to the same consensus that they definitely belong in their “good-looking” or “not good-looking” categories.

So, is there any way to rectify the fact that, on average, ugly people will make almost a quarter-million dollars less over their lifetimes than attractive people? Well, Hamermesh has a somewhat contrived (but somewhat practical) remedy for that problem.

A more radical solution may be needed: why not offer legal protections to the ugly, as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals?

We actually already do offer such protections in a few places, including in some jurisdictions in California, and in the District of Columbia, where discriminatory treatment based on looks in hiring, promotions, housing and other areas is prohibited. Ugliness could be protected generally in the United States by small extensions of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Ugly people could be allowed to seek help from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and other agencies in overcoming the effects of discrimination. We could even have affirmative-action programs for the ugly.

Now, I haven’t read his book yet (and this point might be addressed in it), but I question his methodology. While he suggests that employers discriminate against ugly people, it’s possible that people who’ve been called ugly their entire lives have developed a learned helplessness that affects their self-esteem and ultimately hinders their professional progress. The make less money because they’re worse workers and less ambitious, and they’re worse workers and less ambitious because they’re less confident.

Still, the idea of ugly affirmative action is an interesting one, and I’d be curious to see exactly how they’d construct the application process. (I imagine it would involve a ton of masks and funhouse mirrors.)

Anyway, people of VSB.com, I’m curious: Do you think that ugly is too powerful of a word to be used lightly? Also, do you incorporate it in your lexicon, or do you try to use kinder euphemisms like “unattractive?”

Also, if it is true that ugly people get discriminated against, ugly affirmative action isn’t really that crazy of an idea, right?

—The Champ

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Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a contributing editor for EBONY.com. He resides in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes.

  • http://twitter.com/_boron Boron the Negromancer

    I ain’t choose to rhyme, rhymin’ chose me / So I hit the track runnin’, like a nosebleed!

    • http://DamonLThomas.com Monk

      LOL!!!!!

    • xLadyTx

      ……

      Smh lol

    • http://www.testorshia.blogspot.com Tes

      I put my mother on it/ I said my momma, it seems as if I love her don’t it?

      #guiltypleasuresong

    • http://www.theleftsidepoets.wordpress.com MicTheMessenger

      Mane, I used to love that song…Bubba Sparxxx was decent when he had Timbaland behind him. Then again, Timbo made ERRRBODY hot.

      EVEN Waka Flocka would sound hot over a Tim beat.

    • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      YES. Exactly the song I thought of whilst reading.

      IN HEAH, UP IN HEAH, UP IN HEAH!

  • miss t-lee

    As I was reading this, I started humming the chorus to “Ugly” by Bubba Sparxx. I’m sure he’s happy that he was referenced, in the year of our Lord 2011. I try not to use the word ugly when pertaining to someone’s looks. I’m partial to “facially-challenged”, and “interesting” to describe someone.

    • http://www.ifiruled2011.wordpress.com Mahogany Princess

      “interesting” lol That’s a good one!

    • Yeah…So

      I’m all about “interesting”… mostly cause I really do believe-in the “one man’s trash, another man’s treasure” sentiment… one man’s beast, another’s beauty (especially if she got a fat @ss, which override faces of a hurt nature).

      • Brother Mouzone

        A nice BaDonk coupled with a small waist DOES seem to add a few points to an otherwise “attractively challenged” face.

      • http://www.theleftsidepoets.wordpress.com MicTheMessenger

        I’ve fallen in this pit before. If you see a big butt and a smile, RUN away. You’ll regret it if you don’t.

        • Kidsister

          I guess yall didnt wanna believe Bel Biv DeVoe…

          • http://www.theleftsidepoets.wordpress.com MicTheMessenger

            Man joe, its one of those things where someone warns you, but it just has this…allure to it. The booty can hypnotize, real talk.

            • Kidsister

              LOL, i believe it. I see the way guys act because of it.

              SN: You must be from the DC area. That joe, is a dead giveaway LOL

              • StillSuga

                Or Chicago, lol…

                • Kidsister

                  LOL…I learn something new everyday. I thought Joe was a DC thing.

                  • Justmetheguy

                    Yeah, my boy from Chicago says Joe. My boys from the DMV say “moe”

              • http://www.blacktrimony.com Blacktrimony

                They actually say that in the Chi too…

              • http://www.theleftsidepoets.wordpress.com MicTheMessenger

                naw, i’m Chi-city.

        • Deviant

          BBD warned people of this 20+ years ago.

      • miss t-lee

        @Yeah So
        exactly. What I find horrendous, you may think is gorgeous…LOL

    • GypsyCurl

      I have to disagree with the statement that unattractive people are less successful and earn less throughout a lifetime compared to a more attractive person. When I look at the most successful business people (Donald Trump, Oprah, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, presidents/dictators/world leaders and their wives/First Ladies…oh I can go on and on), they are the least attractive people.

      • Around the Way Girl

        That’s because those people are exceptional, which is what less attractive people (well, everybody really) should strive for. No one can deny you if you’re the sh!t at whatever you do. But if we’re comparing two average people who are the same on paper, 9.9 times out of 10 the more attractive one is going to come out on top. People like pretty.

      • Cali

        How you gon’ put Oprah in there w/ all those mutants?? She’s purrty w/ her makeup on!!

      • lm

        Oprah was a beauty queen. Check her bio.

        Does everybody have to look like Bey now to get on?

        Talk about trash/treasure.

    • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      “As I was reading this, I started humming the chorus to “Ugly” by Bubba Sparxx. I’m sure he’s happy that he was referenced”

      Definitely. Hell, the other day, I JUST saw on Twitter… someone asking, “Where is Bubba Sparxx/!” and someone retweeted it with “first time for everything.” I forgot who, but I cackled quietly.

      • http://naturallyalise.com/blog/ Naturally Alise

        LMAO! That was classic!

        • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

          Oh! I think it was @blunted215. That ninja is a FOOL.

      • miss t-lee

        Hilarious!!!

  • BisforBrittani

    I don’t use ‘ugly’ in my vocabulary I prefer to use ‘not aesthetically pleasing to the eye’

    On another note, how do you determine “ugly”…like who would be in charge of that? And if one is deemed to be more unfortunate looking than someone else do you get more benefits….I just forsee anyone using the ‘ugly’ as a reason to why they did not get hired…and that just seems like more money would be wasted on something pointless..

    • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

      “And if one is deemed to be more unfortunate looking than someone else do you get more benefits”

      LMAO

    • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      “On another note, how do you determine “ugly”…like who would be in charge of that?”

      If he were alive, I woulda said Ray Charles since he allegedly felt up women’s arms to see if they were worthy of boning. Actually, let’s get Jamie Foxx since I got that information from the movie anyway.

      R.I.P. Ray, doe.

  • Amanda

    Interesting article. Ugly affirmative action wont work however. Fun to think about and joke about, but there is no possible way it could actually work in real life. First of all, most super ugly people do not think they are ugly. Then it all goes back to tastes, racial preference, and a whole slew of other contibuting factors. For example, I think George Clooney is extremely ugly. I know women (black and white) think he is one of the most attractive men, but I think his eyes are too close together, his nose is crooked, and his chin is large and protruding. So people’s view of who is ugly and who isnt is so varied, its the individual opinion that matters in hiring, not a majority consensus.

    • Around the Way Girl

      “I think his eyes are too close together, his nose is crooked, and his chin is large and protruding.”

      Lol well damn! To prove your point…I think George is good-looking.

    • Cali

      George is more smooth than attractive… that said, (in my best Diamond/Kesha voice) “Hee kuhh giiit it!”

  • http://Fatgrlatheart.com Fatgrlatheart

    Not a nice word but certainly not the worst (I wouldn’t prefer to be called “hideous”, let’s say)

    The problem with protecting this “disability” is that the person has to argue in court “I’m ugly” and then prove they are ugly and even “unattractive” people wouldn’t wanna call themselves ugly.

    Side bar: though beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, I find it amusing when some of the “not so pretty looking” people on my fb newsfeed are the ones being all arrogant and announcing how good they look in the pictures they post. I know, I’m an a**hole for thinking “but u ain’t cute!” but I wonder if that attitude is them over compensating for having felt insecure in the past cause I swear some of them think they are models.

    • Yeah…So

      Really I feel ugly is worse than hideous because… well… really no one is REALLY hideous are they? Like don’t you use hideous to describe creatures from horror films and sci-fi movies… not people, not seriously… right? Ugly tho… way more realistic and easy to believe about one’s self. If someone called me hideous I would probably laugh… ugly eh I’d still laugh but not as hard and I might check the mirror while they weren’t looking to see if my was F**K’d up or I had something on my teeth… something like that.

      Also (to your second paragraph), I feel like the really beautiful people don’t have to tell you they’re beautiful… sorry. They don’t. If you’re constantly talking bout how good you look it’s probably because no one is telling you and MAYBE they’re not telling you because, well, you no lookie good.

  • Kidsister

    It is indeed very harsh and as far as I’m concerned I think its all relative. I try my hardest not to describe people as being ugly but I will use it to describe behavior, someone’s attitude, the weather, or clothing with the quickness.

    I do think people who dont fit in line with what society says is beautiful are discriminated against all the time. However, I think it’s one of those things that will go on forever because there is no real way (outside of someone flat out admitting it) to prove that you were denied based solely on your looks.

    • Mo-VSS

      I do agree that attitude is more ugly than facial features.

      • nillalatte

        I absolutely agree. I tell my children all the time, you can be the most gorgeous person on the planet, but if your attitude is ugly, you are ugly. Pretty can’t replace an ugly disposition.

      • Kidsister

        Undesireable facial features can be matched with a swag thats on 1,000, which equals a winner (at least in my book).

        • http://www.theleftsidepoets.wordpress.com MicTheMessenger

          Myself and Lil Wayne approve of this message.

      • miss t-lee

        I totally agree.

      • Yeah…So

        as do I.

  • SexyCool

    I prefer “interest looking” and in extreme cases, I use “facially challenged.”

    • SexyCool

      Correction – “Interesting looking”

      • randomeffery

        i use interesting looking too, or “unfortunate looking”. i actually think the vast majority of people are really attractive, facially…some people’s features are harsher or less symmetrical than others, but i think everybody can be “hot” as long as they find whatever works for them.

        most of the time when i think someone is really unattractive, it’s b/c of how they’re groomed (well, lacking grooming), are extremely obese or malnourished, or they have an actual deformity–in which case, you look deeper than the surface to find their beauty.

  • Kidsister

    That pic though…#iJustCant

    • bumilla

      i came in here only to say that. i can’t even read the post now. good thing i was starting a book on herr freud because my dreams are fcuked now. #MYEYES!

      • Kidsister

        LOL!!!…everytime I refresh the page…please, make it stop o_0

    • http://www.testorshia.blogspot.com Tes

      You just hating! That dog right there is a winner…

      of the 2007 Ugliest Dog Contest. His name’s Elwood; I think that says it all.

      • Kidsister

        He looks like an Elwood…lol

        • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

          He looks like a Hellwood. That’s an ugly creature. If I wasn’t paying attention and spotted it out the corner of my eye I’d be terrified. I cant…

          • Kidsister

            He kind of reminds me of Yoda.

  • CoolShadow

    I don’t use ‘ugly’ in my vocabulary I prefer to use ‘not aesthetically pleasing to the eye’

    My preferred euphemisms are, “aesthetically challenged”, “visually repugnant or unappealing” or “diametrically opposed to beauty”. Heard someone also say, “anti-pulchritudinal”.

    • http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5FR1LGsT7E TheAnti-Cool

      “anti-pulchritudinal”

      This is my kind of insult. Stolen.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/CamDeezi MizzCam

      I feel like “visually repugnant” would hurt more than a simple “ugly.” o_O

      • Kidsister

        +1 and Im gonna throw diametrically opposed to beauty in there as well

      • http://www.styleillusions.com WIP

        Yes, “visually repugnant” would break my spirit, LOL

    • http://www.twitter.com/drrdb TWIsM

      My personal fav is a “looks like s/he took a hot sack of nickels to the face.” A friend of mine used to say that and it stuck (pun sorta intended).

    • Yeah…So

      I’m into the “face for radio”… you can say to the person themselves and they’ll even laugh a little WITH YOU… #winning

      • http://www.theleftsidepoets.wordpress.com MicTheMessenger

        #DIES

        I prefer the term “not made for me”. If im not aroused by you, then obviously God amde you for someone else. Although i ain’t gon lie, it’s a lot harder for ladies that are “not made for me” then guys. The odds are NOT in their favor. But guys, we can be 3′s and stil lmanage to pull a 7 if we got a lil character and a lil money.

        • Kidsister

          LOL @ “not made for me”…and I do agree that lady thats a 3 has a harder time than a dude thats a 3….and the 3 dude, doesn’t even really need the money. If he has the character and can make her laugh, he’s in there. I’m reminded of Two Can Play That Game when Regina upgraded Bobby B.

          • Yeah…So

            Chrysanthemums? I love chrysanthemums!! *ugly cry*

            I love that movie.

            • Kidsister

              ME TOO!!!! *side eye* ummmm, whens the last time you’ve showered? LOL

              • Yeah…So

                LOL Ahhh… *nervous twitch* ew

                • kiki

                  *screams out* “miiiiiccchhhaaaaaeeee-eeee-eelllll…. lawd jesus!”

                  I come to tears laughing every time I watch that part lmao!

          • http://www.theleftsidepoets.wordpress.com MicTheMessenger

            “If he has the character and can make her laugh, he’s in there.”

            Exactly. Despite the myriad of issues that can prevent a man from being an ideal mate (i.e., “not for me-ness”, height), if homeboy got character, sense of humor or talent, he’ll fare pretty decent in the war against loneliness. Gotsta use whut de Lawd done gave ya.

            But a sista can be allodat and still be gettin her Lisa Raye on.

            • Kidsister

              “not for me-ness” you’re killin me today, LOL…I was about to ask “whats getting her LisaRaye on?” then it hit me, sorry I was having a, slow moment.

              But I agree with your point. Men are lucky creatures, don’t have to push out babies and they can rank high on the “not for me” scale and still win.

    • http://www.pinchmycheekie.wordpress.com Cheekie

      “Heard someone also say, “anti-pulchritudinal”.”

      HA! Yes.

      Other terms:

      The Face Struggle
      Unfortunate Visage

      • http://www.theleftsidepoets.wordpress.com MicTheMessenger

        i think Champ once mentioned the term “aesthetically belligerent”.

        That one right there, it had me at hello.

      • Ms. My2Cents

        Also read on VSB: “genetically complex”

        Personal fave: “So&so fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down!”

  • Dc1913

    I would have to say that unattractive people are discriminated against, I am guilty of doing it actually. It was something that I noticed that I was doing subconsciously. I hire people and I found myself being disappointed or taken aback when someone who’s resume I thought was stellar, had a good phone interview and came in and they were unattractive. I’m aware that this is completely shallow but I’m being honest, it’s not like it kept me from giving them the job but I did take notice. I don’t know why. I sat down and thought about it one day, I think that attractive people make us feel comfortable, especially in a profession where you are dealing with people all day. I ended up hiring the person because they were great. But I have to admit the majority of my staff is good looking… #shrugs

    • Dc1913

      Oh and I use “unfortunate looking”

    • E

      Even though you’re hiring and it’s got nothing to do with intent to get with an attractive person, we generally prefer an environment of people and things that are attractive or of interest to us.

      My question to you: are you only disappointed when the gender you’re attracted to is not attractive? Or does it apply to both?

      • Dc1913

        The position I hire for is only for women and I’m attracted to men so that’s not the issue. I think it is more of a subconscious desire to feel comfortable and relatable.

        • Dee

          Do you work in a strip club?!

          • mssmtaylor

            lol

          • Corey

            Looking for part time work are you??

    • cake211

      thanks for this commentary. its not shallow, its honest. i think you show integrity by acknowledging the fact that you do it and you choose to be fair anyway.
      I have a question though; what about “ugly” people that dress their a$$ off and have some sort of super-swag? would you first just think “ugly” or would it be like the style is a buffer for their face?

      • https://twitter.com/#!/CamDeezi MizzCam

        I know this question isn’t directed at me, but I do think I take notice of “ugly” people who are extremely polished, dress well, and have that swag. It’s like they know what they’re working with and compensate accordingly. Knowing you take care of yourself, IMO, can definitely boost you a few points.

      • Dc1913

        Good question, swag/ style definitely goes a long way for me. If I think about it, the People that I was taken aback by were unfortunate looking or heavily overweight and kind of unkempt. I think I am also nervous for them because I work with teenagers/ young adults who can be brutal when they are upset. Sometimes I wonder how the kids will accept them.

    • Around the Way Girl

      Good comment. On the flip side, I remember finding it very odd that this extremely attractive, model-caliber man worked at a fast food restaurant on my college campus. My friends did too. We all thought, surely this dude can find a better job, looking like that. I mean, he looked so good it was actually comical to us for him to be asking us if we wanted fries with that. Even if he had no intellect or skills and couldn’t do anything else, he could have easily seduced a wealthy girl/woman and been set for life.

      It’s natural for people who look good to be more find success more easily than people who don’t. It isn’t exactly fair, but it’s true. If you aren’t in that top 25% or so in the looks category, you have to have something else really great going for yourself.

      • Amos Banks

        This is true. Every once in a while I will see a woman and think, “She’s way too hot to be working at McDonald’s”. I think The Onion once had a story about “Area woman too attractive to be riding the bus”.