Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Will Lookism Ever End?

A possible way out of our most stubborn and ugly prejudice.

Attractive people do better. They get better jobs, make more money, attract more attention, and are more persuasive. Do they deserve it? Of course not. If there’s any correlation between attractiveness and skill it would be negative. If you’re attractive you can get by with fewer skills.

Lookism is an atrocious prejudice, at best a huge distraction, at worse a source of relentless cruelty. We may well get over gender bias and racism someday. But lookism? Most people would give it low odds of ever ending. Physical attraction is biological, inherent, “hardwired” into our very natures.

And it’s getting worse through technology, the most attractive faces and bodies broadcasted everywhere, on TV, billboards, in magazines and of course on the web. We’re inundated with evidence that we don’t look good enough and should try harder, some with little to work with by luck of the draw alone.

Still, I can imagine a way out, or rather a way through, not that it’s pretty. Many would argue we can’t afford to risk it. It involves taking lookism to extremes.

It’s 2050. Somehow we survived this long. Don’t ask me how. But here’s what happened to lookism. Despite protest, revulsion, and fretting, nothing we did reduced our addiction to gazing at and kowtowing to attractive people, trying and failing to be the most attractive, and above all watching porn, which we started doing at ever-younger ages.

People, in particular men (the worst lookist offenders), ended up with stunted growth, remaining immature about dating, romance, and partnership to where it became almost futile for women to even bother trying to get them to grow up. The hook-up culture grew. Tinder use increased, use declined. The future of sex, love, and romance looked pretty dismal.

We gradually started to see a change for the better. People (and again, especially men) satisfied their appetite for lookism in their fantasy world and started to treat real-world women as people.

Keeping it real in reality while living out dangerous fantasies in a private realm had worked in other areas of human appetite. Most people who play violent video games do it instead of being violent in reality. Most people who love gangster movies and gangster rap don’t become gangsters. Blowing things up in movies and games did not create a bunch of terrorists. Sure, a few people failed to distinguish between reality and fantasy. The majority did not. And that’s what happened to lookism. We learned to play out our fantasies offline (online offline) and keep it in our pants in real life. The sexual-predator scandals of the 2010’s scared men into line. They learned quickly that the line between fantasy and reality must be respected.

It was another case of healthy self-jading, getting over something distracting by shifting it from the sacred to the mundane. The lure of attractiveness lived on but hollowed out, not the big driver it once was. People become over-exposed to attractiveness, even a little bored by it.

Gradually most started treating people like people, no longer distinguishing much between attractive and unattractive people in the real world. Through over-exposure, they got lots of practice living out their fantasies in their heads where it belonged if it had to be lived out anywhere.

See, for the longest time, people had regarded each other in two distinct ways, one as fellow humans deserving of as much respect as they would have afforded to them, the other as toys, objects, accessories to acquire, arm candy and status symbols. Fantasizing about people as objects gradually made it easier for them to meet people as people.

It played out in marriages too. People still got married though not the way they had, not marrying for looks but compatibility. Couples that married for looks and status rather than compatibility divorced or went the way of many couples back in the early 2000’s, staying together for the cool teamwork, not for the hotness.

What happened to lookism was a little like what James Watt did with steam engines back in the 1720s. The original Newcomb engine had one chamber for heating water to steam and then condensing it back to water. That meant that the same chamber cycled slowly and inefficiently through heating and cooling. Watt’s engine had one chamber for heating and another for cooling, a division of labor that made the engines more efficient by relieving the compromising effects of having to heat and cool the same steam in one chamber.

People continued to heat up about but they did it in a private chamber. In public chambers they were cool. They drained their lizard brain elsewhere which freed them into their humanness in the public sphere.


Is this fantasy about the future of fantasy lookism realistic? Only time will tell. Many would object in principle wishing we could return to the days when sex and romance were sacred and people just swore off lookism.

Women especially wish for this. They don’t see why it should be so difficult. Many will say that they’re not hung up on lookism. Only men are, crude beasts who need to just stop it. Still, you hear in women’s preference for taller men and other lookist standards some evidence that they’re not beyond it either. The prospect of us all just boycotting lookism on the count of three seems low.

So maybe we’ll never get over this atrocious prejudice. That’s possible too. We haven’t so far. It has only gotten worse, but maybe as this fantasy suggests on route to it getting much better.

The Tao Te Ching has a chapter (22) that begins:

If you want to become whole,

first let yourself be broken.

If you want to become straight,

let yourself be crooked.

I don’t think this holds as a universal rule as it suggests. Still, there are times when it works. So I speculate that maybe it’s how lookism will work its way through our systems into a form that’s more manageable granting all people the dignity they deserve regardless of accidents of birth and looks.