Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The Last Acceptable Ism: Lookism

Why preferring ugly people may make sense.

Sexism and especially racism are now subject to severe penalty. In a most public recent example, Donald Sterling, in a private conversation, told his half-Black/half-Mexican girlfriend not to bring her Black friends to a game, later explaining that he was jealous of their flirting with her. That was enough to topple a billionaire.

Yet lookism remains pervasive and rarely criticized. For example, CEOs, TV anchors, movie stars, not to mention fashion models are all wildly overrepresented by the Pretty People. Yet you rarely hear an objection.

And the Beautiful Ones enjoy huge advantages.This is the introduction to a Boston Globe article, “Who Will Fight the 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.

Choosing Ugly

In choosing whom to hire, befriend, even make your spouse, it may be wise to be not only fair to ugly people but to prefer them.

Because of lookism, unattractive people command lower salaries and are less likely to jump for another job because, on average, they’re in less demand. Yet in most jobs, looks has little to do with job performance. Indeed, it’s logical that unattractive people would work harder to have a good personality because they can’t get by on their looks. So, all things equal, hiring an unattractive person would seem to be a bargain. And of course, it strikes a blow for fairness.

In the personal realm as well, less attractive people are more likely to be appreciative, loyal, and kind friends because they know their looks are often viewed as a negative.

But what about in choosing a romantic partner? Most people—because of biology and/or social conditioning—prefer a mate who is traditionally attractive. Of course, if you’re simply not attracted to a person, I can’t say, “So what?” But sometimes, attraction can grow if you give it a chance. And as was said about workers, an unattractive mate is more likely to be loyal and eager to please. As the old reggae song said, “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife. So from my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you.”

Marty Nemko was named “The Bay Area’s Best Career Coach” by the San Francisco Bay Guardian and he enjoys a 96 percent client-satisfaction rate. In addition to his articles here on, many more of Marty Nemko's writings are archived on Of Nemko's seven books, the most relevant to readers of this blog is How to Do Life: What They Didn’t Teach You in School. His bio is on Wikipedia.