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FIRST-PERSON: Unattractiveness -- a disability?

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--A professor of economics at the University of Texas has scrutinized the relationship between physical beauty and success. Daniel S. Hamermesh details the results of his study in a recently released book published by Princeton University Press.

In a column published in The New York Times, Hamermesh wrote that being blessed with pulchritude "helps you earn more money, find a higher earning spouse (and one who looks better, too!) and get better deals on mortgages."

Those who are lacking beauty earn "10 to 15 percent less per year ... a lifetime difference, in a typical case, of about $230,000," according to Hamermesh. Not only do these unfortunate souls suffer in compensation, Hamermesh says they are simply less successful in every area of life than those endowed with pulchritude.

Hamermesh believes the government should provide legal protection to those deficient in beauty "as we do with racial, ethnic and religious minorities, women and handicapped individuals."

In Hamermesh's book, "Beauty Pays," the good professor documents that American culture discriminates against ugly (his word, not mine) people. Most in society, he says, prefer to interact with "attractive" people. "In our roles as workers, customers and potential lovers," Hamermesh writes, "we are all responsible for these effects."

The ugly, it seems, are doomed to less success than the beautiful. Thus Hamermesh makes the case that ugly people should 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.... We could even have affirmative-action programs for the ugly," Hamermesh writes.


I have long been taught that beauty is in the eye of the beholder and quite subjective, but not so says Hamermesh. "For purposes of administering a law, we surely could agree on who is ugly, perhaps the worst-looking 1 or 2 percent of the population."

I wish I were making all of this up, but I am not. Hamermesh's conclusions and solutions are all too real. In his world, ugly is a disability.

American pop culture pays so much attention to so-called physical attractiveness that it often fails to recognize the essence of true beauty. Authentic beauty is much more than skin deep.

"Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting," wrote the author of Proverbs 31 in the Bible. "But a woman who fears the Lord will be praised." The same holds true for men.

I am not sure how one goes about defining who is or is not ugly in Hamermesh's world.

Will a government panel be established to decide if someone is ugly or can individuals declare themselves to be unsightly? If I am declared to be ugly and disagree with the decision, can I appeal the verdict? Can my employer?

What about those who do not fit into the category of beautiful or ugly? It stands to reason that, according to Hamermesh's conclusions, average-looking people will be less successful than the most attractive people. Do the aesthetically average also warrant some government protection as well?

The truth is that we all have deficiencies to overcome. Some are aesthetic and some are less obvious. Government intervention on behalf of those who are "looks-challenged" is not the answer and neither is plastic surgery.


"Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will stand in the presence of kings. He will not stand in the presence of unknown men." This bit of wisdom, found in Proverbs 22:29, indicates that a person who becomes particularly adept at something will not go unnoticed.

The key to overcoming any deficiency, aesthetic or otherwise, is to develop a skill, a service, a product. Deliver it in a highly professional and proficient manner and you will make a name for yourself.

If you do, you won't have to worry about the government pulchritude panel coming to your rescue -- and you will always "look good" to others.

Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (, newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention.

Copyright (c) 2011 Southern Baptist Convention, Baptist Press

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