Bengali actresses-turned-MPs Mimi Chakraborty and Nusrat Jahan were constantly trolled for “not behaving or dressing like politicians”. But how does one’s appearance have any bearing on being a lawmaker? A few days later, His Holiness the Dalai Lama got embroiled in a sexism row after joking that if his successor was to be a woman, she would have to be very attractive.
Now, the Dalai Lama’s comment may be brushed off as being a self-deprecating joke or the Tibetan spiritual leader’s lack of knowledge of the English language, but the fact remains that his comments and those of the trolls targeting the two Trinamool Congress MPs stem from the fact that women are judged not only on their work, but also their looks.
Strike a chord...with confidence
Nalini Nambiar, who has vast experience having worked in the IT industry, banking, BPO sector as well as in the infrastructure industry, disputes that fact. She asserts, “I believe being successful in the workplace is about displaying confidence. Regardless of whether or not you are considered ‘good looking’, it is important to display that you are self-assured. People cannot believe in you if you do not believe in yourself. Self confidence is the best outfit.”
Former Ponds Femina Miss India 2005 finalist Suchitra Varma has a different outlook. She states, “Coming from a fashion background, beauty—or let’s put it as attractiveness—does hold a lot of importance to me but ‘Beauty with Brains’ is what most jobs seek. Certainly, attractive women do have a leg up in a job interview but that won’t sustain if they lack the skills required.”
She continues, “Looks need not be about just being beautiful. It is in the way you present yourself. I know some women who might not be termed beautiful physically, but they have amazing sense of dressing, vocabulary or wit! Like they say, you never get a second chance to make a first impression, although the first impression might be unreliable, it is essential to be attractive (in whatever way) to at least strike a chord.”
And may be that is what the Dalai Lama also meant, that to be able to be heard and strike a chord his successor had to be attractive.
There is a term in psychology: Lookism. This is defined by the bible of today’s generation, Wikipedia, as “discriminatory treatment toward people considered physically unattractive, mainly in the workplace but also in dating and other social settings”.
Numerous studies have shown that attractive people are paid higher than their average-looking colleagues, banks are more likely to give them loans, jury are less likely to convict them and candidates who are better-looking stand a better chance with voters. Even mothers have been shown to favour their more attractive children. That’s because we judge attractive people to be better people who are healthier, friendlier, more intelligent, and more competent than us.
However, a recent study suggests that beautiful businesswomen are viewed with suspicion. And therein lies the dichotomy! So women can’t seem to be able to catch a break. They have to walk a tightrope where they are competent at their work (read as better than their male counterparts) and are attractive (but not too much).
Suchitra, who is now Senior Producer (Creative), On Air Promotion at Discovery Channel, India, avers, “Women are far more likely to be judged for their looks in both positive and negative ways. I have met people/ co-workers who assumed that I am ‘available’ because I am unmarried, attractive, tall, in shape, social and, above all, open for working flexible hours. There are times I faked my relationship status to avoid such advances. But one can’t do anything about the ridiculous mindset of our society where the size of a women’s skirt determines the size of her self-respect.”
So is Beauty the Beast?
Nalini concurs. She opines, “Beauty may sometimes be a curse at the workplace. Beautiful women usually have been told the reason for their success is their looks, when actually it’s skill and hard work. A very common sarcastic remark at the workplace most attractive women get to hear is that they are ‘Beauty without brains’. When it comes to members of her own sex she is often an outcast.”
Yanjana Singh, a business partner by profession, adds, “It is tough for good-looking women at the workplace as people around them don't go beyond their looks. The work and job they do is monitored at a microscopic level.”
How about ‘handsome’ men?
But do men have to overcome the same obstacles? Yanjana thinks not, while Suchitra says, “It depends what firm the man works for. If he opts for a job that requires him to be seen in public, for example a sales job or acting/ modelling, then looks definitely matter.” But she ends with, “However, women’s looks matter more than men’s.”
The reality is that people judge each other and no matter where you go and what you do you will be judged on factors that aren’t in your control. As Nalini puts it, “It is usual human nature to judge people on their looks, and some cannot look beyond this.”
So women and men will have to continue walking this aesthetic tightrope till such time as people stop being judgemental or horses learn to fly.
Ultimately, as Yanjana puts it succinctly, “It’s honesty, integrity and perseverance to succeed that matters!” Or at least, only these should!