Hey, gorgeous! You're hired

Are attractive men and women better paid, even in non-glamour jobs? Labour economist Daniel Hamermesh's new book, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful, says, yes and suggests 'special privileges' for the plain folk

Labour economist Daniel Hamermesh isn't mincing his words when he says attractive professionals land better paying jobs, negotiate loans with better terms, bag handsome and educated spouses. Where does that leave Plain Jane and Average Joe? Plain folk might deserve 'special privileges', he suggests in a controversial proposal in his just-launched book, Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People are More Successful. Hamermesh's research indicates that good-looking workers earn a total of $230,000 more than those with below-average looks.

(Left) Aishwarya Rai's face measures up to a symmetrical face; (Right)
a representation of an asymmetrical version. Illustration/ Vivek Thakkar

Beauty is skin deep
And it's not just superficial Americans grappling with the issue. The average-looking Indian employee had better be worried too. Starling as it was, Kris Lakshmikanth, founder and CEO of Head Hunters India Pvt, Ltd., admits it's true in corporate India as well. "Every client that approaches us to field candidates, is particular about looks. A professional can have all the degrees, qualifications fitting for a role, but if he doesn't look good, he is unlikely to be picked. Considering he has 23 years of experience behind him, we are tempted to take his word."

Lakshmikanth cites a recent example where a lady professional, an engineer and MBA, had approached them for a placement. "She came with sound qualifications, and seemed bright from telephonic chats. When she showed up for the interview, she was rejected within the first few minutes," he says. "It's the whole package, not looks alone. The clothes and communication skills as much." Abha Nair, Joint General Manager, HR, Essar Group, does not agree in full with Lakshmikanth. It's in industries like hospitality or marketing where direct-client interactions are crucial, that looks take precedence. "In profiles where you are required to be in touch with customers, looks are given higher weightage, say between 15% to 20 %. But looks alone can' be the judging factor. Grey cells are far more important."Nair says it's a a mix of looks and mental aptitude that make a killer combination. "In most firms, behaviour and professional attitude are chief reasons behind an employee's success."

Grooming matters
Hamermesh's numbers speak of below-average-looking men earning 17% less than those considered good-looking, while below-average-looking women earn 12% less than their attractive counterparts. Mumbai based Image consultant Swati Chopra doesn't believe looks decide salary brackets. "Grooming can be the game-changer. If you are groomed well, present yourself attractively, landing a job won't be a problem."

In that case, Chopra wouldn't think it necessary for the below-average lookers to have laws 'protect' them against bias. A bit of advice, and a lesson in dressing up, and communicating effectively, can do the trick. "In the US, employers are not allowed to specify the age or gender of the employees they are looking for as it amounts to discrimination. But employers continue to reject candidates who don't look great, citing other reasons. After all, this is the age of packaging," Lakmikanth says.

How to decide who's beautiful? It's simple math
Scientific studies relating beauty to symmetry indicate that individuals with symmetrical faces are considered more attractive than others. The preference for symmetry is a highly evolved trait in animals and humans; symmetric individuals also carry higher mating value. For instance, female swallows, prefer males with longer and symmetric tails, while female zebra finches mate with males that have symmetrically colored leg bands.

Rennaisance artist Leonardo Da Vinci's Vitruvian Man explained the golden ratio � a ratio based on Fibbonaci numbers in body dimensions. Supermodel Cindy Crawford and Hollywood actress Jessica Simpson are examples of women with symmetrical faces. According to a study by researchers from the University of California San Diego and the University of Toronto, a vertical distance between the eyes and mouth that's 36% of facial length, and a horizontal distance between the eyes that's 46% of facial width, is considered most attractive.

According to a study by researchers from the University of California San Diego and the University of Toronto, if the vertical distance between the midpoint of the eyes to the midpoint of the mouth is 36% of total facial length (from hairline to chin), and if the horizontal distance between the two pupils is 46% of total facial width (from inside edge of one ear to another), the proportions make for an attractive face.

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