The battle between brain and brawn has long weighed over society. A new contender is beauty.

Pretty privilege supposes that society is biased towards those considered conventionally attractive — a bias that affects the empowerment of women.

“It means getting an advantage in life based on your looks. You don’t have to go through certain processes because people naturally warm up to people who are good looking,” says Bronte Assadzadeh, first-year Ivey Business School student.

Looks play an important role in how people are perceived by others — either for better or worse.

“It’s the first thing people use to make an opinion about you. It’s just human nature. So, if you don’t know somebody, you consciously or unconsciously judge them based on what they look like,” third-year international relations student Mia Gasko explains.

Conventional attractiveness can translate into greater popularity or more easily formed social connections as a student.

“People are a lot more willing to be friends with someone because they look more attractive than someone who maybe doesn’t but has a way better personality,” says Assadzadeh.

In fact, students at Western explain that good looks are a required feature to earn a spot in some clubs on campus.

“I have personally experienced and witnessed people getting into certain clubs and social groups because of the way they look. Some campus clubs I was a part of would not select people just because they did not fit the mould,” says Assadzadeh.

Students' appearance can have implications for the real world as well. Studies show that attractive people are more likely to get interviews, jobs, promotions and even higher wages.

Assadzadeh even recounts being skeptical that a sales job she recruited for in the past was scouting candidates based on their looks.

“Every single person I spoke to at that company came from a [fraternity] at Western or was a skinny tall girl from Queen’s [University]. They liked me because I was fitting their mould with the way I dressed and looked,” says Assadzadeh. 

Gasko, who works at a local bar, explains that her workplace often makes exceptions for women considered to be attractive.

“In the summer we would have busy nights … but if a couple of girls would come in all [dressed-up] and beautiful, the restaurant would make exceptions for them and set up a new table, even if we are fully booked,” says Gasko. “I personally have seen that if I would go somewhere dressed up nice I would get those exceptions made for me too and I would get free drinks.”

While pretty privilege may sound like something to envy, many students see how this concept can be disempowering.

“I don’t know if it’s a privilege to be seen only for your appearance,” says third-year computer science student Pratishtha Sharma. “Are you really winning by earning a spot at the table, only to be seen as a piece of meat? Or is the creepy dude winning because he gets to look at you?”

The concept of pretty privilege is also disproportionately applied to women, as they are more often valued for their looks — for a woman to be seen as valuable, she must be conventionally attractive.

Gasko, also a part-time model, explains that pretty privilege can translate to women being pressured to spend their time altering their appearance to attain unrealistic beauty standards.

“That’s the ‘pretty privilege’ world we are all born into. We gotta do so much [to alter our natural appearance] and then maybe we are considered [attractive]. Men sometimes don’t have to do anything at all to be taken seriously,” says Gasko.

This pressure is even worse for people of colour, who are often left behind and undermined by beauty standards.

Around the world, there is a preference for whiteness. Widespread colonialism in the 1800s have replaced cultural values of beauty with European norms. Lighter skin, untextured hair and small noses are just a few of the Eurocentric benchmarks that serve as a prerequisite for being considered attractive.

Assadzadeh describes feeling alienated by these beauty standards during her experience at Western University, despite being white-passing.

“There is a preference towards … tiny short blonde girls. They get so much attention when they walk around or at the club. This race preference is terrible [and] not okay,” explains Assadzadeh.

On the other end of the spectrum, pretty privilege also has the potential to become a disadvantage.

“Sometimes in Ivey, pretty privilege works the opposite. People will treat really pretty girls like they are stupid,” says Assadzadeh.

An emphasis on looks means that a woman’s personality and intelligence is valued less.

“At the end of the day, women can accomplish so many things but her appearance will dictate how people will see her [achievements],” said Sharma.

Correction (April 8, 2021, 11:56 a.m.): This article was corrected to reflect that Bronte Assadzadeh is an HBA1 student, not in her second year at Ivey Business School as previously stated.

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