Lookism: Appearance Discrimination In Employment

Answer :


Privilege and power are differently ascribed to various people within workplace based on qualification, designation, gender, nationality, appearance, age and socio-economic class (Furnham and Chamorro-Premuzic, 2010). Many studies have been done on discrimination that focuses on ageism, sexism, racism and classism. Lookism is one such prejudice based on individual’s physical appearance. Physical appearance is referred as the “outward look of an individual regardless of gender and concerns with physical characteristics or conditions, dressing style, style of grooming etc” (Zakrzewski, 2005).

It is an aspect of individual’s non-verbal communication and is directly associated with attractiveness. However, lookism is advantageous for the people who are attractive and thus most often get preferential treatment while on other hand for conventionally for less attractive person, it may create problem and create barrier for certain opportunities.

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In context with business organization, it may be useful for some companies like cosmetic, apparel companies etc. But for manufacturing firm, esp labour industry it may prove to be injurious as it creates unrest within workforce affecting their work efficiency (Tietje and Cresap, 2005). This essay reflects the legitimacy of employers considering lookism when recruiting and promoting employees. In addition to this significance of equality and diversity among employees is also explored is this essay.

Lookism may also result in unfair treatment and lack of opportunities for the unattractive employees. For instance, when two females who are equally qualified apply for the job, it is mostly seen that employer would rather hire one who is more attractive. Such judgement rely on community standards and are culturally bound that further reinforces discrimination and stereotypes. Corbett (2007) argues that in today’s society appearance matter the most than ever before, he further states that modern society which is much more influenced from western culture seems to be obsessed with physical appearance and attractiveness.

In context with business organizations, employers usually make hiring decisions on the basis of personality of applicants. Many television programmes, magazines, movies illustrates the society’s obsession with appearance. Many organizations make employment decisions partly on the basis of appearance of applicants, especially the company dealing which is looking in cosmetics and clothing etc (Harper, 2000).

Even in the hospitality firm, employees are recruited taking into consideration their looks and style, as physically attractive applicants helps in generating more revenue since they are capable of enticing more customers with their looks. It is growing trend in many large corporations such as L’Oreal, The Gap, big hotel chains like The Marriott to develop a smart-looking sales force and thus seeking for handsome, pretty and attractive employees who can effectively represent the company’s product and can also act as brand ambassadors.

Therefore, employers with the view to survive, prosper as well as to create an attractive and marketable brand image place more importance on looks rather than skills (Kite and Whitley, 2010). A book authored by Professor Deborah Rhode “The beauty Bias” discusses the biasness towards employees based on attractiveness and appearance and further argues that it should be considered as illegal. However, she favours the preferences for physical appearance in certain conditions and justify this by stating that customers would rather prefer to be served by well dressed and smart looking employee instead of minority one. However, this issue requires more attention of human resource department and top management personnel so as to make value-driven and open culture where every employee gets equal opportunity to participate and to share their views and ideas (Snell and et. al., 2009).

Lookism has also been characterized as a type of sex or gender discrimination. Many studies have recognised the customer expectation or preference as an exception in discrimination with regard to gender, religion or nationality. However, this exception is limited in its scope. Laws have held it as inappropriate to consider the preferences of customers in order to determine whether such prejudice is fair or not (Waring, 2011). For instance, if some customers are not comfortable with a man working in clothing store, this does not mean that male employee should be discriminated while recruitment or promotion even when they are suitably qualified for the job or position respectively.

Thus, it is unfair for a company to use customer preferences for hiring or promotion purpose, it should only be considered when buyer’s privacy is at concern and when hiring decisions cannot go against customer’s satisfaction. Such type of hiring decisions are often made in health related organizations or in the entities where employees have close contact with customers such as saloons, spas etc. Employers also face various challenges while hiring process in order to ensure customer privacy and safety (Nickson and et. al., 2004).

As per the Implicit Personality theory which examine an individual’s personality traits or attributes and how these traits are used to make assumptions regarding other features. The physical appearance carries positive relationship with other personality traits therefore employers while making hiring decisions favours attractive candidates. Thus, according to this theory smart-looking candidates are deemed not only more efficient, but are also likeable as a person and are considered as having all skills to get success in life (Lookism: an emerging issue of discrimination in the workplace, 2012).

Attractive candidates are not only benefited in job offer, but they are also proposed higher salaries and growth opportunities than less attractive folks. In addition to it, some studies suggest that smart employees receive more positive performance evaluation than other peers and also more likely to get selected for management activities. However, certain studies exhibited that appearance only matters for female employee who is working at lower level while for the women who is working at management level attractiveness deemed to lower the performance (Tietje and Cresap, 2005).

On contrary, for the man who is holding managerial position, attractiveness benefits in his performance assessment and further help in getting increment or promotion. But, such type of discrimination is completely irrational and illegal under the employment laws. Various Employment Equality Acts prohibits the prejudice or discrimination in wide range of employment related areas such as recruitment, equal pay, promotion, training and development, working conditions, harassment and dismissal etc (The Glass mirror: Appearance-based discrimination in the workplace, 2012).

A person’s looks and his/her overall appearance is the primary thing that others notice. Thus, it is a trait or feature that is generally used to judge an individual and compare him with others. Physically attractive people are considered as being more honest, intelligent and likeable. But, in reality this actually does not relate to a person’s work performance from any aspect (Cornelius, 2002). It only affects interaction with other but impacts one’s ability to get desired employment.

Various studies have showed that good-looking people are more successful in getting the job than others. In addition to it, they also have greater opportunity for development at workplace. Appearance is suspect qualification on the basis of which employer make decisions. But, as discrimination based on appearance has harmful effects, thus it should be prohibited (The Glass mirror: Appearance-based discrimination in the workplace, 2012). There are many arguments that favour the prohibition of appearance-based discrimination in workplace.

Such type of discrimination will make society more concerned about the physical appearance rather than career, academic, skills or personal achievements. Folks will compete for jobs not on the basis of their skills and qualifications, but on their looks which inturn may result in less-skilled or less-competent workforce. According to legislation, discrimination has been defined as treating an individual in less favourable manner than others. It may be based on different grounds such as gender, status, family background, sexual orientation, age, physical appearance and the like (Warhust and Nickson, 2007).

Even the pregnant woman faces such discrimination as she loses job just because of weight or physical appearance. Presently, law for appearance-based discrimination is not considered as illegal in most of the situations (Stalecup, n.d). Only few jurisdictions have policies and laws that prohibit such prejudice. Under the existing law, Abercrombie’s or any other related companies are permitted to restrict the hiring policies to attractive applicants only.

They are even allowed to make recruiting decisions on the basis of height or weight providing to comply with the ADEA and Title VII. For example, the company’s practices would be held unlawful when it sets high physical standard for female applicants while for males no such standards are required (Lookism: an emerging issue of discrimination in the workplace, 2012). Moreover, when the applicants are just refused because they are “too old” for the brand and company image, then in that case also organizations would be considered as breach of the ADEA.

However, many employees are still facing problems and challenges which inturn hinder them in their progress and success. Even though they are qualified for the job, but still rejected or discriminated on various grounds.

Inequality within organization has been the area of great interest for many eminent scholars. This issue has been observed within the workplace for several years and even today inequality among different level of employees prevails in various companies.

At the time of recruitment also some applicants are just rejected either because of their gender, age or colour (Hamilton and et. al, 2010). For example, there are few private organizations which does not recruit female employee even when she is reasonably qualified for the job. While in some organizations, particularly airlines, male flight attendants are not considered as suitable for the job.

Apart from that, during promotion, training and development and increment also employers give more preference to that worker whom they like more while the employee who deserves the position gets discriminated. Such type of unequal and unjust behaviour inturn make the desiring and qualified employee dissatisfied with the job affecting his performance and hinders organizational growth. Thus, in order to achieve competitive success, it is required by companies to promote equal behaviour within work culture (Kite and Whitley, 2010).

Equality is all about creating the fair and value-driven culture where every employee participates and has equal opportunity for personal growth and development. It mainly emphasis on rights and responsibilities of each and every people working in the organization and promotes anti-discrimination. Equal opportunity can be described as fair and just treatment of all employees in recruitment, promotion and other employment related areas.

It means treating all individuals having different qualifications and skills, without judging them on the basis of stereotypes and outdated standards. It is based on providing courteous, fair and equal growth opportunities to employees for their further growth and advancement (MacDonald and Daniels, 2005). The organization should ensure creation of workplace in such a manner where employees of different backgrounds, culture, view and feelings and valued, respected and appreciated. In recruitment process, all candidates must be treated appropriately and should not discriminate on the basis of gender, religion or physical appearance.

Every individual in the organization possess unique skills and strengths that when managed effectively help in reaping the higher revenues and profits by the firm. Diversity within the organizations covers a wide array of elements. Differences in religion, culture, nationality, age, gender and social status can benefit an organization when managed effectively (What is equality and diversity, 2012).

Managing the diverse workforce properly is the key to capitalise the opportunities and so to mitigate the threats. This also helps in enhancing the strengths of company making it plausible to achieve desired success and growth. Employees with the diverse cultural backgrounds have different views and perceptions which inturn facilitates creativity and uniqueness when working in team. Accumulating the diverse skills and knowledge can prove to be of great advantage for the company in maximising the productivity and also helps in adapting the firm with the changing business environment (Eustace, 2012).

Diversity also provides the opportunity to the employees for their personal development and growth. For example, being exposed to new culture, ideas can help an individual to understand the surroundings and the different perspectives of people. It will also help in creating the friendly environment in organization.

Diversity and equality provides several advantages to organization like it helps in attracting pool to new talents, reducing turnover and absenteeism and thus enhance operational efficiencies (Zakrzewski, 2005). It also contributes to employee’s responsiveness and promotes flexibility. Furthermore, it makes employees committed and loyal toward organization. With the globalization, business organizations have undergone many changes; they are expanding their network along with diversification among staff members.

This substantial transformation has been caused by various factors such as internationalization, feminisation of workforce etc. Growing trend of female employment narrowed the gender gap to great extent (Davis, 2011). Today’s workplace is continuously changing with the change in overall business environment in terms of diversification and also in number of women employees. But yet, women are discriminated when it comes to recruitment, promotion or increment.

Evidently, physical appearance favoured the most in present society. As the appearance has great impact on employer’s decisions, likewise it affects the customer’s perception about the company and the products or services it is offering (Wolf, 1991). For this reason, many organizations use appearance-based recruiting for marketing and promoting their product. However, the old adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” is quite relevant in context with today’s business organization.

In today’s comeptitive scenario, it is required by employers to treat people fairly and equally when recruiting, training and development and while promoting, which will help in making the employees committed and loyal towards the organizations and will be more dedicated for accomplishing the goals and objectives (Overview: Equality in the workplace, 2012).

Production efficiency will also be enhanced that will help in minimising the unnecessary costs. While equality will also facilitate diversity in organization i.e. diverse array of candidates will apply for the job which inturn will help in creating a wider pool of talent and competent employees.  Attractiveness is not as important to sales as personnel’s skills and competencies are.

For example, good-looking person may be able to attract customers towards the company, but he/she may not be able to efficiently assist them which inturn may develop bad impression on customers and hence affect the brand image (Zakrzewski, 2005). Attributing to this fact, it can be said that attractiveness should not be considered as hiring criteria as unattractive person may prove to be more competent in performing the assigned job better that attractive one.

With the view to accomplish the desired organizational goals effectively and efficiently, it is required by organizations to embrace employee’s skills, talents, qualification and capabilities rather than physical appearance. People with the different culture, views, ideas, perception, skills and abilities should be recruited and developed, so as to ensure creativity and innovativeness in the tasks.

Thus, when this diversity is properly managed, management may provide numerous benefits to the organization in terms of growth as well as long term success. In order to sustain in today’s scenario, managing equality and diversity in workplace has become utmost important management concern (Overview: Equality in the workplace, 2012).


  • Corbett, W.R., (2007). The Ugly Truth About Appearance Discrimination and the Beauty of Our Employment Discrimination Law. Duke Journal of Gender Law and Policy.14.
  • Cornelius, N., (2002). Building Workplace Equality: Ethics, Diversity and Inclusion. 2nd ed. Cengage Learning EMEA.
  • Davies, A., (2011).Workplace Law Handbook 2011: Employment Law and Human Resources. Workplace Law Group.
  • Eustace, E., (2012). Speaking allowed? Workplace regulation of regional dialect. WorkEmployment and Society.
  • Furnham, A. And Chamorro-Premuzic, T., (2010). The Psychology of Personnel Selection. Cambridge University Press.
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