Lookism: Appearance Discrimination In Employment


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Privilege and power are differently ascribed to various people within the 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 an individual’s physical appearance. Physical appearance is referred to 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 an individual’s non-verbal communication and is directly associated with attractiveness. However, lookism is advantageous for people who are attractive and thus most often get preferential treatment while on the other hand conventionally for less attractive people, it may create problems and barriers for certain opportunities.

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In context with business organization, it may be useful for some companies like cosmetics, apparel companies etc. But for manufacturing firms, esp the labour industry it may prove to be injurious as it creates unrest within the 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 in this essay.

Lookism may also result in unfair treatment and a lack of opportunities for unattractive employees. For instance, when two females who are equally qualified apply for the job, it is mostly seen that the employer would rather hire one who is more attractive. Such judgments rely on community standards and are culturally bound which further reinforces discrimination and stereotypes. Corbett (2007) argues that in today’s society appearance matters the most than ever before, he further states that modern society which is much more influenced by 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 the personality of applicants. Many television programmes, magazines, and movies illustrate society’s obsession with appearance. Many organizations make employment decisions partly on the basis of the 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 help generate more revenue since they are capable of enticing more customers with their looks. It is a growing trend in many large corporations such as L’Oreal, and The Gap, and big hotel chains like The Marriott to develop a smart-looking sales force and thus seeking handsome, pretty and attractive employees who can effectively represent the company’s product and can also act as brand ambassadors.

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Therefore, employers with the view to survive, and 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 bias towards employees based on attractiveness and appearance and further argues that it should be considered illegal. However, she favours the preferences for physical appearance in certain conditions and justifies this by stating that customers would rather prefer to be served by well-dressed and smart-looking employees instead of minority ones. However, this issue requires more attention from human resource department and top management personnel so as to create a value-driven and open culture where every employee gets an 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 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 a clothing store, this does not mean that male employees should be discriminated against during recruitment or promotion even when they are suitably qualified for the job or position.

Thus, it is unfair for a company to use customer preferences for hiring or promotion purposes, it should only be considered when buyer’s privacy is at concern and when hiring decisions cannot go against customer satisfaction. Such types 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 during the hiring process in order to ensure customer privacy and safety (Nickson and et. al., 2004).

The Implicit Personality theory examines an individual’s personality traits or attributes and how these traits are used to make assumptions regarding other features. Physical appearance carries a 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 the skills to succeed in life (Lookism: an emerging issue of discrimination in the workplace, 2012).

Attractive candidates not only benefit from job offers but they are also offered higher salaries and growth opportunities than less attractive folks. In addition to this, some studies suggest that smart employees receive more positive performance evaluations than other peers and are also more likely to get selected for management activities. However, certain studies exhibited that appearance only matters for female employees who are working at a lower level while for women who are working at a management level attractiveness is deemed to lower their performance (Tietje and Cresap, 2005).

On the contrary, for the man who is holding a managerial position, attractiveness benefits in his performance assessment and further helps in getting an increment or promotion. But, such type of discrimination is completely irrational and illegal under the employment laws. Various Employment Equality Acts prohibit prejudice or discrimination in a 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 are the primary things 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 to be 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 not only affects interaction with other but impacts one’s ability to get desired employment.

Various studies have shown that good-looking people are more successful in getting a job than others. In addition, they also have greater opportunities for development in the workplace. Appearance is suspect qualification on the basis of which employers 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.

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Such type of discrimination will make society more concerned about 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 in turn may result in a less-skilled or less-competent workforce. According to legislation, discrimination has been defined as treating an individual in a 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 her job just because of weight or physical appearance. Presently, the law for appearance-based discrimination is not considered illegal in most situations (Stalecup, n.d). Only a 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 standards 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 a breach of the ADEA.

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

Inequality within organizations has been an 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 levels 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 do not recruit female employees 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 increments also employers give more preference to the worker whom they like more while the employee who deserves the position gets discriminated. Such type of unequal and unjust behaviour in turn makes the desiring and qualified employee dissatisfied with the job affecting his performance and hindering organizational growth. Thus, in order to achieve competitive success, it is required by companies to promote equal behaviour within the work culture (Kite and Whitley, 2010).

Equality is all about creating a fair and value-driven culture where every employee participates and has equal opportunities for personal growth and development. It mainly emphasises on rights and responsibilities of each and every person 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 the creation of a workplace in such a manner where employees of different backgrounds, cultures, views and feelings and valued, respected and appreciated. In the 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 possesses 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 capitalising on the opportunities and so to mitigate the threats. This also helps in enhancing the strengths of the company making it plausible to achieve the desired success and growth. Employees with diverse cultural backgrounds have different views and perceptions which in turn facilitates creativity and uniqueness when working in a team. Accumulating diverse skills and knowledge can prove to be of great advantage for the company in maximising productivity and also helps in adapting the firm to the changing business environment (Eustace, 2012).

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

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

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

Evidently, physical appearance is favoured the most in present society. As appearance has a great impact on an employer’s decisions, likewise it affects the customer’s perception of 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 competitive scenario, it is required by employers to treat people fairly and equally when recruiting, training and developing promoting, which will help in making the employees committed and loyal towards the organizations and will be more dedicated to accomplishing the goals and objectives (Overview: Equality in the workplace, 2012).

Production efficiency will also be enhanced which will help in minimising unnecessary costs. Equality will also facilitate diversity in the organization i.e. diverse array of candidates will apply for the job which in turn 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, a good-looking person may be able to attract customers towards the company, but he/she may not be able to efficiently assist them which in turn may develop a 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 people may prove to be more competent in performing the assigned job better that attractive ones.

The view to accomplish the desired organizational goals effectively and efficiently, required organizations to embrace employee’s skills, talents, qualifications and capabilities rather than physical appearance. People with different cultures, views, ideas, perceptions, 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 the workplace has become the 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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