Physical Attractiveness

“Beauty is Good” Stereotype

In U.S. society, as well as in many other cultures, attractive people are assumed to be (Dion, Berscheid, & Walster, 1972):

  • more sociable
  • more likable
  • more intelligent
  • more likely to succeed in a job
  • more likely to succeed in relationships

Physical attractiveness seems to have a “halo effect” that influences perceivers to assume that a network of positive qualities are held by an attractive person. In this case, a positive stereotype is applied. Research indicates that this positive halo for attractiveness is pervasive or held throughout U.S. society. Physical unattractiveness, such as obesity is currently defined, acts as a stigma to elicit a stereotype of negative qualities. For example, research indicates that obese individuals are more likely to be perceived as (Jasper & Klassen, 1990):

  • lazy
  • lacking in self-control
  • less intelligent

and a host of other negative things. However, these qualities are not actually found to a greater extent in obese individuals.

Why does the halo effect for attractiveness happen (Aronson, 1965):

  1. Beauty is a reward because it:
    • is aesthetically pleasing
    • is desirable to “possess” (attractive women, in particular, are seen as rewards or trophies for successful men)
    • reflects positively on associates or friends of an attractive person (research finds that if an attractive person is willing to hang out with someone, the halo effect rubs off a little on the partner or friend of the attractive person; especially in cases in which a man is romantically connected with a beautiful woman–he is seen as more powerful or effective if he can attract such a woman.)
  2. Beauty lends power because it:
    • attracts attention
    • holds attention (though not always to what someone is saying)
    • opens doors of opportunity (attractive people get invited places so that others can have the rewarding or aesthetic experience of being around them)
  3. Beauty is possibly a self-fulfilling prophecy:
    • For attractive people, positive reinforcement from others throughout society affects self-concept and esteem positively over time. It is helpful to self-confidence to get so much positive feedback and validation of self.
    • There is some evidence that attractive people actually tend to be:
      • more sociable and outgoing and
      • more self-confident than the average person.
    • This does not mean that less attractive people cannot be self-confident and sociable. However, highly attractive people are given such positive responses by others that it may be easier for them to develop these traits (Goldman & Lewis, 1977).

Symbolic Interaction Process and Body Satisfaction

The people in our lives influence how we feel about our bodies. One study found that among older married couples, spouses had a substantial impact on how each other felt about their own attractiveness.

Damhorst (2009) studied 94 married couples 60 years and older who lived in Florida. A good predictor of a man or woman’s body satisfaction was:

what he or she thought his or her spouse thought about his or her attractiveness

But the best predictor of the older men’s and women’s body satisfaction was:

what the spouse actually thought about his or her attractiveness

Clearly, when someone takes on the role of the other to interpret how he or she might think about the self, the interpretations can influence how one assesses or appraises the self. In a close relationship such as a long-term marriage, spouses serve as mirrors for each other to define, to some extent, the self. But even when a person is not totally aware of what the other thinks, the way in which a spouse acts nonverbally and verbally toward his or her mate over time has a profound influence on feelings of attractiveness and body satisfaction.

Cultural Influences on How We Think About the Body

Cheng (2000) studied 209 immigrant Chinese Americans living throughout the United States for their body satisfaction and perceptions of attractiveness. People who were:

less accurately emphasized more accurately emphasized
body functioning body parts
energy weight

as important indicators of attractiveness for men and women. In many Asian cultures, the spiritual and abstract qualities of personality and physical functioning are as or more important in assessing attractiveness as are appearance characteristics. In the U.S. emphasis on thinness for women and muscle development for men, as well as facial characteristics, are highly important standards for physical attractiveness. In the U.S. we emphasize surface qualities over internal qualities.

As people acculturate to a new culture, they may adopt ways of thinking about attractiveness from the new culture.


Aronson, E. (1965). The social animal (2nd ed.). San Francisco: W. H. Freeman and Co.

Brumberg, J. J. (1997). The body project: an intimate history of American girls. New York: Random House.

Cheng, C.-Y. (2000). Acculturation and cultural value orientations of immigrant Chinese Americans: Effects on body image, aesthetics for appearance, and involvement in dress. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Iowa State University, Ames.

Compton, N. H. (1962). Personal attributes of color and design preferences in clothing fabrics. Journal of Psychology, 54, 191-195.

Dion, K., Berscheid, E., & Walster, E. (1972). What is beautiful is good. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 24, 285-290.

Fisher, S. (1968). Body image. In D. Sills (Ed.), International encyclopedia of the social sciences (Vol. 2). New York: Macmillan.

Giddon, D. B. (1985). Ethical considerations for the fashion industry. In M. R. Solomon (Ed.), The Psychology of Fashion (pp. 225-232). Lexington, MA: Lexington Books.

Goldman, W., & Lewis, P. (1977). Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 13(2).

Goffman, E, (1968). Stigma Notes on the management of social identity. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Press.

Jasper, C. R., & Klassen. M. L. (1990). Stereotypical beliefs about appearance: Implications for retailing and consumer issues. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 71, 519-528.

Ogle, J. P., & Damhorst, M. L. (2004). Constructing and deconstructing the body malleable through mother-daughter interactions. Sociological Inquiry, 74(2), 180-209.

Oh, K. Y. (1999). Body image and appearance management among older married dyads: Factors influencing body image in the aging process. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Iowa State University, Ames.

Oh, K., & Damhorst, M. L. (2009). Coorientation of body image among older married couples. Body Image, 6, 43-47.

Pope, H. G., Jr., Phillips, K. A., & Olivardia, R. (2000). The Adonis complex: The secret crisis of male body obsession. New York: The Free Press.

Secord, P. F., & Jourard, S. M. (1953). The appraisal of body cathexis: Body cathexis and the self. Journal of Consulting Psychology, 17, 343-347.

Turner, B. S. (1991). Recent developments in the theory of the body. In M. Featherstone, M. Hepworth, & B. Turner (Eds.), The body: Social process and cultural theory. London: Sage.

Facial Attractiveness Case Study

The purpose of this assignment is to:

  • Summarize the role of dress and appearance practices in the development of different identities.
  • Recognize and differentiate how marginalized communities in the U.S. use dress and appearance practices to express their identities.
  • Understand and evaluate social justice issues related to dress and appearance practices of marginalized communities in the U.S.
  • Deconstruct and reflect on one’s attitudes toward marginalized communities in the U.S. and their dress and appearance practices.
  • Reflect on one’s progress towards development of empathy related to social justice issues and dress and appearance practices of marginalized communities in the U.S.


  • Use this document, and save it as “Facial Attractiveness Case Study your first and last name”
  • Answer the case study questions beneath each question below (meaning keep the question in your assignment sheet).
  • Answer the questions using the instructional materials from the Facial Attractiveness module and the case study reading. Be sure to use in-text citations when paraphrasing or using a direct quote. Do not use or reference other sources than those provided from this class unless instructed to do so.
  • Keep answers typed, single spaced, 12-point font, no cover page, use Microsoft word, full sentences, 1” document borders, keep all of the assignment instructions and questions in your document

Case study reading:

Faces and attraction:

Faces convey a significant amount of information about a person including their various identities such as sex, gender, ethnicity, race, or other information such as their mood or emotion. The face is also one avenue through which judgements are made. That is, we have a first impression of someone based upon their face and these judgements are made within seconds of meeting a person. Based upon our impression of someone, we then change our attitude and behavior towards this person (Lennon, Johnson, & Rudd, 2017).

Overall, individuals perceived to be more attractive are given advantages that are unearned. That is, unattractive people experience significant discrimination due to the size and shape of their facial features. This result has been found over and over again in numerous peer-reviewed studies. That is, attractive people are given more awards, make more money, are perceived to be smarter, are rated more competent, perceived to be more social-able, perceived to be happier, given more attention, more likely to be elected to an official position, and have more positive interactions overall (Lennon, Johnson, & Rudd, 2017).

Theories of attraction:

The first theory of attraction is sexual dimorphism. Sexual dimorphism refers to the physical features that are determined to be associated with men or women or how feminine or masculine their features are. In numerous studies, researchers found that women who have more feminine features are judged to be me attractive where as men who have more masculine features (hard jaw line) are rated as more attractive (Rhodes, 2006).

The second theory, is the theory of average faces. In this theory, researchers found that those faces that are more average are judged to be more attractive. You can view an example of a facial average for research here.

The last theory refers to the concept of facial symmetry. Therefore, those faces that are more symmetric are rated to be more attractive (Lennon, Johnson, & Rudd, 2017.

Attraction and the beauty industry:

There is a significant amount of bias towards people who do not meet the appearance attractiveness standard. Because there is a benefit to appearing attractive, meaning people are treated better simply because the size and shape of their facial features, this has created a multi-billion-dollar beauty industry. Both the cosmetic and the plastic surgery industries have contributed to and upheld this standard that being attractive is the ideal (Rhode, 2010). It is no surprise then that the fashion industry is aware of the advantage and has employed attractive models to sell their products as these models sell more products.

Abercrombie & Fitch:

Abercrombie & Fitch is a fashion company that began in the 19th century. They have numerous product categories including menswear, womenswear, and children. The company has frequently been in the news for a variety of issues including their risky print magazine that featured models in sexualized positions. Additionally, they have a history of discriminatory practices in their hiring.

In 2006, Mike Jeffries stated publicly that “A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes],” “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” The company had gone bankrupt in 1992 and Jeffries was hired to revamp the brand. Therefore, his tactics of hiring “beautiful” people were to help re-vamp the company ad increase sales. His branding had successfully increased sales and profit for the company.

The company also instituted a looks policy. In the policy, the company regulated employees’ appearances including length and color of hair, women’s make-up, and fingernail length. Therefore, the company treated hiring retail employees to that of model hiring, hiring employees to work in the retail stores based upon appearance characteristics rather than their ability to perform job functions. This resulted in any person of color (Asian, Black, and/or Latinx) to be confined to working in the stockroom and not out on the selling floor because they did not have a particular look. It also resulted in the company hiring individuals that meet this notion of appearing attractive or meeting one of the theories of attractiveness. This issue was multi-layered and complex and while this example is provided in the facial attractiveness module, there are certainly other intersecting identities experiencing discrimination here such as race and body size.


Lennon, S., Johnson, K. K. P., & Rudd, N. (2017). Social psychology of dress. London: Bloomsbury.

Rhode, D. L. (2010). The beauty bias: The injustice of appearance in life and law. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Rhode, G. (2006). The evolutionary psychology of facial beauty. Annual Review Psychology, 57, 199-226.


Case Study Questions:

  1. Find an issue of a magazine from 2020 that has at least 5 advertisements with people’s faces featured. List which magazine, year, and month you used. Take a picture or screenshot of the five advertisements with people’s faces featured. Insert them below.


  1. Are the models’ faces from #1 considered attractive based upon the theories described the case study reading? Why or why not?


  1. Revisit the Ornstein (2017) reading from the Social Justice module and then use this reading to inform your answer to the following: When companies hire attractive models because they sell more products are they upholding a fair and just society? Why or why not?


  1. Review the Abercrombie & Fitch case above. Jeffries successfully increased profit for the company using his looks policy and use of attractive models. A) do you think it is okay for companies to hire based upon their attractiveness level if more attractive models can sell more products?


  1. Reflect on your attitudes towards these scenarios: A) What if Abercrombie swapped out “attractive models” with “white models”? Would you think it is okay to say you will not hire Black, Latinx, or Asian models because they will not sell more products than white models? B) What if Abercrombie stated in their looks policy they will not hire fat people because they sell fewer products than thin people? C) Lastly, what about if Abercrombie said they would not hire people with disabilities because they would sell fewer products than able-bodied people.



100 points total


Meets or exceeds expectation

All parts of questions are answered.

Questions are answered correctly and in accordance with the information presented in the reading.

Answers contain at least two full sentences, contain explanations and examples where appropriate and show synthesis of information in reading when appropriate.


Some parts of the questions are answered.

Questions are mostly answered correctly in accordance with some information presented in the reading.

Answer contains less than two full sentences, contains brief explanation or example and shows little synthesis of information from reading when appropriate.

Needs development

No or few parts of question answered.

Questions are not answered correctly or in accordance with information presented in the reading.

Answer is short phrases or not complete sentences, contain no explanation or examples and show no or little evidence of information from reading when appropriate.


Question 1 is  complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points


9-14 points


0-8 points


Question 2 is  complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points


9-14 points


0-8 points


Question 3 is  complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points


9-14 points


0-8 points


Question 4 is  complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points


9-14 points


0-8 points


Question 5 is  complete, correct, and well developed. 15-20 points


9-14 points


0-8 points




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Dress, Appearance, and Diversity in Society by Kelly Reddy-Best is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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