Looks, the Next Chapter in Civil Rights


Publish Date:
August 8, 2010
Publication Title:
Boston Globe
Op-Ed or Opinion Piece
  • Deborah L. Rhode, Looks, the Next Chapter in Civil Rights, Boston Globe, August 8, 2010.


Beauty may only be skin deep, but that’s plenty deep enough to cost you a job, a promotion, or the training to get one. Marie Smith, a Hooters waitress, who was 5-feet 8-inches and 132 pounds, was placed on involuntary weight probation until she could fit into a company uniform: the only sizes available were small, extra small, and extra extra small. Brenda Lewis was an Iowa hotel desk clerk who lost her job despite excellent performance ratings because she appeared “tomboyish,” and lacked the “pretty” “Midwestern girl look” that the operations manager thought appropriate. Sharon Russell was expelled from a nursing school not because of her record but because of her weight and because administrators worried that she would provide a poor “role model [for] good health habits” when counseling patients.

Are these unusual cases? The research available suggests not. In a recently released Newsweek poll, over half of corporate hiring managers believed that unattractive but qualified employees would have a harder time getting hired, and two thirds thought looks would affect performance ratings. When asked to rate nine qualities relevant in employment decisions, appearance came in third in importance, below experience and confidence, but above educational credentials.