Can You Be Too Beautiful?


Can you be too beautiful for your own good? Actually…yes. Recent research has shown that beauty can be perceived as competition – at school, at the office or at the job interview.

In their current issue, Psychology Today commented on the new study revealing how sometimes a coveted quality becomes a liability.

Here is an excerpt from the article:


“Most of us assume that the beautiful people have it made – that being attractive gives you advantages across the board. Much of the time, we are right. Decades of psychological research has shown that when someone is attractive, we often unconsciously assume that they have lots of other good qualities too. We perceive them to be warmer, kinder, smarter, funnier, and more honest, simply because they are easier on the eyes.
But recent research has shown how the advantages of being beautiful don’t always translate into greater successes. In fact, being good-looking can cost you opportunities – jobs, scholarships, promotions – depending on the gender and attractiveness of your evaluator.

Psychologist Maria Agthe found that attractive applicants for a graduate scholarship received more favorable ratings from opposite-sex raters, but not from same-sex raters. Men were unimpressed by a male applicant’s handsomeness, and women actually penalized female applicants for beauty.
In a second study, Agthe found that the effect of an applicant’s attractiveness on their ratings also depended on the beauty of the beholder. Good-looking raters didn’t seem to care one way or the other how handsome or beautiful an applicant was, but average-looking raters did – they penalized better-looking same-sex applicants.

In the end, we tend to think about the attractiveness of the person we are evaluating in terms of opportunities and threats. Attractive members of the opposite sex (obviously, assuming you are heterosexual) are generally good to have around. Their presence is an opportunity – if not for an actual relationship, then at least for some innocent flirting and wishful thinking. Attractive members of our own sex, on the other hand, are The Competition. Their presence is a threat – they “make the rest of us feel like we aren’t pretty enough.” So, given the choice between a candidate with average looks, and one who is gorgeous, why choose the latter and end up feeling inadequate? Ugly Betty wins every time. “


Although hard to admit, bias is real and everywhere.  What to do? Here are three suggestions:

–  Let’s try and be aware of our own biases when we are in the position to hire or promote someone. Stop and ask yourself – is my decision being influenced by the candidate’s looks? Am I being fair? Would I want to be judged this way?

– Let’s think carefully about our appearance when we interview for a position. When your potential employer is a member of your own sex, opt for a more conservative, professional look. You want the focus on your credentials, not your good looks.

– Let’s take the time to examine and question our reasoning. If the best-looking same-sex candidate is truly the best-qualified and most deserving, hire them.


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