By GEORGIANA SOO
One of the most viewed TED talks on YouTube is titled “Looks Aren’t Everything.” And yet, the first-half of the talk, delivered by former Victoria’s Secret model Cameron Russell, seems to detail a narrative that is quite the antithesis to the video’s name. As Russell recalls getting out of police tickets with her attractiveness and notes the perks of being fit and beautiful, watchers are left to wonder—what really is the point?
In a society that likes to preach “everyone’s a winner” with the kind of fervor a minister might deliver a sermon, this movement that encourages adopting a disregard for conventional beauty has become one of this generation’s greatest attempts to empower people. And it is true; people are more than their outward appearances. But frankly speaking, it is all one big, seemingly comforting lie.
Whether we like it or not, our level of attractiveness, sense of fashion and height and build are imprinted in people’s minds from the start, à la Devil Wears Prada fashion. In fact, experts note that job interviewers often craft an image of the interviewee in the first thirty seconds of meeting them and spend the rest of the interview attempting to justify this idealization. Take the latest GQ cover model and put him next to an average Joe, and it is highly unlikely people will be drawn to the latter. Looks are what we build our judgments on, and however much we attempt to fight our natural inclination to form biases at first glance, our human subconscious continues to egg us towards the better looking individual.
As harsh and blunt as it sounds, instead of attempting to save everyone’s ego and self-esteem and forcefully trying to suppress the common fact that appearance is crucial, as a society, we ought to embrace it. It’s far more advantageous to be aware of the disadvantage less attractive people have, and far more advantageous to take it all in stride and make-up for it in some other area. By no means is this a call to adopt a counter-intuitive philosophy, in which society encourages plastic surgery to improve job prospects; rather, do what the United States does best: embrace flaws and make them unique.
And through the irony of it all, the fashion industry—literally built on image—seems to be the quickest to acknowledge that looks indeed matter, but that there’s more to the heart of the matter than meets the eye.
Clothing retailer American Eagle started years ago with their Aerie Real campaign, promising never to retouch or photoshop their models. Makeup brands like Glossier have seen a recent surge in popularity after promoting an au naturale philosophy. In the end, it’s all semantics. If we stop lying to ourselves about the real benefits of being better looking, we can, in fact, capitalize on being smarter or more well-rounded or generally self-aware.
The title of Russell’s TED talk finally makes sense in the end, when she highlights that, in fact, the good-looking ones in the human pool also feel insecure. But more than that, appearance is a construct of society’s values. And when we learn to embrace that unchangeable fact and consider the implications of being or not being conventionally beautiful or handsome, we bring ourselves to a heightened level of self-satisfaction, peace, and acceptance. Looks matter, but other things do too, and that is okay.