The Social Reality of Being Ugly

January 21, 2009

Sociologists are interested in identifying what society creates. This can be more challenging than it seems at first blush. For example, what constitutes a person being physically “ugly”? Such social labels of “ugly” or “attractive” can have very serious effects upon people’s life courses. These ramifications might be reflected in the findings of some studies: unattractive people are paid less than attractive people, attractive people are promoted more often than unattractive people, and cute children receive more attention than others.

If you were to make a list of physical characteristics of beauty in your mind, many sociologists would predict your criteria would largely be based on cultural understandings rather than on some objective standard. What constitutes “pretty”, “handsome”, or “ugly” varies from society to society and within singular societies over time. For example, in Europe during the Middle Ages and Renaissance periods, overweight women would be considered attractive. Weight suggested health, fertility, and an upper class status. Today, much of society promotes that being thin indicates health, social responsibility, and attractiveness.

Discussion Topics:
1) What physical characteristics do you think most people in society (not necessarily you) define as attractive? Do you think such characteristics are based on some social variables and not natural predispositions? Why?
2) Based upon the above criteria, do you think either Sara Palin or Barack Obama are attractive? Do you think this might have affected the development of their public careers? Why?
3) What other “things” that we normally think of as instinctual or biological in origin might actually be a social product? Why is such a distinction important?

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  1. I believe the attractivness of Barack Obama played a huge role in his victory. He attracted many youth, because he appeals to them and they have never seen that before. People were attracted to Obama because it was someone different from the rest of the candidates, and it has helped his public career.

  2. 1) Physical characteristics that are viewed as “attractive” in America may be straight white teeth and managed hair.
    I think it has alot to do with social variables rather than biological predisposition because higher class people can afford braces and dental care, and hair straighteners, ect.
    2)I think Sara Palin and Barack Obama can be viewed as attractive. Both have good smiles and nice hair. If Obama had an afro and missing rotting teeth with the exact same views and policies, he would not have been elected.
    3)How people choose their mates may represent a false sense of instinct. Many men are attracted to women with large breast and wide hips. This may be created by society, not really a real instinct.

    Overall I think people are judged heavily based on whether they are attractive or not. This will effect how they are treated, what jobs they get, their self esteem, self image and the whole course of their life.

  3. As a college student it is very easy to notice how society in this era effects my beliefs based upon looks. Stereotype is a big problem in high school, mainly it follows the look of cheerleaders: blond hair, skinny, tan, stylish clothe etc. I agree completely with an article when it comes to that specific time of my life, but when I went to college, students who were wearing glasses, simple clothe would actually succeed more than preppy students because they would have less distractions. So I can disagree that pretty people get more successful in life since those geeky people will achieve more in college therefore get a better job.

  4. Yes I do believe that Sara Palin and Barak Obama are attractive. In the mind set of people I know, African Americans are found attractive if they have a light complexion, women are supposed to have a homley mother like look. I see this in both Sara and Barak. Yes,I do feel like this affected the developement of their publec carrers. I feel this way because I have friends that care less about politics, so when i asked them why they were going to vote one of my friends told me that they thought that they think they would better benifit the US because McCain was old and looked strict. They found his personality to be ugly because of the fact that he was not attractive. If beauty was not a major thought in America we would not read our children “The Ugly Duckling”. These thoughts are definatly taught to us, my mother did not read me that book, but a teacher that was prettty read this book to my class in the first grade,I don’t think how a person looks should matter, just how they work and how well they do what they do, but it really does matter.

  5. 1. The physical characteristics I think that most people in society define as attractive are a person who is in shape, has straight white teeth, shoulder length hair for women and short hair for men, and medium sized breasts for women and a six pack for men. I think such charactertistics are based on some social variables because it is a trait that is taught. When I was growing up, Twiggy was the person a woman wanted to look like. Now the models have more shape to their bodies.

    2. Yes, I think Sara Palin and Barak Obama are attractive. I think this might affect their careers to a certain degree. What really affects their careers are the issues that they believe in and not how attractive they are.

    3. I think gay rights might be a social product. For years gay people have been in the closet and society have slowly been accepting them.

  6. I think that Barack Obama and Sara Palin are both attractive people. I also think that their attractiveness did have an affect on the development of their careers. If you are young, attractive, and healthy looking, people will be vote for you because you already look successful and you look like you will be around for a long time.

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