Posts Tagged ‘social labels’


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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