professional development

LeadingWoman: Samantha Brick and the B-word

Kath Walters /

The story of Samantha Brick, the blonde beauty who lamented in London’s Daily Mail that other women hate her for being beautiful, is resplendent with themes for LeadingWomen.

Let us pick just one: embracing beauty.

A 2004 study by the personal care company, Dove, which is owned by Unilever, found that only 2% of women are willing to call themselves beautiful.

Got that? Two per cent.

Last year, in updating the study of more than 1200 10-to-17-year-olds, Dove found this figure had increased to 4%.

I am tempted at this point to send Samantha a bunch of roses for being brave enough to be among those four women out of every 100 who can say, “I am beautiful.”

Does this matter?

Well the Samantha controversy suggests it does.

A quick flick through your old feminist tracts will refresh your memory about one of the reasons that women hate Samantha – or at least the reason that Samantha feels so insecure. Among the pillars of sexism is women competing for the approval and appreciation of men. We can’t all win.

There is another. Although we can see the beauty in other women – 80 per cent of women agree that every woman has something about her that is beautiful – we cannot appreciate or celebrate it because 72% of us feel under such tremendous pressure to be beautiful.

There is one more reason.

Beautiful people earn more, according to many studies, and we pay more attention to them. Why? Because they are more productive, intelligent, friendly and competent than … less beautiful people.

Professor Daniel Hamermesh has made quite a study of the issue, and argues that there is a premium in the labour market paid to those deemed to be good-looking, and a penalty for those deemed ugly. (He has a middle category – average.)

Interestingly, men are more victimised by the ‘ugli-ests’ – earning 9% less for being ugly and 5% more for being good looking. Women, it seems, get a 4% premium and pay a 5% penalty. Bear in mind, Hamermesh conducted this research in law firms and advertising agencies – a font of beautiful people!

As women, we need to broaden our definition of beautiful to include ourselves. Intelligence might be something you are born with, but friendliness, competence and productivity are all within our capacity to improve.

I don’t know, but I suspect we could all put ourselves in the group with good-looking folk in Hamermesh’s studies – but not if we cannot bring ourselves to apply the epithet to our own image, and in doing so boost our confidence, competence and capacities.

I urge LeadingWomen to start bandying the B word around – in front of the mirror, and with your friends and colleagues.

From now on, I think I will reduce my CV to a single line: Beautiful, with all the marvellous advantages that beauty entails.

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