LETTERS: The value of beauty without jealousy

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The Independent Online
Sir: The relationship between personal appearance and life chances is a little more complicated than Rebecca Fowler suggests ("Is it really such a sin to be ugly?", 27 June).

Most of the important empirical research was carried out in the 1960s when a welcome new honesty and frankness were entering into the once almost taboo subject of looks. But the distinguished American social psychologists Dion, Berscheid and Walster added to persisting confusion when, for feminist political reasons, they entitled their report of 1972 (Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, vol 24, pp 205-90) "What is beautiful is good".

What their research, and a critical mass of other studies actually showed, was not that people equate beauty with moral good, but with something very different, worldly happiness and success.

Historically there have always been jobs in which men could profit from beauty - as a footman, or as a salesman in a department store catering for women, for instance. Today there are more and more sales and media jobs in which appearance is an indispensable asset. But a beautiful face does not make a brain surgeon (or a professor of history).

Beauty is simply a gift from our genes; valued because it gives joy to all beholders, a gift just like musical or mathematical talent. If we understand this, we can value it without jealousy, and avoid overvaluing it.


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