Brain over Beauty?

In the first episode of the TV series ‘House’, Cameron is shocked that House hired her because of her good looks. House asks her, “Would that upset you, really, to think that you were hired because of some genetic gift of beauty instead of some genetic gift of intelligence?” Only then it hits me that intelligence can also be considered as a genetic gift, just like beauty.

Why do we glorify intelligence while we think low of beauty, as if it is some unearned gift? Why is it that a beautiful, brainy woman wants to be called intelligent and not pretty at work? Here are some points why this might be the case:

1. The perception that beautiful people are not intelligent

Society tends to think that beauty and intelligence are mutually exclusive, especially in women. We only have to read a few blonde jokes to infer this. No wonder there is a constant pressure to look a certain way at work. We may have to look presentable to appear professional, but if we look too pretty or fashionable, people assume we are incapable, distracted or worse, easy to get. Note that I primarily talk about workplaces that do not depend on beauty for business.

2. Focusing on looks is seen as vanity and a waste of time.

Some think that if a woman spends time on her appearance, then her focus is shifted and will not be able to perform her job well. Do they really believe that their employees, men and women, who do not spend their time on appearance, use it productively?

Is it alright if we spend our mornings watching TV series, playing games, browsing the net aimlessly or listening to music, but somehow it is bad to put on some makeup? Can we not choose to use our free time the way we want? Why is it that when a man shaves his beard or trims his moustache, it is called grooming, but when a woman threads her eyebrows or waxes her hands, it is vanity? This kind of prejudice discourages some women from paying attention to their looks, even if they love to dress up.

Of course, there is an environmental factor involved. In a conservative city like Chennai, sleeveless clothing is seen as too modern. Going to a beauty salon for anything other than a hair trim or doing your eyebrows is often viewed as unnecessary. If you get a mani-pedi, you are considered to be a spendthrift person who wastes money. In another city, these are basics and if you don’t ‘take care of yourself’, you are seen as too orthodox or from a different era.

Wherever you live, you are expected to groom yourself to meet the beauty standards of the environment, but not go overboard. If you do, then you are considered to be wasting time and money on something unimportant. This makes most women disregard their likes and dislikes to blend in with the crowd.

3. An urge to break stereotypical expectations

The society expects women to be pretty and men to be brave. Some of us want to rebel this. Where I come from, being fair and thin are the essentials of beauty. You need to keep up with the fluctuating beauty standards. If you pack a few extra pounds, you need to lose weight. If you are too thin, even if you are healthy, you need to gain some weight. Nothing is good enough. Some of us have had it and want to show the world that we are capable of things other than just looking pretty. So, it offends us to be called beautiful.

4. Not wanting to be labelled as an enchantress

There is also this misconception that women want to look good to attract men. Most of the women I know wear makeup or groom themselves because they like it. Personally, I’ve never paid attention to my looks till college. Upon my cousin’s insistence, I wore a basic kajal and a tinted lip balm on my first day of work. I liked the way I looked and have been continuing these two ever since. Men never came into the picture. Imagine an office environment where most people thought that women of good upbringing don’t care too much about their looks. How can a woman working here wear makeup if she wants to be respected and treated well?

5. Wanting to be taken seriously

It is a common assumption that pretty women have it easy and this may be correct in some cases but there are certain drawbacks to looking beautiful. It is quite hard for a pretty woman to make her case, particularly if she is not aggressive and/or new at the office. She is not taken seriously and her opinions are dismissed. Even though she is there to work, her beauty is the thing that gets people talking. Unfortunately, it takes a bit longer for her to be recognized for her intellect because people do not hear her views at first due to their preconceived notions. So, it is natural for her to yearn to be heard and called intelligent rather than beautiful.

6. Subjectivity of beauty

The subjectivity of beauty might also be a reason why we prefer the genetic gift of intelligence. While intelligence is objective, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Many modern women would rather be known for their IQ which is concrete and provable than be known for their beauty, which is subjective and not a universally accepted fact.

7. The shelf life of beauty

Unlike beauty, intelligence is eternal. Of course, there is a small chance of people getting Alzheimer’s, dementia or the like and that would reduce their intelligence but the chance of someone ageing in the next few years is 100%. So some women may not want to be known for something with an expiry date.

What are your views on the subject of beauty? Share your insights as comments below.

10 thoughts on “Brain over Beauty?

  1. A says:

    Really a good post Anu 🙂

    I have pasted links to two publications on this subject for your reading:

    Click to access pone.0025656.pdf

    The highlights from these publications are:
    1. In the present world, “many intellectuals would have us believe that beauty is inconsequential…the concept of beauty has become an embarrassment…However, outside the realm of (intellectual) ideas, beauty (still) rules. Nobody has stopped looking at it”! So, You are not alone in this debate!
    2. Passion for beauty is universal, from primitive tribes to ultramodern fashion industry.
    3. Aspects of judgements of beauty may be culturally influenced but perception of beauty is universal.
    4. Beauty’s history is far longer! It existed in ancient Egypt! Has probably been perceived and responded to, ever since men and women came to existence.
    5. Pursuit of beauty is a biological adaptation, governed by natural selection. Smooth skin, thick hair, curved waist, etc indicate a healthy reproductive and general health, which are desirable attributes for reproductive success.
    6. This is not a conscious process, however, reactions may be automatic but “our thoughts and behaviours are ultimately under our control”.
    7. Therefore, the challenge for today’s women is to learn to live with beauty without feeling embarrassed given the misfit perceptions that has come along from the ancient world. I am glad your conclusions on the subject reflect the idea 🙂

    The different standards of judgement applied for men and women, on the whole and from the perspective of beauty, is altogether a subject for a separate debate.

    As for your question on beauty over brain, I think beauty can be ‘enhanced’ by grooming that can exaggerate or conceal genetically inherited facial features (second link pasted), while intelligence cannot be faked (neither can be exaggerated nor concealed). On a separate note, I remembered an argument one of my research supervisor had against the use of the term ‘artificial intelligence’; his point was how can intelligence be ‘artificial’! Never mind, but remember, as the second article concludes, when the ‘beholder’ is under pressure, in terms of time or cognitive load, they are more likely to rely on automatic judgements of facial images for decision making rather than based on one’s intelligence or their personality.

    Another thing I would like to point out is that intelligence is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. No scientific studies have so far conclusively identified any genes to be directly associated with IQ. It has been known to be strongly influenced by the environment.

    This subject has always primed my curiosity, hence the long reply. Hope you don’t mind.

    Looking forward to read more from you! Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

    • anushanarasimhan says:

      Wow! I was awaiting your response because I felt you might be interested in the topic and could relate to it. Seeing your comment made my day! I’ll definitely check the two links. Thanks Ashu 🙂


  2. Sandeep Kanabar says:

    A brilliant and very thought-provoking post, Anusha!

    I like the way you’ve so honestly penned your thoughts. True – society always misconstrues that if one dresses well, it’s to show off. Nothing can be farther than truth. Even men love to dress. When I wear nice clothes, it puts me in such a wonderful mood that sets the tone for the day.

    Also, each one longs for the thing he/she doesn’t have. Isn’t it so? That might explain why pretty women would want to be called intelligent while intelligent women would want to be called beautiful too 🙂


  3. Shravanthi Kripa says:

    Hi Anusha,
    This perfectly sums up my life these days. I am a person who loves make-up for make-up’s sake. I don’t do it for other(men or women), but I do it for me.

    When I started working at a new office, I was teased incessantly for wearing make-up. There were tonnes of snickers, giggling, pointing, imitating going on behind my back ( MEN did the most of this teasing). But I continued to ignore it.

    I though I had proven myself intellectually as capable as they were at my work. But imagine my shock when people had to refer to me, they’d imitate my use of a lipstick, or kajal. It felt awful.

    I HAD TO WORK DOUBLE-HARD for my work to be recognized.

    Even then, instead of appreciation from co-workers, all I got was a surprised “Oh look, Miss.Lipstick can even do this work.” That was just outright insulting, and hurtful.


    This on one spectrum. On the other end a people of the grapes-are-sour type. They are easily jealous of a woman who wears make-up, carries herself upright, and speaks fluently in english.

    They were intimidated.
    They were jealous.

    And they’d always hold you at a distance, making sure you had no friends at the workplace. And everybody held you at that distance.

    It’s a difficult world out there for confident women. But I’m sure things will morph when these women prove their mettle and come out as top leaders and world-shapers.

    P.S. On a similar tone, I wrote an article on how Make-up is actually a therapy with positive benefits and affirmations – do take a look and let me know your views.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. TSP says:

    Beauty comes from within. I know that might sound cliché but allow me explain. If you’re comfortable and secure with yourself, you’re less likely to be judgmental of others. You will see beauty in places where it is not as apparent for others. When you have insecurities, you generally project those onto the world around you – for instance, you are not happy with your body so you critique other women who “show too much skin”. Judging others doesn’t say much about the other person but it does say a lot about the person judging. It’s easy to get caught up in stereotypes of beauty but I think there is beauty in everything – you just have to realize it’s not always conventional. As you accept yourself, you learn to accept others.
    Great piece ! Very thought – provoking 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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