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.