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Beauty,Spring 2005
Fourth Web Papers
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Can we remove the Bias?


Marissa Patterson

The effect of beauty on the emotional state of others is a frequently broached topic. Magazines, news programs, and movies often focus on the dichotomy between beauty and ugliness, the relationship between persons of each characteristic. For example, in the 2001 movie Shallow Hal the lead character is, in a sense, hypnotized into having callignosia. Hal is unaware of this change, however, and spends the movie meeting and interacting with people around them, only able to see their "true" inner beauty. He eventually falls in love with Gwyneth Paltrow's character Rosemary, who to him appears to be the slim blonde we are all familiar with but in "reality" she is 300 pounds. Yet she volunteers in a children's burn unit and participates in other good will activities, and in the end Hal learns that it is truly what is inside that counts and that he has fallen in love with the person Rosemary is while being unaware of her external features.

I found it rather interesting that this movie was lauded as showing that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, that looks don't matter, yet when in class we read the piece on calli, which essentially had the same effects as Hal's hypnosis, many people in the class felt it was unfair and "wrong" to blind someone to the physical beauty of others. There does seem to be a difference, however, at least in believability. In the movie it was an unlikely hypnotism that caused the beauty-blind effect. Yet in the Ted Change piece it was a medical procedure to change brain function. Though this piece was fiction we nowadays have so many different ways to alter the brain with medication and surgical procedures this seems so much more realistic, almost. With all of the concern for political correctness and a race and color blind society, I would have no difficulty picturing some sort of pill or procedure that would turn us into just that, a color/race/beauty blind people.

It's odd though. I am not sure if I entirely see that as a bad thing. While I of course enjoy looking at beauty, including physical beauty, I often feel that life would be easier if that was something I did not have to "deal" with. I all too frequently find myself thinking about physical beauty, be it my own or that of those around me. I find this most prevalent when looking at members of the opposite sex. I do not think that I consider their personalities often enough when perceiving what I "think" they would be like.

I think it is a lot harder than some people think to turn ones mind off to prejudices one has about race, color, gender, or even "little" things like hair color or the number of pimples on someone's face. At a school like Bryn Mawr I feel like people try to like everyone based on internal personalities, but we still have girls who glance over at another table in the dining hall and snicker to their friends about what that person is wearing or what she looks like. In today's society there is little we can do about that, other than to hope and encourage getting to know others in an environment where appearance is not as important, like in a class setting.

Appearances also play a large role in the "real" world, outside the Bryn Mawr bubble. Beautiful women are often paid more, promoted more often, and hold positions of higher authority than those of a less fortunate profile. There is also the experiment we discussed in class that was also included in Survival of the Prettiest, where researchers left identical fake college application essays in an airport, changing only the appearance of the girl photographed. Airport visitors were much more likely to mail in the application of the beautiful girl than the same exact application with the less beautiful picture. What does this say about our society, that we are so biased that even something like a college application is seen as less valuable when belonging to an "ugly" person?

It again seems to me that some sort of calli would level the playing field, allowing society to focus on the more important things in life without being distracted by the physical beauty standards we are so often held up to. Though I was able to see and sometimes agree with the anti-calli sentiments expressed in the Chang article, I found myself wondering if it would be a completely different scenario if it was something that was just taken for granted, in a way, if all people everywhere got calli at birth, for example. In the Chang article it seemed that the majority of the disagreements were based on the discrepancy between those with calli and those without, and whether this difference was fair. But it seems that if physical beauty appreciation (and possible misuse) was never even taken into consideration the societal implications could be worse.

A society born without the ability to see physical beauty in humans would not be able to make any sort of judgment based on looks. These attractiveness inequalities that we are confronted with everyday would cease to exist, perhaps to be replaced by others just as potent, yet let us assume that somehow it would be possible to remove any new alternate. How would this world work? Presumably there would not be the stereotypes that pepper today's world. The discrepancy with the college application? Not even an issue in this world. Men and women would date and fall in love with each other not because they found the symmetry of the other's face beautiful but because their partner was intelligent and funny, missing entirely the bald spot, overbite, and dark purple birthmark mottling their lover's face. Would this then be a "fair" world?

There is a part of me that desperately wants to say "yes." If we rid the world of physical beauty the injustice we see will not be the same. Yet I fear that the world will all too quickly turn upon some other sort of discrimination, perhaps along an intellectual spectrum, perhaps a height spectrum. I worry that the human body is innately formed to rank those around them, this is better than that, this is larger than that, this is more perfect than that. Somehow would we end up with another sort of ideal that is just as detrimental to try and live up to? Even looking at something as seemingly "good" as intelligence, will we end up with people having brain surgery to try and enhance their mental capabilities? Will it be as simple as deaths or addictions to caffeine pills whose goal is to enable the taker to study more hours in the day?

I could take it to the extreme as well, to a society similar to the one outlined in Lois Lowry's The Giver. In this society all facets of life are controlled and they have even developed their own solution to physical differences. Everyone sees the world, literally, in black and white. The community takes those who look different (or even who look too much the same, in the case of identical twins) and "releases" them, killing them to remove their presence in society. The outcome of the book leads the reader to believe this is horrible, taking away the ability of the citizens to make these choices on their own, as they occur without the knowledge of the general public. However is ignorance really not bliss? Why are their worlds seen as so damaged simply because the society has tried to take steps to level the playing field, to make sure "everyone comes out ahead," as we spoke of in class. Though the main character Jonah eventually learns about the "real" world, gaining knowledge of color and seasons and death and music and other things removed from his society, then decides that it is vital for him to share this information with all of those in his community, I wonder if this really helps them at all.

The book ends with Jonah leaving the community, with the understanding that when he gets far enough away all of the memories he has about the "true world" will be exposed to those citizens he left behind. But the author does not go into what damage this would cause the populace. They would be faced with a world similar to ours, where some people look different than others, some are smarter, some are more beautiful. Yet they will be bombarded with this information while lacking the ability we have to deal with that information, to use it or ignore it as we see fit. Could this society go on after such a major revelation? I do not think that it would be able to, or if it did, it would again collapse into a similar demise like the one that somehow ended our current world, forcing the creation of the one described in the novel.

How can we create a world where beauty does not matter? It seems to me that the only viable option would be to take away our abilities to see this physical beauty entirely. If we were never given this sense, we would not even be able to know that something is lacking, and we would still be able to seek out beauty in nature, in music, or in poetry. This sort of world, I believe, would be a fairer and more just place, for all people would be forced to literally wear the blindfold of the justice, enabling them to more fairly balance the scales of right and wrong. Hopefully this would level the playing field, even out the odds, and allow all people to come out ahead in the end.





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