It’s not nice to judge people on their looks. If you do, you’re shallow. Mean. You “don’t know what’s important”. If the world were perfect with rainbow-farting unicorns and fluffy kittens influencing us rather than psychological and sociological facts no one wants to hear, then yes, perhaps looks wouldn’t matter.
The biggest part of my life, I haven’t been particularly concerned with my looks. The exception might have been around 4 years ago when I considered bodybuilding… Which lasted for only a few months. I still have no sense of style, I have a beard because of the assocation with manliness and not because I consider it a fucking fashion accessory, and when I was 15 I thought my dad was being stupid when he recommended against letting my hair grow long because of what other people might think.
I don’t blame my 15 year old self for wanting to be too cool to care, nor do I blame myself for naively spouting things like “looks are not important, it’s what’s inside that counts” while having long hair, wearing a leather jacket and studded bracelets with spikes because “my clothes are how I express myself”. The first time I really thought about the subject was when I just turned 18. In sociology class, I made a remark about how it was stupid to judge people based on their looks and that I don’t do that sort of thing. The professor said that it was silly to think that way, because everyone does it. “Stupid, narrow-minded adult sheep, conditioned by society!” is what went through my head, but it’s basic psychology to have associations with everything you experience with a person, their looks generally being the first thing. Go look up any of the 342424534524362 studies that conclude that many people, for example, associate obesity with laziness and muscularity with dominance.
Over time, I finally realized that when I wanted a job or get on someone’s good side with a first impression, I had to be mindful of how I presented myself. It took time for me to realize the impact that my looks had on someone else, both for business reasons and for personal reasons. I never gave it too much thought and besides putting on nice shoes and a dress shirt when I went job hunting besides college, I still didn’t care that much.
A while back, on the website Bold and Determined, I came across an article where the importance of being presentable was highlighted. And it mostly summed up my current attitude towards my own looks. ‘Pride’ is no longer a dirty word to me when it comes to looks and I don’t give a fuck if someone calls me vain or arrogant – It beats dirty and badly taken care of. I also feel better and more motivated to work harder if I take a shower and wear something decent instead of sticking to a lazy outfit. Fun fact: people actually perceive themselves differently depending on what they wear. I’m not just talking about feeling prettier because you’re wearing those new shoes, the way you look actually influences your self esteem. (And vice versa, by the way.)
If I have a business meeting or something and will meet someone new, I will make sure to look my best. If I had to deal with some fancy people for a business deal, I’d wear that pretty dress shirt and those neat shoes and make sure my beard was trimmed neatly. All to give a good first impression to help get what I want. Looking like a bum may certainly make people less inclined to work with me than looking fit, strong, clean and well taken care of. (Don’t you dare bring up the fact that I’m too lazy and uninterested to diet down to decent body fat levels to look better!) You may think it’s stupid that your looks have such an impact on how people perceive you, but it’s a cold, hard fact and you’re naive if you think it doesn’t go for you. Science has shown this again and again.
So far for the business side, which I realized a long time ago and what my dad was afraid of with me as a teenager. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with a guy having long hair, it’s the total picture of looking like you can’t take care of yourself (and my hair did look a bit like a a black Afghan Hound had died on my head) which can ruin people’s image of you. But there’s another side that didn’t come up until a few years ago, and which I didn’t become fully aware of until I read that article on Bold & Determined. If I have a girlfriend I want her to be turned on by both my looks and my personality. Also, I don’t want her to be embarassed when she shows a picture of me to her friends and they go “Oh… Uh… That’s nice, I guess. As long as he’s sweet.” If I walk through town with my mom, I’d feel like I’d be shaming her if I looked like a vagrant. I don’t care that much of the majority of people find me unattractive, but I’d rather have my mom be proud when people think “Wow, that woman has a good looking son!” than have my mom be sad or angry because people go “Why is that woman walking around with a bum like that?”
There’s much more to wanting to look presentable than being vain or insecure (which is what I used to accuse people of when I was 15). Oh yes, I still believe that my looks are part of the way I express myself. I take pride in who I am and I want my exterior to match my interior. For every reason mentioned before, if I find out that there is a part of me that people react positively to (both in terms of looks and personality, actually) I will use it, emphasize it or even show it off.
All this may sound like an essay in favor of judging people based on their appearance – It’s not. If you don’t like the way someone looks, that’s not a reason to be a dick. I’m trying to point out that people will do this to you, that you should be aware of it and that you can’t change how everyone thinks just like that. How you deal with other people and their appearances is a different story, since you CAN influence how you think. Be conscious of the associations you have with people’s looks and consider how to act on it. The association in your head doesn’t have to be important, how you act upon it can be. You may associate the tattoo-covered man at the bus stop with criminals, but he may not be. So shouldn’t you just greet him all the same when you encounter him? You may associate the tired looking man in dirty clothes buying beer at the store with homeless alcoholics, but he may just as well be returning home from a day of heavy, physical labour. Shouldn’t you just let him be instead of giving him condescending looks?
These examples are really obvious, but this whole concept is present in many subtle ways around us. Be mindful of the game and know how to play it.
“What do you mean ‘You can’t eat from a pretty plate’ ? Of course you can eat from a pretty plate, and when you’re done eating, you have something nice to look at.” – Theo Maassen (Dutch comedian), criticizing a well known adage that suggests that looks aren’t important.