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Analysis of Lookism as a Form of Oppression

Introduction to Social Work (SW 1050 004)
Kaitlyn Olsen


What is Lookism? Is everyone affected by its criticisms? How does it manifest itself? How can
we decrease its presence? The following analysis dives into some of the possible responses to
these fundamental questions. As a brief explanation, Lookism is a form of oppression that
analyzes each individuals appearance in comparison to what that society considers to be ideal,
perfect, beautiful, and/or attractive. This analysis will provide examples of how Lookism exists
in reality and also what societies can do to reduce its harmful expectations.


Analysis of Lookism as a Form of Oppression

Lookism is defined as a prejudice or discrimination based on physical appearance and
especially physical appearance believed to fall short of societal notions of beauty (Webster). In
the following, I will elaborate on various aspects of Lookism such as its validity, what the ideal
looks like, its history, how it permeates every aspect of an individuals environment, and lastly
suggestions regarding how to prevent and heal from its devastation. Also, I will sprinkle in facts
and statistics that apply to different areas of our world. The examples uses will be primarily
related to women. I will explain why later on.

Validity, Manifestations, and History

Unfortunately, Lookism is not officially recognized as a form of oppression on its own
because Lookism is often present within other types of oppression. However, I would argue that
Lookism is the foundation for these other oppressions such as Colorism and Sizeism. Colorism
is a social pattern in which people are treated differently based on the amount of visible
melanin in the skin. Colorism is different than Racism in the fact that it encompasses all skin
tone differences, even those within the same race. Sizeism refers to a social pattern in which

people whose bodies fit social ideals are treated differently from people whose bodies do not.
Since Lookism encompasses all ideologies of the perfect person, it is worth debating that
Lookism has more information to prove itself as a credible form of oppression.
To elaborate on my comment above, this analysis will contain examples that are in line
with the expectations of Lookism when they apply to women. This is due the amount of scrutiny
women receive about their looks as compared to men which also speaks to the validity and
impact of Lookism. A tell-all representation of this is the magazine industry. According to
Magazines.com, which claims to be the number one source of online ordering, has a selection of
Womens and Mens magazines. The womens section contains subcategories for magazines
that include content on Bridal & Weddings, Fashion & Beauty, and Womens Health
(theres also a lot of fashion content within the Womens Interests subcategory but I will
exclude those). Those three content titles are made up of 118 different magazines of the 324 total
magazines for women. These would include Vogue, Shape, and Cosmopolitan. As for the Mens
subcategories, the first sign of lesser standards is the fact that there is only one subcategory
similar to the ones pointed out for women. That measly one type of magazine would be Mens
Fitness which only constitutes for 15 different magazines out of the 376 total for men. The
second detail to point out would be that men have 376 magazines designated to their gender.
Women have 324, which is 52 less than men. Yet, women have 103 more magazines about their
looks. The third point has to do with the percentages derived from those numbers. Men have
approximately 4% chance of a randomly selected magazine telling them what their body should

look like; Women have over 36% of randomly selected magazines telling them how to look. I
dont believe that warrants anymore explanation.
As for achieving the ideal appearance, an individual would have to identify what that
ideal look is. However, everyone seems to have a different opinion. To start, lets just look at the
expectations of a woman on her wedding day in different parts of the globe. In the US, almost all
photographs of brides are of light-skinned, long-haired, thin, women with perfect makeup. Our
brides typically wear white dresses that are typically in a strapless ball gown style. In India,
brides are displayed with thin, lightened skin and dark eye makeup. Women wear bright colored,
heavily-beaded dresses; and ample jewelry. Their jewelry includes bangles (bracelets), and
headdresses or jewelry incorporated in their hair. In Egypt, brides-to-be will dress rather simply
in either gold or white. They have jewelry within their gowns and wear a crown-shaped
headdress. Lastly, in Norway, women dress in ankle-length dresses with various colors and
Now, lets broaden the field of view. While researching, I found multiple sources with
even more ideas of the ideal just within our own society. For example, some consider the perfect
woman to be a blonde in a cocktail dress, or maybe a Beyonce look-alike, or a small-town
cheerleaderthe answers are infinite. Those are just from our society (and thats not even all of
them)! It is impossible to combine all of these considerations into one woman; which tells us that
Lookism is unrealistic. Yet, it consumes every culture.
The history of Lookism has wavered according to time period and location. For example,
in Egypt between 1292 1069 BC, women were considered beautiful if they possessed narrow

shoulders, dark skin, a high waist, and symmetrical face. In Greece, from 500 300 BC,
exceptional women were full-bodied with pale skin. In the US in the 1920s, women were to have
a flat chest, short hair, and a boyish figure. These variations are essential to understanding the
fleeting notions of Lookism.

Level 1 - Micro
This level will include a factual story regarding an individual who struggles to achieve
the ideals of Lookism. There will not be a testimony from any person who benefits from
Lookism. This is due to the way that our society rapidly changes and how this oppression takes a
toll on all individuals. Even those who are fortunate enough to be considered highly attractive,
still have immense pressure to keep that up. Supermodels and celebrities are examples of this
where eating disorders and suicide is common. There is not a privileged party.
As a woman in my late twenties, my struggle with my appearance has been a
bumpy road. I often consider my identity and self-worth to be directly related to
whatever male attention I am receiving at the time. I have always been thin, flirty,
and willing to do just about anything to feel loved. I was shaving my legs as soon
as I could get my hands on a razor. I hid makeup from my mother from years
before she caught me wearing it. I constantly wore shorts and bikini tops during
the summer.
Currently I have two children. One of which I do not know for sure who her
father is. I became pregnant with her before I graduated from high school. She is

now adopted into a family that my mother and I went to church with. My second
child is at home with me. The man that she calls daddy is not her biological father,
nor my husband. Rather he is the man that I was cheating on when I became
pregnant with her. I dont know what I possibly did to deserve him. He forgave
me for my actions and loves my daughter as if she is his. I am trying to be a good
mother. My biggest fear is for my little girl to turn out like me. I have
disappointed myself and others more times than I can even remember.
Level 2 - Mezzo
Lookism within primary and secondary schooling is rather popular. Though it may not be
termed as Lookism, it is common knowledge that bullying within children and teens usually
occurs on terms of looks. Especially about someone's weight in gym class or some acne during
homecoming. Therefore, let's discuss Lookism on the adult level. Adults seem to do the same
amount of judging as children, but in a more discreet way. Specifically in the workplace. Some
call it increasing profits and others consider it perversion. Either way, it is impacting working
individuals. The following statistic on plastic surgery expresses just how far people might go,
13 percent (more than 1 out of 10 of the 115-million working-age women) say they would
consider having a cosmetic medical procedure specifically to make them more confident and
more competitive in the job market."

Level 3 - Macro

On the Macro level, specific laws may seem helpful in reducing Lookism at work,
however, bosses and lawyers have found the loopholes to use in order to maintain this unjust
form of hiring. One resource that I found states, "...Title VII does not prohibit dress or grooming
rules per se, but that such rules may run afoul of Title VII if they have a disparate impact on, for
example, employees who have religious beliefs which require a certain dress or hair style."
Using these discrepancies in the laws, employers can find loopholes that allow them to hire those
that they consider more attractive. To elaborate, Title VII within the Civil Rights Act of 1964,
addresses equal opportunity hiring. Due to the length of the Act, an effective summary would
include that no one is to be denied employment due to race, religion, sex, etc. So how do
employers get away with doing this? Well, by "restructuring" their hiring qualifications or by
saying that the potential employee is "overqualified" letting certain employees go due to "clerical
errors" or "loss of company funds".

Recommendations and Conclusion

To conclude, Lookism is more than a sociological definition. It has real effects on real
people. It causes individuals to compare themselves to others and use that comparison to
determine their self worth. Lookism goes beyond tabloids at a grocery store checkout counter.
Young girls are dating and sexualizing themselves earlier in life. Men commonly take steroids so
they can achieve that six-pack. If I were to recommend anything, I would start with encouraging
every single human being to find their joy in something much deeper than what can be seen. And
at the end of the day, being focused on your mental well-being is far more important than

"Keeping up with the Kardashians". Learn to be original and when you see unrealistic
expectations, just say whatever and keep walking. Everyone is beautiful. There's not a single
person who should have the right to say who is "perfect" and who's not. Don't listen to all the
"pretty lies".


Reference List