Why looks matter.


By David Joel Miller

Is it fair to judge others by the way they look?

Looks matter

Looks matter Photo courtesy of Flickr (teamstickergiant)

Repeatedly I hear and read that we shouldn’t judge people by the way they look. I know people say that because I have said that myself. But the truth is that most of the time, most of us do judge others by the way they look and there just might be evolutionary reasons why we should go on doing it.

Men and women with tattoos or piercings say it is not fair that they do not get jobs because of their body art. In the 1960’s we said that about beards and long hair. Still, people judged anyone who looked different then and now.

Women complain that we judge women by their bodies and not by what is in their heads. Still, we, men and women, spend a fortune on trying to look good to attract and impress the other sex.

When you wander through the jungle it is helpful to seek out other humans and avoid non-humans like bears or lions and tigers. It is not just humans that do this. Birds flock together by species, looking for a mate, looking for protection.

Consider these times when you might want to judge someone by their looks.

You go for a first appointment at your new doctors. They person at the front desk is sipping on their beer and looks like a homeless bag lady. What is happening here? You get into the exam room and the nurse who comes in to take your vitals is wearing some torn, blood stained scrubs. When the doctor arrives he has on an old sleeveless tee-shirt and some cut off shorts. He has grease all over his shirt and hands like maybe he was working on his car between patients.

So how comfortable are you feeling now? From the diplomas on the wall, this person went to a big name medical school. Still, his appearance is not too reassuring. Is it fair to judge him by his looks? Are you willing to risk your life and your medical care to someone who looks like a part-time doctor and a full-time auto mechanic?

Lots of clients tell me it is not fair that they get judged by the way you look. But if you want a job at that bank you might want to lose that “but-wiser” tee shirt and the sagging pants for the interview.

Psychological studies tell us that people tend to like others who are like themselves. This is not specifically related to race. It applies to a lot of other characteristics.

Say you walk into a bar and you are wearing your favorite team tee-shirt. Everyone else in the bar is wearing the shirts for the other team. How safe are you feeling now? Want to hang out and give them a chance? Maybe. But consider that humans, like most other animals, are constantly looking around to see how others look and how they behave. Then we either copy those others or we leave. Staying and not conforming risks being attacked, verbally, emotionally or physically.

Consider another example.

You move into a new neighborhood. All the kids there seem to be wearing red shirts. You take your teen shopping and they insist on buying a blue shirt. They say they love Navy Blue. So you give in. Then the problems start.

Gangs use clothing styles and colors to identify who is “in” and who is “out.” I am not saying this is right, but do you want your child killed in a drive by just because they insisted that they wanted to wear what they wanted to wear, and others should accept them.

I am not endorsing this judging behavior, just that there are a whole lot of situations where you can and should judge people by how they look and rest assured that others will judge you that way whether you like it or not.

So if you want to stay safe or get that job, consider that sometimes you need to conform if you want to get along. The older we get the less satisfying it is to say others should or should not do something. I can’t change others attitudes but I can put on a suit and tie before that job interview.

Sometimes how people look can tell you a lot about who they are on the inside and whether you want to be around them given the choice.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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3 thoughts on “Why looks matter.

  1. The Dr. Office analogy was a bit much, don’t you think? There is a difference in cleanliness and competence vs OSHA violations and outright signs of incompetence.

    I am a tattooed, pierced professional. I female. I worked in a corporate culture and never subscribed to the designer clothes, business suits, etcetera. I don’t wear dresses and I sure as hell am not wearing pantyhose.

    I was 23 when I started as a business analyst. 11 years later I was in management.

    I never tried to hide who I was. And I for damn sure didn’t put up with people’s discrimination. I am extremely bright – and got things done. THATS why I got the promotions I did.

    People are always going to judge. Make sure you are so good at what you want to persue as a career that they cannot discount your value to the company based on your outer shell.

    If you pull a half assed interview and don’t fit the image – there isn’t a chance you are getting a job.

    Like

    • Yes the Doctor example was extreme and that was the point. I think it is great that you found a place to work that accepted you for you abilities not how you look. Not everyone needs to come to work dressed like a fashion plate. A man may not have the latest in fashion tie but if he shows up for work with in his underwear with a swastika tattoo on his cheek most places will not hire him and most clients will not be willing to do business with him. There is a range of variation most people will accept and that range does not include doing everything the way you want to. That range is wider in creative companies like ad agency or silicon valley and much narrower in professional corporations. Even the military with their long history of acceptance of tattoos is finding they need to set some limits. How you dress, look and act tells us something about who you are inside and we have every right to form opinions, tentative ones, based on how people look and act the first time we meet them.
      Despite our apparent disagreement here,I thank you for your comment.

      Like

      • For the record, I worked at the corporate headquarters for a large company in the Deep South.

        My point is that maybe it has more to do with ability (or lack thereof) than appearances. Image was a big deal where I worked. But results played an equal part. I guess I was lucky that I could demonstrate that I could drive results and ultimately increase profits. Once that was solidified, everything else didn’t matter. I made them money. They didn’t care what I looked like. 😉

        Goes back to my point- if you don’t want to be judged by your looks you better for damn sure be positive you are playing your a+++ game.

        Like

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