Friday, May 18, 2012

Fun Fact Friday: Welcome to "Gender, Appearance, and Social Inequality," Week 1

As promised, today is the first of many FFF's dedicated to giving you a taste of my favorite UCLA seminar, "Gender, Appearance, and Social Inequality: From Evolutionary Psychology to Feminist Theory."  As I always do on the first day of an "in person" class, today's post will overview the goals of the course, review the syllabus (posted verbatim here), and squeeze in a bit of learnin' at the end.  Here goes!

Overview of course goals:
"Gender, Appearance, and Inequality" will draw on evolutionary psychology, feminist theory, and sociology, to examine “beauty bias” – the idea that physically attractive individuals are rewarded socially (through better treatment) as well as biologically (through “good genes”). This course will take an “intersectional” approach, examining how physical appearance overlaps with other, better-known, forms of inequality such as those that result from sexism, racism, ageism, and homophobia. We will discuss different attributes of appearance that seem particularly significant in the modern American context, including skin color, facial features, hair, body shape/size, and personal presentation (i.e., fashion, make-up, etc.), examining how appearance impacts people’s lives in a number of settings, including in education, in romance, in employment, and in medical treatment. Finally, will also work to critically distinguish evolutionary drives from social forces, asking how these distinct theories explaining beauty bias complement each other.

Review of Syllabus:
In my typical seminar, I organize the course around weekly themes, as follows:

Week 1. Evolutionary Psychological Perspectives on Beauty Bias
Week 2. Sociological/Feminist Perspectives + About-Face Media Literacy Workshop
Week 3. Beauty Bias in Childhood and in Education
Week 4. Beauty Bias in Romantic Relationships  
Week 5. Beauty Bias in Employment
Week 6. Beauty Bias in Medicine
Week 7. Intersectional Perspectives on Appearance and “Eating Problems”
Week 8. Fashion, Makeup, and “Style”        
Week 9. Men’s experiences 
Week 10. Activism 

You can see the details of each week's readings and lessons on the actual syllabus, here.  On Fridays, I will cover the course material in the same order, but much more slowly!  Right now the plan is to tackle the fascinating highlights of ONE course reading or book chapter each week.  Thus, my 10-week course will be stretched out across several months.

Whenever possible I'll provide links to the actual reading.  If I'm unable to do this for technical or legal reasons, I'll do my best to illustrate the gist of it.

Good news for all: Since I'm presenting material via "Fun Fact Friday," there will be ZERO quizzes, tests, or papers!  Whoopeee!!  Attendance is optional, but enthusiasm required.  :)

My lesson posts will end with a discussion question for the "class" to tackle in comments. (Please participate!)

Bit of Learnin':

I'll spend more time exploring Chapter 2 of Stanford Professor Deborah Rhode's book The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law next week, but I wanted to kick things off with a quote:
 "... appearance discrimination ['''] compounds gender inequality by reinforcing the double standard and double bind for women.  They face greater pressure to be attractive and greater penalties for falling short.  [...]  As a consequence, women's self-worth is more dependent that men's on physical attractiveness.  Yet, even as the culture expects women to conform, it mocks the narcissism of their efforts." (Rhode, p. 44)
This passage made me instantly think of the "effortless beauty" many of us strive for.  We carefully apply makeup to look as though we aren't wearing any.  Or, when complimented on a carefully chosen outfit, we say things like "Oh, this old thing?  I just threw it on!" So here is my discussion question for you, building from this passage: 

Have you ever felt pressured to downplay the time, money, and work that you put into your appearance? How does this shape your behaviors or beauty routines?


  1. Not wanting to be placed in the same category as women who are looked down upon for "trying too hard", I get manicures now and then but always pick a clear color so my nails look "naturally" healthy instead of one of the hot new colors.. And somehow I always feel sorry for women who wear a lot of make-up and obviously spend a great deal of time and money trying to achieve "beauty"; seems like they must feel somehow insecure in general or like they don't measure up to society's ideal of beauty. And then you know that people are probably thinking she doesn't have more important things to do when she is probably struggling to be "good enough" in other areas of her life too.

    1. I totally get what you're talking about! I am usually chicken to get bright colors on my nails for that reason. But I am also interested in how manicures and nail-color seems to have different meanings for different people... short, nude nails seems more important to upperclass white women, while more creative colors and designs seem to be something other women take a lot of pride in! Maybe I'm missing out because I'm too uptight...

      Yes - there are definitely social penalties for women who were "a lot" of makeup. Most research suggests that there's this "happy medium" where you should wear SOME makeup, but not too much. Women who don't wear any, or who wear a lot, are often discriminated against, but for different reasons! crazy stuff...

  2. I'm a life and wellness coach in Manhattan (as well as a mental health counseling student). I have been working with women for the last 10 years on achieving health goals and improving body image, self-esteem, etc.

    I'm really excited about your new Friday blog series. I'm planning to blog my responses to "the classes" and also get some conversation going among my Facebook followers.

    Thank you for your great work! I enjoy reading your perspective!



    1. Hi Melissa - that's so cool to hear! Looking forward to seeing you in the upcoming weeks.

  3. When I was younger, somehow I picked up on the message that women shouldn’t put too much effort into their looks, and I remember consciously deciding that I would not be the woman who spent too much time on herself. Around the guys I dated, you could say I became competitive with other women by trying to be extra quick in getting ready to go out. I thought these guys would think it was cool if I was faster getting out the door than girls they had dated in the past. I prided myself on this. Obviously, wanting to get out the door fast is no big deal, but the fact that I thought of this as a competitive advantage and did it purposefully is interesting. Now that I’m older, my routine is pretty simple just because that’s what I prefer. However, occasionally, I just can’t find the right outfit to wear because I’m feeling fat or I’m having a bad hair day. I will try on multiple outfits and take what feels like a ridiculous amount of time trying to look just right. I get frustrated with myself when I do this, recognizing I'm putting too much effort into my image--yet, I'll keep going until I find something I feel okay about wearing. This is something I feel like I’m not supposed to let others know. I'm supposed to pretend that I’m totally confident and comfortable with myself all the time.

    1. Melissa--I had to laugh in recognition at your comment. I was faster than the "average" woman in getting ready to go too.

    2. I can totally relate to this! thanks for sharing

  4. I am fairly late to this "presentation" game. Until my mid-50s I was so busy rearing a sprawling brood of children, that presentation took a back seat to my expertise in the classroom. Now that the child-rearing is over, I often wonder if I might not have advanced more if I had concerned myself with presentation. In some ways, it is a non-issue because I lacked the funds to make myself more presentable...which always felt like a bit of a double-bind.

    1. If it makes you feel any better, the research on looks and the workplace suggests the the relationship between beauty/fashion/makeup/style and women's success at work is incredibly complex. It depends on the workplace and it depends on what role you have within that workplace. Sounds like things turned out okay for you!

  5. Hi! I love reading your blog :)

    I just wanted to point out that I think you have an error in your syllabus. You write "Finally, will also work to critically distinguish evolutionary drives from social forces, asking how these distinct theories explaining beauty bias compliment each other." - I think the correct word is complement, not compliment. To compliment is to praise, whereas to complement is to supplement.

    1. Aha! Thanks Lori - I have corrected this.

  6. I think my husband doesn't quite understand the need for pedicures -- mostly emotional, probably, and due to the fact that I am terrible at painting my own nails. I have a less-than 5-minute makeup routine and usually let my naturally wavy hair do what it will -- I'm over the society-says-straighten-it thing.

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