Friday, January 21, 2005

Does Appearance Matter?

Obviously, aesthetics plays an important role in people's lives. Why are people fascinated with the sunrise, or why wear clothes at all and not just uniforms? Physical appearance is a form of beauty, and it's something everyone can appreciate. I think I need to rephrase my question from whether appearance matters or not. A better question would be whether beauty is important, or even necessary, in a situation where it's not the main criteria (or at least it's not the "apparent" criteria).

The first thing that comes to mind is politics. In the Philippines, it's not merely enough that you be savvy when it comes to laws, policies, and integrity. Filipinos want the whole package: they want charm, personality, and yes, beauty. I'm not saying this is wrong per se, but rather Filipinos want it all. My political science teacher told me that in Japan, the Japanese merely settle for intelligence and predictability. It doesn't matter if their leaders are boring or ugly, as long as they get the job done. And it does their nation credit as well since Japan is a powerful nation, both politically and economically. The same can't be said for the Philippines though. Let's face it, aesthetics plays an important role in our lives. That's why each of our jeepneys appear unique and don't look like the result of some mass-production system. If we want a charismatic leader, go ahead and vote for him or her. The only thing that irks me though is that in the absence of knowledge regarding the candidate, Filipinos go for the only thing that they can immediately determine: the person's looks. I've heard people vote based on appearance. "Mas guwapo siya eh," ("He's more handsome") is usually the criteria some Filipinos base their decisions on. And let's face it, taking a quick glance from the newspaper or pamphlet that promotes who you are, the only thing you can determine in those five seconds is really the person's appearance. Not the candidate's stance, or his position, or even his values, but his appearance (and the cynics in the country would justify that the politicians are lying about their positions and beliefs anyway). My advice to would-be politicians? Invest time and money with a good marketer. In Japan, it's good enough that you'll survive with merely your brains and skills. Unfortunately, the Philippines isn't Japan. Appearances do matter in this country. Is it fair? Well, like I said, Filipinos want it all and won't settle for anything less (and sometimes, that's not a bad thing).

Second is when it comes to occupation. There's a reason why resumes come with ID pictures. And honestly, no matter what your job or career is, it's always an advantage to have a pretty face. Or at least a smiling one. Honestly, if we had two people of equal skill and talent, who would you choose? Or perhaps a better analogy would be if we had identical twins raised in the same manner and had the same set of friends, except one of them got into an accident that left them physically scarred, who would you choose based on preference and not on pity (or even sympathy for that matter). Unfortunately, some of us get too carried away and hire those with prettier faces rather than those who are more qualified. Of course that's not always a crime per se. It perhaps depends on your criteria for "qualified". There 's "qualified" in which the person is perfectly capable of performing a certain task, except the other, less pretty person does it better, and there's "qualified" wherein the prettier person is inept at it. The former is an acceptable decision for me. Because honestly, in an occupation set-up, there are a lot of factors that can affect work which isn't solely based on output. Perhaps the prettier person has a more pleasant personality or appearance. That builds up the company's morale (and let's face it, morale is not exactly something you can measure scientifically). Or perhaps the person in question is in a position where his or her appearance is needed for optimum performance, such as being the company's spokesperson or in the marketing branch of the company (because honestly, clients and customers are more willing to concede to the company if the person they're talking to is more pleasant or pretty). And besides, if it was something like TV or print-ads, appearance is everything. The other person might be more talented or acts better, but the prettier person might be the better choice since he or she can get the product more attention. Just take a look at the Korean actress Sandara; honestly, she irritates me, but lots of Filipinos adore her simply because she's pretty. Now the question you'll be asking is whether this is fair or not. Well, sometimes it actually is. If someone pretty can get me better results, then hiring him or her is a fair decision. Sometimes it's not, such as choosing someone based on looks alone rather than on their actual qualifications. But of course, if it's a deadlock (i.e. similar qualifications), you really can't blame the employer if they choose the prettier one.

Something I'd like to add to the second example is how people in general are usually more receptive to prettier people. I mean take your teacher for example. If he was a hot stud or she was a beautiful babe, wouldn't you be more willing to pay attention in class (or listen to what the other person has to say)? Of course this is not always effective since you can also lose "authority" based on your appearance, but in general, people give you credit based on first impressions. Now we all know first impressions aren't exactly the most efficient way of judging people. Yet a lot of people make their decisions based on this. Obviously, this isn't fair (and I never pretended to believe that the world was ever fair). But the question I want to throw back is whether you practice what you preach. Sure, we expect others to not base their decisions regarding us based on first impressions, but how much do we also base our decisions based on first impressions?

The third example I want to point out is competitions. Lately, one of the more controversial things I've been reading is regarding Digital Pinay and how the group is judging female contestants based on appearance as well as actual IT skill and talent. Well, the only thing I have to say there is that you have to understand their stance. It's a company and the winner is going to be a spokesperson or representative. As much as I want people to treat people based on merit, let's face it, other people will judge based on appearances. Imelda Marcos (as much as I loathe the former First Lady) was perhaps one of our best ambassadors to China not because of her intellect but because of her charm, beauty, and cunning. Or perhaps a better analogy would be the best-selling writers out there. Best-selling authors are just that: best-selling. Just because they're best-selling doesn't necessarily mean that they're the best-written ones. I understand the stance of those against Digital Pinay. But I also understand the position of those holding the competition. And to me, there seems to be a disagreement simply because each of the parties are working under different criteria. The former believe it's an actual contest of intellectual superiority and skill. For the latter, it could a number of reasons: This could just be a big marketing gimmick, for example. It could also be that they're looking for a model to represent them. And in the end, let's face it: as long as there's some sort of representation (and in the end, everyone is more or less representing someone or carrying the name of someone, whether it's the name of the company you're working for, the religion you believe in, the school you study in, or even the family you belong to), there will always be a need evaluate a person's physical appearance. I mean when I was studying in Xavier school, the best way for me to represent the school was by the uniform I was wearing. If I was in civilian attire and I said I was a representative of the school (in a formal meeting of course), what impression would that give to everyone else (I'm not saying that the impression I'd be giving would be wrong, but it might be an impression that was counterproductive to the vision and mission the school wants to espouse)? It's much akin to expecting a blind person to give you painting lessons. I'm not saying that appearance should be a vital factor (whether it plays a major or minor criteria is best left to the organizers and what their intent is) but it should be a criteria nonetheless. Thankfully, not all competitions need to be so. I mean the Palanca awards, for example, are competitions based on written work and the contestants, for the most part, are anonymous until the winners are finally announced. But then again, you also have to look at the goals of the Palanca awards. I mean when we hear of the winners, it's not like we also see their picture. All we get are their names, and the title of their work. Researchers can always look up the winner's portrait, but it would probably be easier to gain access to their written work rather than their picture.

Of course I'd also like to point out that the times are changing. Take the Internet for example. Previously, it was a network of anonymity. You didn't know what the other person looked like on the other side except for what they wrote. But a decade later, we have blogs, instant messengers, and even Friendster, and more often than not, these places will have pictures of the other person (whether this is the actual picture is another matter). Why? Because appearances do matter. And honestly, people aren't a bunch of components that you can easily subdivide and isolate. I mean take intelligence for example. Intelligence isn't something you can easily measure in a person. Sure, you can take an exam, but an exam won't really convey the person's intelligence in its entirety. In fact, a person's intelligence might be reflected in the way they write, in the way they talk, and yes, in their apperance. And similarly, the way I write, the way I talk, and the way I appear points to the other details of my personality, whether it be my creativity, my integrity, or whatever other criteria I can think of.

In the end, we must remember that people are people, and that what makes us unique is our blended characteristics. We should be taken as the sum of our parts rather than merely our individual aspects. And while we might be looking for individual talents, we must also remember that these individual talents can't be easily separated from the whole. And this includes appearance. If God never meant for us to judge via looks, then he wouldn't have given us senses. Or blessed us with outstanding body parts.

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