Combating the Beauty is Beastly Effect (Part 2)

Petunia (not her real name) is an attractive 20-year-old blonde who wears a pony tail, fake prescription Harry-Potter-like glasses, flat shoes (as opposed to high heels), and loose clothes in order to appear “more intelligent” and “less intimidating.” She does this because she has intuitively noticed that by making herself less attractive she is better accepted by others, in college and at work.

In my post titled What’s Beautiful Is Good. Or Isn’t It? and in Part 1 of this series of three posts I introduced a phenomenon called the What’s Beauty is Beastly Effect, which is what Petunia is experiencing:

There is ample evidence that physically attractive women are discriminated against (by men as well as by other women) when applying for masculine sex-typed jobs. (Leadership positions are masculine sex-typed jobs.)

After conducting studies on this matter, Yale University researchers concluded that

Attractive women were penalized for their appearance when they sought managerial positions. This finding sadly implies that women should strive to appear as unattractive and as masculine as possible if they are to succeed in advancing their careers by moving into powerful organizational positions.[i]


I’m an advocate for professional appearance and demeanor, but I refuse to accept that women need to pretend they are less anything to fit discriminatory prejudices.

Don’t you?

Did you pay thousands for your daughter’s orthodontics and gave her the best education you could afford to now advise her to act dumb and make herself less attractive in order to get a better job?

The bad news is that there are no established techniques for reducing discrimination against attractive women applying for masculine sex-typed jobs. [ii]

But the good news is that there are some things women can do to mitigate the harmful effects of the beauty is beastly effect on their careers. In Part 1 of this post I listed three:

1. Raise your confidence

2. Go with the flow

3. Whenever possible, increase positive contact

Since I’m discussing them in a series of three posts, here I will discuss the second one.

Go with the Flow (a.k.a. Acknowledge the Stigma)

This advice seems to follow the wisdom of the old adage that says, “If you can't beat them, join them.”

Researchers from the University of Colorado conducted several studies to try and find ways to mitigate the effects of the beauty as beastly phenomenon and published their conclusions in a scientific article they titled, Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful: Acknowledging appearance mitigates the ‘‘beauty is beastly’’ effect.[iii]

As the title of this article implies, when physically attractive women acknowledge that their gender or looks are incongruent with the typical applicant for a masculine sex-typed job, these women are rated higher in employment suitability.

Why is that? For two reasons:

  1. By acknowledging the incongruence between their own sex and looks and the typical applicant, women are displaying traits that are typically viewed as favorable in male job applicants, such as being independent, assertive, and willing to take risks.[iv]

  2. Research shows that bringing a stigma to the attention of an interviewer interrupts the automatic effects of stereotypes.[v]

Let me give you an example of how this works. In one study researchers sent applicants in wheelchairs to mock-job interviews, and had some of them acknowledge their condition by saying something to the effect of, ‘‘When people meet me, one of the first things that they notice is that I use a wheelchair.’’ Those applicants who acknowledged their disability were more likely to be hired. In that same study, researchers found that “the benefits of acknowledging a stigma are enhanced when acknowledgment occurs early in the social interaction.”[vi]

So how can attractive women apply this advice?

Well, look at what researchers from the University of Colorado had women do: first, they divided women into two categories: attractive and non-attractive. Then, within each category they further divided women into three groups:

a) Control group. They did not acknowledge neither their gender nor their looks.

b) Looks group. Women in these groups acknowledged their looks.

c) Gender group. Women in these groups acknowledged their gender.

When asked, “Why should we hire you?” women were instructed to answer depending on their assigned group:

a) Control group: “You should hire me because my skills and work experience are a perfect fit for this job. If you look at my work history, you will see that I have been successful in this industry and I am motivated to do the job.”

b) Looks group: Before giving the same answer as the control group women said, “I know that I don’t look like your typical construction worker, but. . .”

c) Gender group: Before giving the same answer as the control group women said, “I know that there are not a lot of women in this industry, but. . .”

“Recruiters” evaluated applicants using a 7-point scale (from Strongly agree to Strongly disagree) by rating three aspects:

  • This applicant answered the interview questions well

  • I have a favorable impression of this candidate

  • I would be likely to offer this applicant the job

The results showed that the physically attractive applicants performed significantly better when they acknowledged either her appearance or their gender.

This was so because by acknowledging their gender or looks, women who did showed that they possessed desirable attributes for a “male” job: being assertive and taking risks.

Women face challenges at work that men don’t—we already know that. That being said, this strategy is not as hard as others, so I’d encourage you to start applying it to your own specific circumstances.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this series. See you then!

* * * * *

[i] Heilman, Madeline W. & Saruwatari, Lois R. (1979). When Beauty is Beastly: The Effects of Appearance and Sex on Evaluations of Job Applicants For Managerial and Nonmanagerial Jobs. Organizational Behavior and Human Performance 23,360-372

[ii] Johnson, S., Sitzmann, T. &, Nguyen, A. T. (2014). Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful: Acknowledging appearance mitigates the ‘‘beauty is beastly’’ effect. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

[iii] Johnson, S., Sitzmann, T. &, Nguyen, A. T. (2014). Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful: Acknowledging appearance mitigates the ‘‘beauty is beastly’’ effect. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Hebl, M. R., & Kleck, R. E. (2002). Acknowledging one’s stigma in the interview setting: Effective strategy or liability? Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 32(2), 223–249.

[vi] Ibid.

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