The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law

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Overview


"It hurts to be beautiful" has been a cliche for centuries. What has been far less appreciated is how much it hurts not to be beautiful. The Beauty Bias explores our cultural preoccupation with attractiveness, the costs it imposes, and the responses it demands.

Beauty may be only skin deep, but the damages associated with its absence go much deeper. Unattractive individuals are less likely to be hired and promoted, and are assumed less likely to have desirable traits, such as goodness, kindness, and honesty. Three quarters of women consider appearance important to their self image and over a third rank it as the most important factor.

Although appearance can be a significant source of pleasure, its price can also be excessive, not only in time and money, but also in physical and psychological health. Our annual global investment in appearance totals close to $200 billion. Many individuals experience stigma, discrimination, and related difficulties, such as eating disorders, depression, and risky dieting and cosmetic procedures. Women bear a vastly disproportionate share of these costs, in part because they face standards more exacting than those for men, and pay greater penalties for falling short.

The Beauty Bias explores the social, biological, market, and media forces that have contributed to appearance-related problems, as well as feminism's difficulties in confronting them. The book also reviews why it matters. Appearance-related bias infringes fundamental rights, compromises merit principles, reinforces debilitating stereotypes, and compounds the disadvantages of race, class, and gender. Yet only one state and a half dozen localities explicitly prohibit such discrimination. The Beauty Bias provides the first systematic survey of how appearance laws work in practice, and a compelling argument for extending their reach. The book offers case histories of invidious discrimination and a plausible legal and political strategy for addressing them. Our prejudices run deep, but we can do far more to promote realistic and healthy images of attractiveness, and to reduce the price of their pursuit.

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Editorial Reviews

Emily Bazelon
As Rhode acknowledges, her framework for The Beauty Bias owes much to The Beauty Myth, by Naomi Wolf, which lit up the feminist stratosphere almost 20 years ago. Wolf argued that because appearance matters so much for their success—in work, love and almost everything else—women were sacrificing the gains of feminist liberation on the altar of breast implants and doomed diets. It would be lovely to dismiss this analysis as outdated. But of course it isn't, as Rhode convincingly shows.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Beauty is in the eye of the job-holder, evidently. Referencing Plessy v. Ferguson (the 1896 Supreme Court decision affirming "separate but equal" racial policies) is proven more than apropos in Rhodes' riveting overview of the ways in which appearance impacts hiring practices and job qualifications, in both overt and subtle ways. Legal or illegal is often beside the point when it comes to cases like those she surveys, though there are civil rights issues that immediately spring to mind for scholars in this field. The author's own experience with appearance expectations in the seemingly egalitarian world of academia notwithstanding, most of the cases and examples she provides are unfortunately not surprising. Covering a range of social classes, and tackling issues ranging from weight bias to the legality of forcing a college professor to change hairstyles, the book raises issues that will be debated for years to come. Rhodes argues that in jurisdictions with provisions protecting individuals from appearance-related discrimination in the workplace, the courts are not clogged with cases, contrary to the assumption of critics. Rhodes' analysis includes many new cases for the edification of students and readers interested in law, sociology, or business.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780199794447
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 7/14/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 971,799
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah L. Rhode is the Ernest W. McFarland Professor of Law and the Director of the Center on the Legal Profession at Stanford University. She has a Yale BA and JD, and is a former law clerk of Justice Thurgood Marshall, a former president of the Association of American Law Schools, a former chair of the American Bar Association's Commission on Women in the Profession, and a former director of both Stanford's Center on Ethics and its Institute for Research on Women and Gender. She is the author or coauthor of twenty books, including In the Interests of Justice (OUP 2003), Access to Justice (OUP 2004), and Ethics in Practice (OUP 2003), and over 200 articles, and is the nation's most cited scholar on professional responsibility.

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Table of Contents

Preface

1. Introduction The Personal Becomes Political: The Trouble With Shoes The Costs and Consequences of Appearance Surveying the Foundations: Social, Biological, Economic, Technological, and Media Forces Feminist Challenges and Responses Appearance Discrimination: Social Wrongs and Legal Rights Legal Frameworks A Roadmap for Reform

2. The Importance of Appearance and the Costs of Conformity Definitions of Attractiveness and Forms of Discrimination Interpersonal Relationships and Economic Opportunities Self- Esteem, Stigma, and Quality of Life Gender Differences The Price of Upkeep: Time and Money Health Risks Bias

3. The Pursuit of Beauty Sociobiological Foundations Cultural Values, Status, and Identity Market Forces Technology The Media Advertising The Culture of Beauty

4. Critics and Their Critics Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Century Critics The Contemporary Women's Movement Critics Responses Personal Interests and Political Commitments Beyond the Impasse

5. The Injustice of Discrimination Ensuring Equal Opportunity: Challenging Stigma and Stereotypes Challenging Subordination Based on Class, Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Disability, and Sexual Orientation Protecting Self-Expression: Personal Liberty and Cultural Identity The Rationale for Discrimination and Resistance to Prohibitions The Parallel of Sex Harassment The Contributions of Law

6. Legal Frameworks The Limitations of Prevailing Legal Frameworks Prohibitions on Appearance Discrimination A Comparative Approach: European Responses to Appearance Discrimination The Contributions and Limitations of Legal Prohibitions on Appearance Discrimination Consumer Protection: Prohibitions on False and Fraudulent Marketing Practices Directions for Reform

7. Strategies for Change Defining the Goal Individuals Business and the Media Law and Policy

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