There are a plethora of different reasons for prejudice in different societies. Whether it be race, religion, political beliefs, or socioeconomic status, prejudice is present in many situations, both fictional and non-fictional. However, one of the oldest forms of prejudice was formed for no more reason than simply being too attractive or not attractive enough to earn another's respect. This is where this trope kicks in.
Also termed as Lookism, this trope involves the circumstance in a story or setting where an individual or group are blatantly given preferential or prejudiced treatment based on their level of physical attractiveness. More often than not, this trope comes into play to show the negative aspects of valuing The Beautiful Elite along with the fallacies of adhering to Beauty Equals Goodness. Considering the so-called elite and good are such because they are viewed as beautiful, expect Hilarity to Ensue when the personal flaws outside of attractiveness come to light. After all, simply supporting or accommodating an individual because they are attractive tends to not progress well if they are meant to provide more than a pretty face. See Beauty Is Bad as examples along with characters displaying disregard for morality or decency because of beliefs in Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful! or I Have Boobs, You Must Obey!.
Those that fall on the unattractive end of the treatment in stories tend to suffer from varying degrees of social stigma. Some of these levels include suffering from Fantastic Slurs, being rounded up inside a Fantastic Ghetto, being killed off out of disgust by the "beautiful people", and/or becoming targets of slavery in most stories. The "unattractive people" are often used as an abused workforce or denied any attention whatsoever due to employers either seeing them as inferior or not wanting them around.
The circumstance of "pretty" people being prejudiced for being pretty can also be present depending on the rules of the setting in addition to acts of Positive Discrimination. Such cases are presented in a manner displaying physical beauty as a condescending trait that breeds animosity or disdain in others reminiscent to Tall Poppy Syndrome. See Beauty Is Bad, Makeup Is Evil, and So Beautiful, It's a Curse.
There's a strong case of Truth in Television, considering studies have shown that human infants as young as 14 hours from birth prefer to look at attractive faces rather than unattractive faces. This preference for the "beautiful" often extends into the workplace due to prospective workers being mainly or only Hired for Their Looks at worst, the dating world, and even media.
- In the Marvel Axis series, The Superior Iron Man causes this in San Francisco. After uploading a new Extremis app that transforms people into their ideal sense of "supermodel" beauty, the whole city engaged in acts of drunkenness, recklessness, and sexual excess. Those who could not afford the Extremis app were abused and cast out as an underclass.
- The city of Apollonia from God Is Dead operates according to this. The whole society was created by Apollo and Balder, as divine male personifications of beauty, after the world was devastated by the War between the Gods and only allows humans of certain attractiveness to enter the city. The more attractive one is, the more privileges one has in the society, with the most beautiful citizens serving as royal consorts to the gods in charge. Those viewed as unattractive are cast from the city grounds or used as a slave workforce and abused by the recognized citizens.
- In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Quasimodo's entire conflict with the world outside his bell tower revolves around his anxiety over being hated for how unattractive he looks and the doubts fueled by Frollo. Like the novel, Frollo succinctly sums this up to Quasimodo in his lines under the guise of protection. Unfortunately, as seen during the Topsy Turvy Day event, these proclamations were not entirely unfounded:
"You are deformed. And you are ugly. And these are crimes for which the world shows little pity."
- In The Garbage Pail Kids Movie, people considered too unattractive are imprisoned in the State Home for the Ugly.
- Played for laughs in Student Bodies. An able-bodied woman steals a handicapped parking spot from two disabled drivers remarking that great physical beauty can also be a handicap.
- In James Clavell's Gai-Jin, an interesting sub-plot includes Japanese girls, thought by local standards of female beauty to be plain or even ugly, to be the ones visiting Europeans find to be the most sensationally attractive. A wily brothel-madam exploits this by buying the contracts of such girls cheaply, then marketing them at premium rates to European customers based on their discriminating tastes.
- The Ugly Duckling has this occur to the main character as a driving force of the plot. Fortunately, the story enforces an Aesop that discourages and condemns such treatment.
- The Twilight Zone (1959): The episode "The Eye of the Beholder" was set in a world where ugliness was effectively illegal and anyone deemed sufficiently ugly was sent to a Fantastic Ghetto where "normal" people wouldn't have to look at or think about them. The act of even suggesting that things shouldn't be this way was vilified as treason. The twist being that in their society, "normal" people have snouts and pig-like faces, but "ugly" people are attractive by our standards.
- In GURPS 3rd Edition, the player decides how beautiful or ugly their PC is, paying character points for attractiveness and gaining extra character points if the character is bad looking. Good looking characters receive bonuses to other characters' reaction rolls and ugly characters suffer penalties on those rolls. In both cases, the more pretty or ugly the character is, the greater the bonus or penalty.
- In the Unearthed Arcana supplement of Dungeons & Dragons, 1st Edition Advanced D&D, Gary Gygax added the Comeliness attribute to the game. Characters with high Comeliness received improved reactions from other characters and could influence their behavior. Characters with low or negative Comeliness got bad reactions from others, ranging from being uneasy and wanting to get away up to horror and revulsion.
- In Warhammer 40,000, The Dark Eldar are naturally vain (especially if they compare themselves to humans), but the archon Vhane Kyharctakes this form of discrimination to disturbingly narcissistic extremes. He is so obsessed with beauty that he has all the members of his Kabal undergo surgery to look like him or wear masks of his face, and once unleashed a virus on a planet that turned every living creature's face into a replica of his own.
- In Dragon Quest VIII, Yangus mentions that he has been "discramated" against due to his Gonk-ish appearance. Fortunately, his hometown of Pickham does not care what anyone looks like, leading to the party taking a detour there (mainly so that King Trode, who has been turned into a green troll, can have a drink in a pub without causing an uproar).
- The story of Lookism is set in a society where this phenomenon is the rule of everyday life.
- Played for Laughs in an episode of Phineas And Ferb, where Doofenshmirtz accidentally makes himself extremely handsome with an Inator, and for the whole day people give him free things (one woman offers to give him her baby). He nearly becomes mayor of Danville just by being attractive.
- Taken Up to Eleven in a Kaeloo episode where Stumpy, Quack Quack, Mr. Cat, Pretty and Eugly enter a cooking competition judged by Olaf. Olaf eliminates Eugly from the contest just for being ugly.