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Attractiveness Discrimination

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"You're U-G-L-Y, and that's the ugly truth!"
Mr. Capadino: I can’t use her.
Dottie: She’s great. Why not? What’s the problem?
Capadino: You know General Omar Bradley?
Dottie: Yeah.
Capadino: There’s too strong a resemblance.
Kit: You mean you ain't taking her because she ain't pretty?

There are a plethora of different reasons for prejudice in different societies. Whether it be race, skin tone, 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" or "pretty privilege", this trope involves the circumstance in a story or setting where an individual or group are blatantly given preferential or prejudicial 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 cases of Flawless Token. 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.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Beauty and the Beast of Paradise Lost:
    • The Big Bad La Medium became rich by selling new faces to women who want to look young and beautiful, not only for vanity but also to keep their husbands and lovers (it's 18th Century, when most women depended economically and socially from men, so keeping their interest was a matter of survival). What nobody suspects (or if they do, don't care) is that she has all the beautiful peasant women kidnapped to remove their faces magically. La Medium herself has used their faces to remain young and attractive for centuries.
    • On the other hand, Belle, the protagonist, was kept locked away for five years by her father, who made her believe she was too ugly to be seen in public. Actually, he wanted to punish Belle because he blamed her for the disappearance of his wife, her mother; but even after Belle learns the truth, she keeps believing she is ugly, although she has a beautiful face.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 a Fantastic 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.

    Fan Works 
  • The Good Neighbors AU has Saitaka, a high-end fashion boutique whose snooty staff take it upon themselves to police their clientele and kick out anyone they decide doesn't look good enough to be shopping there. They cover it up by falsely accusing the victims of being there to shoplift.

    Film - Animated 
  • 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."
  • Lou the villain of UglyDolls enforces a system of grading other dolls on their appearance before allowing them to leave the toy factory for "the Big World" where they can become purchased and loved by a child. He is a perfectionist narcissist who sends dolls who really don't meet his expectations to their deaths in the recycling bin. This is because he is jealous of other dolls who regardless of appearance can leave the factory, when he - as a prototype doll - never will be able too.

    Film - Live-Action 
  • 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.
  • The Whole Truth (2021): Wan hated her granddaughter Pinya for having half of her face swollen, believing her daughter deserved beautiful children like Pim. So, she let Pinya drink rat poison and die. She also hated that Putt had his leg in a brace, and was slowly killing him since he and Pim started living with them by giving him milk which had been laced with rat poison.

    Literature 
  • The Dick King-Smith short story "Baldilocks & the Six Bears" is about a fairy who is Prematurely Bald and shunned by the other fairies because of it. He discovers that he can get himself hair by killing a bear and melting it down into grease. He decides to live with his unattractiveness, and befriends the one fairy who was kind to him.
  • 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.
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets: After Gilderoy Lockhart accidentally lets slip to Harry and Ron that his entire resume as a Hunter of Monsters was in fact done by several other people whose memories he erased, he claims in his defense that his books wouldn't have sold otherwise because the actual monster-hunters were all much less handsome than he is.
  • Reign of the Seven Spellblades: Played for laughs in volume 2 when Tullio Rossi explains that he dislikes protagonist Oliver Horn out of envy of his fame in the school after the events of volume 1. A rather nonplussed Oliver questions why Rossi doesn't seem to have the same resentment of Nanao Hibiya, who fought alongside Oliver in the same incidents, and Rossi replies that Nanao is cuter.
    Oliver: I'd sensed you were after me ever since you suggested [an all-first-years' battle royale] in the cafeteria. Did I do something to earn your ire?
    Rossi: Nah, nah. I have nothing against you or your family. ... I do not like that you get all the attention and I get none. Is that not enough of a reason?
    Oliver: You're entitled to your opinions, but I doubt I get more attention than Nanao.
    Rossi: Nanao is cute, so she is exempt. I cannot 'ate her.
  • Rizzoli & Isles: Thanks to her resentment of beautiful women (because she herself is plain looking), Jane Rizzoli has the tendency to assume that every one that she encounters is either a bitch, idiot, or tramp, or some combination thereof and treat them as such, even as they show themselves to not have these characteristics.
  • 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.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Inverted in a Seinfeld episode where George refuses to hire an attractive woman as his secretary because he knows he'll be too distracted to get any work done. He's promptly seen assuring several gorgeous applicants that he's not assuming that their beauty equals incompetence—"You're obviously very qualified", but still making it clear that he's not hiring them based solely on how they look.
  • Strong Medicine. Knowing that Chief of Staff Dr. Jackson is looking for a new secretary, Lu recommends a patient of hers. Despite being initially pleased with her resume, when she arrives for the interview, he gives her a dubious look and the next scene is of her leaving his office in tears, having been told "the position is filled", wailing that she knows the real reason he didn't even bother talking to her is because she's considerably overweight. Dr. Jackson more or less confirms this, claiming that it would be unsightly for him, as a physician, to have an overweight secretary because it would make his patients doubt his abilities.
  • Parodied in The Suite Life of Zack & Cody when the boys go to an alternate reality with Paris Hilton as president. She outlaws cellulite and being heavier than a certain weight.
  • The Korean Drama True Beauty, as well as its webtoon source material deals with this as well. The main character, Im Jugyeong only gets respect/love after she learns makeup techniques and transforms herself into a quote-unquote goddess.
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 1st Edition: In the Unearthed Arcana supplement, 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 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.
  • 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 (the latter is admittedly useful where his bodyguards are involved) 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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 VUX of Star Control are a spacefaring race of aliens who live by this trope, and to make it worse, they consider humanity as the peak of absolute ugliness to the point where they can't look directly at a clear image of you without feeling the need to vomit, and how ugly they find humanity is the main reason why they want to exterminate humans.

    Webcomics 
  • The story of Lookism is set in a society where this phenomenon is the rule of everyday life.
  • Tales of Greed has two stories in which the protagonist is bullied for their looks. The protagonist of "Face Correction" is bullied for her face, and the protagonist of "Human Leather" is bullied for his weight.
  • True Beauty: In middle school, Jugyeong was bullied for her ugly face (single eyelids and acne), so she learned to transform her face with makeup. Consequently, she is terrified of revealing her bare face to anyone for fear that they will judge her.

    Western Animation 
  • In a Kaeloo episode, 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.
  • 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.

 
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Video Example(s):

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"Nanao is exempt"

"Rivals". Oliver Horn wonders why Tullio Rossi is singling him out for his ire, and Rossi replies that he's just jealous of the amount of attention he gets. A nonplussed Oliver remarks that Nanao Hibiya probably gets more attention than him, and Rossi flippantly replies that (to quote the novel) "Nanao is cute, so she is exempt. I cannot 'ate her."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

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Main / AttractivenessDiscrimination

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