Does Looking Good Set Us Back?

Does Looking Good

Set Us Back?

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Remember that student at Duke University who paid off her tuition and then some by doing porn? She received a lot of backlash, and used her newfound notoriety as a platform to voice her views on how being a porn star was empowering. Unfortunately, not everyone bought into this rhetoric.

British social scientist and author, Catherine Hakim, coined the phrase “erotic capital” to explain the convertible value people, especially women, accrue as a result of their physical attractiveness. Hakim even goes as far as saying that erotic capital is “just as valuable as a university degree—especially for women.”

Hakim’s argument brings with it a flip side, one that exposes discrimination based on looks. According to Hakim, while physically attractive people can exploit their looks to raise their social and financial worth, those “in the bottom one-seventh of Americans in the looks department, earn as much as 15 percent less than someone in the top one-third of attractiveness.”

“Given the large imbalance between men and women in sexual interest over the life course, women are well placed to exploit their erotic capital.”

-Catherine Hakim

The question remains; is this empowering or degrading? To be clear, I’m not condoning the standards placed on any of us, but this is the reality in which we live. Fighting against it won’t help me pay off my student loans, rent, or utility bills, but apparently plucking my eyebrows and wearing eyeliner might. In Erotic Capital, “Hakim marshals a trove of research to show that rather than degrading those who employ it, erotic capital represents a powerful and potentially equalizing tool—one that we scorn only to our own detriment.”

In an age where erotic capital is already the key to popularity on social media channels, could it also be the key to the corner’s office and earning 20 percent more money?

Catherine Hakim argues that erotic capital— a “combination of physical and social attractiveness” — is more valuable for women than a college degree.

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“People are not aware that there is a sex difference in returns to attractiveness and men are making more money from it than women,” says Hakim.

Arguably, erotic capital is the one capital that women can leverage with more success than men. Unlike women, when men “manscape” to a noticeable degree, their level of physical attractiveness decreases.

Hakim would argue, however, that men have already exhausted all their resources, and that women haven’t.

“Hakim’s book states something important that mothers have been frightened to tell daughters for fear of undermining their intelligence: that you can be a feminist, you can be strong and independent and clever, and you can wear a nice frock and high heels while you do this.” -Telegraph (London)

…Erotic capital is a useful reminder that inequality is a multidimensional phenomenon.

The opponents argue that erotic capital is too generalized, and that attractiveness is relative. Others argue that “it all rests on terrible suspicion between everyone.” This would mean that women who put effort into looking their best, are in some way untrustworthy? Does this same standard apply to men who spend money on  nice clothes and fashionable haircuts? Furthermore, are men ever considered erotic? And if so, is their capital worth as much?

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Shannon Matloob

Shannon is a contributor at SWAAY. She has a degree in Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University with a passion identifying and researching other women on the path to greatness.

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