All The “Good Looking” People

My email the other day included a promo for a March 8 BBC Sounds 17 minute discussion on “good looks” and what it means for those who have them… and may for those who may not have them in quite the same way:

[From a BBC promo email. Screen capture by me, March 22, 2023.]

I decided to give it a listen last night. The chat with that fashion model is about what one might have expected; being “pretty” gets her extra-noticed and certain advantages. Yet inexplicably overlooked in the program, and one would have thought been blindingly (no pun intended) obvious right out of the gate (even to an economist), should have been that given she and others actually make their livings based on being “better looking” would appear easily to confirm that any “ordinary” person broadly deemed “good looking” will probably benefit from that in life, too.

Meaning, where is the actual debate here? Unsurprisingly, we also hear generally that Instagram in particular is seen (again, uh, no pun intended) even as further assisting the already “good looking.” Again, though, how is that a new revelation about a photography/video app?

With being “good looking” in the first instance likely about one’s “facial features” being “attractive,” the emphasis eventually shifts to discussing body weight; that is not unreasonable because if one is overweight not only is one’s body deemed not as “attractive,” but one’s face is probably also not going to be considered quite as “good looking” as it would be if one were thinner. One of those interviewed is a Canadian woman expert/academic, who notes that the idea of women being thin as being attractive is rooted in racism – that white American women wanted to appear to be superior to heavier Black slave women. That assertion made me sit up and listen more closely because she makes it without alluding to as to from where she got that idea. (This is why I generally don’t listen to podcasts – because I cannot comment.) I would question it in the sense that the historical record does not seem to support it in this way: Enslaved Black women in the U.S. prior to 1865 were NOT, based on what we know, and especially thanks to photography shortly before slavery was ended and in the years immediately after its abolition, generally on the “heavier” side:

[Harriet Tubman, 1868/69. (In her later 40s.) Wikipedia. Public Domain.]

If anything, enslaved women – especially those under age 50 – tended to be on the thinner side. And that should be no shocker. After all, they were compelled to be physically active for some “12-18 hours” a day, do lots of manual work, and did not eat junk food. (Perhaps that researcher is remembering, say, Hollywood films in which Black actors might have been “heavy-ish,” such as Hattie McDaniel in 1936’s Gone With The Wind.)

Curiously, the program focuses on “fat” as a social “stigma” leading to anyone “fat” being considered by default less “good looking” and therefore to be held back from doing as well in life as those thinner and therefore more “good looking.” We cannot seem to make up our minds on weight. This program (and it is hardly alone in this) clearly argues it should be considered “discriminatory” not to find “fat” people as “good looking,” while at the same time we are bombarded elsewhere as to how being overweight is a great danger to one’s health and even life expectancy. (The NHS web site itself offers lots of advice on why to and how to lose weight.)

The idealization of “good looks” overall hardly started with Instagram or even a century or two ago. Humans have always sought out a notion of perfection in appearance; such was often where the “gods” and “goddesses” came from. For example, the Greek love goddess Aphrodite 3,000 years ago was consistently portrayed, and still is, as thin and attractive. In fact, just google “Aphrodite” and notice what representations of her pop up – many of them of artwork that is quite ancient:

[From a Google images search.]

Indeed in The Odyssey there is a story of Aphrodite’s (named in this translation “Venus”) “unattractive” husband, suspecting her infidelity with Ares (Mars), fashioning a trap of unbreakable magical chains to ensnare her in bed together with him. It works. Having caught them in the act, and with them unable to free themselves, the husband summons other gods and berates her before them for preferring the “good looking” Ares (Mars) over himself:

“Father Jove,” he cried, “and all you other blessed gods who live for ever, come here and see the ridiculous and disgraceful sight that I will show you. Jove’s daughter Venus is always dishonouring me because I am lame. She is in love with Mars, who is handsome and clean built, whereas I am a cripple—but my parents are to blame for that, not I; they ought never to have begotten me. Come and see the pair together asleep on my bed. It makes me furious to look at them. They are very fond of one another, but I do not think they will lie there longer than they can help, nor do I think that they will sleep much; there, however, they shall stay till her father has repaid me the sum I gave him for his baggage of a daughter, who is fair but not honest.”

Thus was this issue then. As it is now. Humans have always shown a preference for those they consider “good looking” and there is nothing we are going to do about that fact.

Even authors are expected to have author photos on our books. (I have resisted doing that.) Certainly being “good looking” as an author does help in marketing and in sales as in any other life realm – or at least if the author may have managed to appear “good looking” for a book jacket photograph. (LOL!) My own situation is I tend to think of myself by now – in my 50s – rather along the lines of this famous actor’s later in life observation on himself:

“I’m not good-looking. I used to be, but not anymore.” – Humphrey Bogart.

Indeed, interestingly, notice the BBC cover for that discussion:

[From BBC Sounds, March 2023.]

Surely they did not choose that photo of Marike Wessels to promote that program because she is “good looking?” LOL!

On that note, try to have a good day, however good looking you are. 🙂


  1. It’s interesting how the Ancient Greeks seemed to like the ‘fuller’ woman, judging by their statues. Aphrodite always seems to me to be quite masculine in her appearance, with heavy shoulders.
    And on your comment about authors, there do seem to be a fair number of ‘attractive’ female writers in their 20s and 30s in the bestsellers’ lists these days (often writing about Ancient Greek mythical women! LOL!)

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    • It is tough at times to reconcile the two, I know. The Aphrodite statue illustrating the Wiki Aphrodite article is a woman who does not look “full-figured.” We do see also lots of “fuller” women in ancient statues. It is hard to know often if a statue is an “ideal” or just a representation of an actual woman. In societies where food availability was an issue, being “fuller-figured” we know also indicated wealth and food security.

      Yep, and although we don’t like to admit it, writers have to be as concerned about being “good looking” as anyone else – although fortunately less so than a fashion model or actor, at least. LOL!

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