Contrary to what every courtroom procedural, TV police force and pretend hospital would have you believe, in the real-world work-force, "beauty" is indeed a liability in male-dominated fields:
The issue of "workplace beauty" got an airing recently when the fabled tabloid-beloved "sexy banker," Debrahlee Lorenzana, sued for wrongful termination, claiming she'd been dismissed from her Citibank position because she was simply too hot. In response a barrage of articles and studies asserted that, in fact, beauty was an advantage - or, at any rate, conventional attractiveness. As Newsweek noted in July, when 202 hiring managers and 964 people-on-the-street were polled, looks were rated the third most important "character attribute."
This study, however, is the exception: in the article, which appears in the May/June Journal of Social Psychology, Stefanie Johnson, assistant professor of management at UC Denver Business School, found that, in the words of Science Daily,
attractive women were discriminated against when applying for jobs considered "masculine" and for which appearance was not seen as important to the job. Such positions included job titles like manager of research and development, director of finance, mechanical engineer and construction supervisor.
Johnson added that "In two studies, we found that attractiveness is beneficial for men and women applying for most jobs, in terms of ratings of employment suitability...However, attractiveness was more beneficial for women applying for feminine sex-typed jobs than masculine sex-typed jobs." Handsome men have no such issues, the study found. Jobs for which looks were considered "incidental" included director of security, hardware salesperson, prison guard and tow truck driver. The implication being, of course, that more attractive people are, in fact, less capable.
The question also arises: what is beauty? While generally we can define it as whatever the current culture is proscribing - be it through advertising, beauty products or media - this seems overly simplistic. We all know how big a part attitude plays in these things; we all know stunning women who don't carry themselves that way and others so convinced of their own pulchritude that everyone else is, too. Which is "true beauty?" How much does adhering to feminine beauty ideals - makeup, heels, other indicators of "attractiveness" - influence our perception? And when does beauty simply become...sexuality? These are intangibles that are well-nigh impossible to measure, but larger questions that go even beyond ideas of cultural relativism. And seem germane to what Johnson has termed the "beauty is beastly" effect - even if in a perfect world, they wouldn't be and we'd all interview from behind screens, just as musicians do in orchestra auditions.
Beautiful Women Face Discrimination In Certain Jobs, Study Finds [Science Daily]
The Beauty Advantage [Newsweek]