With the pervasiveness of media in our daily lives, it seems nearly impossible to avoid being brainwashed by society’s carefully contrived standards of beauty. Notions of what is beautiful infiltrate every aspect of our lives, including the one place where brain power is supposed to trump all—the workplace. Many studies have shown that attractiveness is a key to success after all. The way Daniel Hamermesh and Jeff Biddle put it, there is not only a “beauty premium” in the workplace, but also a “plainness penalty” that is actually more significant than the premium. This premium, according to their study, allows attractive people to make up to 5% more than their average-looking colleagues, who make up to 9% more than the plainest looking people. This lends to the question of whether beauty and brains are actually related. Are attractive people actually more qualified in the workplace, or are humans just naturally inclined to favor more attractive features? What defines attractiveness? Is it cultural or is there some sort of global standard?
Regardless of whether or not this premium exists, the idea that beauty matters is one that pervades our globalizing society. According to a NEWSWEEK poll, 64% of the public seems to think that looks matter in the workplace, particularly when it comes to landing a job. The survey results also suggested that women are perceived to be much more affected by looks discrimination than men are, which explains why 13% of women (as opposed to 10% of men) claimed that they would consider getting cosmetic surgery in order to boost their career potential.
As shown in the video above, millions of people all over the world are actually putting lots and lots of money into improving their appearances, not only to boost morale, but almost as an investment for success in the future. It can be argued that beauty has always been a key to success in the workplace, regardless of how it is defined by different cultures. But as media has become more globalized, so have the ideas of beauty that it conveys. As described in the video above, there are now global perceptions of beauty that are believed to be valued in the workplace, even above traditional cultural standards of beauty. Women all over the world are transforming themselves to look more ‘Western’ in order to achieve economic success. South Korea, for example, has become the plastic surgery capital of the world. Children as young as Lee Min Kyong are getting surgery to make their eyes look more ‘Western’ and to mutilate their tongues in order to allow them to better pronounce English words. Min Kyong’s mother claims this surgery is an investment for the future, and that she hopes that her daughter will someday be more successful because of it. In the video, a top surgeon at the largest plastic surgery center in Seoul claims that he sees, on average, 100 cases per day. What does this say about globalizing ideas of beauty? By getting plastic surgery with the explicit intent of getting ahead in the workplace, what messages are these people sending about their cultures and their traditional ideas of beauty?