‘Lookism’ Is the Newest Form of Bigotry

4 ½ min

Don’t look now, but “lookism” may be the next politically incorrect thing you are guilty of.

The latest installment of our nation’s utopian quest, “lookism” is defined as “the discriminatory treatment of people who are considered physically unattractive.” To be sure, beauty is always culturally defined, and hard to quantify precisely, but in today’s America this reflects such traits as weight, facial symmetry, hair, clothing, grooming, and all else that define a person physically.

These traits are highly consequential for job opportunities (including promotions and pay raises), romantic relationships, and social benefits such as having more friends and better sex. Good-looking people are also more apt to receive loans (and at lower interest rates), receive less severe criminal penalties than unattractive miscreants, and are more likely to be judged as friendly, intelligent, and competent than ugly people.

Most people would probably conclude that this is “just life” and must be tolerated as inevitable. Not so fast. Never underestimate the allure of bad ideas when pushed by devious radical egalitarians.

When it comes to aggrandizing state power and making ever more people dependent on government largess, radical egalitarians are a stealthy bunch. Their seemingly innocuous enterprises begin with announcing “a problem” that requires a solution only the government can provide. Initial solutions to a newly discovered tribulation invariably fail, however, so stronger measures become necessary. Despite repeated failures, the coercive mechanisms and increased dependency remain in place. Mission accomplished and on to the next invented problem.

The sin of “lookism” has been around for a while but a recent column by David Brooks in that harbinger of poxes, The New York Times, suggests that lookism is “discrimination” and “bigotry” comparable to sexism, racism, homophobia, and similar horrors currently needing government intervention. Evil acknowledged, Brooks announces, “The only solution is to shift the norms and practices.” His example of reversing this prejudice is Victoria Secret’s recent marketing campaign featuring “diverse body types,” a few plump women together with a transgendered model. This physical diversity is the future, Brooks tells us, and in the “fight against lookism, the rest of us have some catching up to do.”

Yes, this now appears innocent but recall when protecting transgendered rights was judged too bizarre if not trivial to fret over.

The call for adding “lookism” to the already overflowing catalogue of traits that require government intervention is hardly a snap. Firms must already worry about discriminating against multiple racial and sexual minorities; now their HR departments must formulate guidelines to ensure job applicants are not rejected because they are midgets, dress weirdly, or are unkempt. A nearly impossible task, to be sure, but such is the price of progress, at least according to the goodthink sages of the NYT.

But far worse is how anti-lookism undermines personal agency, the idea that people, even short, ugly, stinky people, can control their lives. At its core, personal agency is believing in free will versus having your life dictated by exterior forces such as one’s social class, race, and personal appearances. Needless to say, agency is the essence of a free society and its subversion invites a lifetime of dependency on government.

The alternative to adding “lookism” to the list of victimhoods is to stress personal control over appearances. Not everyone can be a Vogue model or an Adonis, but there is no need to be grossly overweight, sloppily dressed, disdainful of personal hygiene, foulmouthed, self-mutilated with tattoos and piercings, or otherwise guaranteed to offend conventional sensibilities. Those who are victims of “lookism” can certainly avail themselves of cosmetics, shampoos, exercising, or even plastic surgery.

Moreover, those at risk of suffering from this bias should recognize their condition is often a personal choice and thus hardly requires state rescue. Wearing filthy jeans to a job interview is an individual choice and an employer who refuses to hire a slovenly worker should not be hauled before some bureaucrat and charged with “discrimination.” If you are free to dress like a slob, employers are free not to hire you.

Making “lookism” an actionable offense invites the most extreme state overreach into personal behavior. There are no limits. The alleged victim can claim an almost infinite number of personal traits that were, allegedly, the source of bigotry: I had a beard or mustache, I had a purple mohawk, I dressed like a slut, I had gold teeth, or my pants hung below my knees. There can be no defense when any personal trait might elicit a government investigation. Banning “lookism” is carte blanche to an ambitious functionary looking to build a discrimination-free Utopia.

We live in ironic times. The left seeks to reduce crime by defunding the police and decriminalizing minor infractions. Yet, they happily invent new offences such as refusing to date a person who is overweight. It is hard to imagine a society where looting is tolerated but those who want to keep men out of a women’s bathroom are called bigots.


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Robert Weissberg

Robert Weissberg is a retired professor (emeritus) of political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He writes from New York.

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I can control my weight, my hair, my attire, and my accessories, but one thing I cannot control is my height. When I was an infant with a skin ailment, my pediatrician prescribed hydrocortisone all over my body 3 times/day. After landing in the hospital with internal bleeding, I was no longer subjected to this treatment. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that hydrocortisone can stunt a child’s growth. Instead of 5’7”, I could have been over 6’. How different my life could have been. I could have played in the NBA. I could have won political office (research shows that taller candidates frequently win). I could have been spared the humiliation that comes with seeking help to get an item off a top shelf in a grocery store. It’s embarrassing when people joke about how some 5’9” actress had to stand in a hole next to her 5’6” acting partner so that the scene wouldn’t look funny. Such comments are heightism micro aggressions. Do you know how hard it is to change a lightbulb in a ceiling fixture? Why can’t manufacturers make that simple job accessible? When have you ever heard of a non-birthing person referred to as “short, dark, and handsome”? We vertically challenged victims are tired of the discrimination. We’re not short-we’re differently tall. And we want reparations from our tall suppressors. We want people taxed for their height to pay for those reparations. Non-birthing people over 6’ and birthing people over 5’9” should be taxed, and the taller they are, the more tax they should have to pay. Heightism must end! Short jokes should be outlawed like so many words. Attacks on short people should be hate crimes. We must do something to end the bigotry.


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Margaret Owen
At 5'1", I'm with you, pschleifer. The groceries I want are always on the top shelf, and a 70+ woman looks silly climbing the yogurt case shelves like a 9-year-old. P, you may have become vertically challenged by medical ignorance but previous generations left me my fate.Great-great grandfather was described as "short, stocky, and articulate". To add insult, it was also said that he "always rode a large mule". Reparations for us? You bet!
On the other side of the spectrum, there is a tendency for the American public to admire and elect freaks. One only has to look at elected officials that are admired, and wonder if they came out of a Hollywood created stage like some Star War scene where the freakiness is normality.


I'm not surprised that the post-modern viewpoint would attack aesthetics. There appear to be multiple facets to this. As far as how "good" someone looks, there are certainly cultural influences, but there are also biological influences. If we delve into hygiene, there appear to be public health issues at play (I don't want someone with unhygienic practices in a food-handling position). We also have stylistic preferences derived from our cultural background (what constitutes "professional" in any specific circumstances). It's unfortunate that government is going to be brought into the fray, but inevitable in contemporary society. I don't mind in the least that the person serving my latte might be unusually short/tall/fat/of non-traditional appearance/whatever, so long as they're clean and not contributing to an unsafe workplace. With the possibility of government requiring the hiring of someone who doesn't bathe often, or wears clothing that is not congruent with safety and sanitary practices, we're putting customers and other employees at risk. Rather than accept this objective fact, the post-modernists would have us "accept diversity" in lieu of maintaining health and safety. I can't imagine this approach is sustainable over the long-term, but I do picture it devolving even more for a few generations.


Some readers here might be interested in a dystopian novel called “Facial Justice” by L. P. Hartley.