Lookism in the Appearance Society
By Mario Carrera
Lookism deals with the bias given by having a positive association with what one finds beautiful and vice versa.
Thailand can be described as an appearance society. Looks matter most. One of the first things Thais comment on is your look. Abilities, competence, intent, education, history are secondary. Appearance transcends the physical but also visible in policies. Listen to businessmen and politicians talk about disruption and technology; all great. Both point at mirages in the distance with hope hiding the dry reality. However, asking about the substance dampens the truth. Go beyond looks and ask about substance.
You can compare looks but substance, which should matter more, is difficult to ascertain without in-depth interaction. Here the skill of having a conversation comes into play. A conversation needs time, active listening, knowledge on a subject or at least, interest, desire to learn, willingness to be proven wrong, and follow through. A picture requires a few seconds of attention.
In Thailand, lookism has appeared most blatantly in the form of racism. Adverts and even school textbooks reinforce the idea. Blacks are no good, blue-eyed and blond — beautiful, smart, good. Hence, one reason why foreign teachers in Thailand are primarily white Westerners even though there is no academic basis for this. Western fraudsters also benefit from this bias. Research the topic yourself; I have. Competence does not have a color or country. Sadly, lookism also occurs in other countries — it’s the new racism.
I have asked over 50 recruiting personnel in Thailand as to why they ask for photos from job applicants. Most replied they want to see if the person had a good personality, yet none could define what exactly they meant by personality. Just because a person is well-groomed does not mean he is not a crook. When asked how come in other countries they hire without photos? Again another stump.
I have had more responses from job applications when NOT using a picture in Thailand and have had several potential interviews canceled (without reason) when I sent a photo afterward. Yet many recruiters say they are not biased towards looks.
Some think with beauty comes confidence and the ability to do more. Beauty needs more enhancements compared to confidence. That perfect beauty is mythical (sorry my Chinese friends, Fan Bingbing is close). Confidence, however, is much more accessible, could be developed and agreed on. Beauty is subjective, confidence is objective. However, being considered beautiful might just open more doors allowing one to do more. Like a passport, looks offer access.
Opulence is also seen as a sign of success. Personal debt is rising significantly in Thailand, according to the Bank of Thailand. If we look successful, we are. In businesses too, thus, many owners go into significant debt before their business even opens. No wonder the churn rate (businesses opening versus businesses closing) is high in Thailand. Debt collection might be the exception.
Going against this trend may appear complicated but requires education, honesty, and willingness to spend the energy to gain substantial benefits. Remove the photo request when publishing job applications. My Scandinavian friends taught me a little, looks change as do the seasons, so do not get fooled. Also, Randy Pausch’s book The Last Lecturer introduced me to the concept of a Dutch uncle -telling it like it is.
Education needs to put substance into life by encouraging people to learn. Asking what we have learned from an encounter is a start. Honesty about what we know and do not is another. Not knowing only makes one look bad if it is not used as a starting point for discovery. Exercising one’s grey matter and muscles reduce the impact of appearance. Interactions show off substance.
Miss Universe Thailand 2017 epitomized the Thai mentality. Looks like the Thai ideal of beauty, has a certificate to show education and exudes Thai mannerisms. However, on questioning the façade may falls apart so, in Thai society, asking questions is not encouraged so as NOT to expose the flaws and keep the appearance. Lookism continues until the façade crumbles with realism (sadly, usually by a foreigner’s question).