Do your looks and/or appearance affect how you are treated? Why?

Correspondents were given the following video for this week’s response: Does Appearance Change How People Are Treated?

Gastonia, NC Correspondent-Years ago, when I lived in Houston, I was on the way to work one morning in my battered old ’75 GMC Sierra pickup truck. It was an “art truck,” painted a panoply of colors in house paint by the students of a local high school. In a previous life, it had been used to haul equipment in the oil patch, and thus had a giant steel bumper on the back.

I was sitting at a stoplight when a woman behind me in a Taurus let her foot off the brake and her car rolled into me. It was a light impact, and I hopped out to see the damage. There was no damage whatsoever to my truck, but the front of her lightly built Ford was chewed up. I walked to her window and noticed that she looked absolutely terrified as she rolled the window down an inch and squeaked out, “Are you OK?”

I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window and realized that I looked like a psychotic Grizzly Adams wannabe. I had hair past my shoulders, a full beard and was wearing a red flannel shirt. The poor woman thought she’d hit a cast member from “Deliverance,” and reacted accordingly.

I’m a nice guy, and a fairly smart one as well. I help the poor, raise my kids to be young gentleman and would never dream of raising a hand to a woman. However, in that moment, I looked like someone who would pick his teeth with the finger bones of anyone who annoyed me.

Are we judged by our appearance? That was all the convincing I needed. While I don’t go out of my way to be a dandy, I do try to make sure I shave every other day and that my clothing is free of obvious stains. My hair is kept short now, and my once-lush beard is now trimmed down to a goatee.

Owatonna, MN Correspondent-How can looks and appearance not affect how we are treated in the United States? The vast majority of our culture is focused on beauty, youth, and a successful image, which is primarily based on looks as well as appearance.

We exercise to stay in shape and appear healthy. We spend billions on diets, plastic surgery, cosmetics, and skin treatments to give ourselves the illusion of beauty and youthful vigor. Others are often visibly impressed when they learn our clothing is from an expensive designer.

In addition, our service sector employees are trained, either explicitly or implicitly, to give their best service and most attention to customers who are well dressed and seem to be wealthy. Customers who walk into a restaurant wearing what is perceived to be low class clothing (e.g., torn jeans, dirty t-shirts, sandals instead of polished shoes) tend to be treated with less deference and respect than customers who are wearing business suits or designer clothing.

Why this is so seems to be born of age-old stereotypes about social status, class, and employment. Manual laborers in the past were usually poor, uneducated, or immigrants, and were perceived to lack either the talent or the drive to improve their socio-economic status. Consequently, when most manual labor jobs involved getting dirty, anyone who showed dirt under their fingernails would have been assumed a laborer and treated differently from a merchant or businessperson. We carry that stereotype forward even though many intelligent, ambitious people today have intentionally opted for jobs or careers that involve working with their hands.

The other age-old stereotype is that of those with wealth and power seeking to distinguish themselves from the masses by the way they dress or appear. Those who didn’t perform manual labor usually had money and time to spend on expensive clothes, beauty treatments, and healthy eating. Even basic cleanliness, which the poor weren’t necessarily able to practice, made a difference in public perception.

I’ve heard stories of rich celebrities who “go slumming” in fancy hotels and restaurants in an effort to maintain their privacy. Often they are treated with less respect and politeness simply because they appear to be poor, lower class, or possibly dangerous in some way. (Think of a mentally unstable homeless person.) The referenced video perfectly illustrated how we instantly judge people by how they look.

In 21st century America, appearance still matters. Status still matters. Wealth still matters. Until society begins to value character and intelligence more than superficial traits, we should all expect to be judged on our looks and appearance every time we venture out into public. The smart ones use this knowledge to their advantage.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-As far as looks and/or appearance affecting how you are treated, it depends on the situation, the particular pinpointed person(s), and others involved. Stereotyping and profiling individuals are an everyday occurrence. People in general are judged on their appearance, before their character, and are also judged by extenuating circumstances that may be inescapable for them while unrecognizable by those who judge and treat others based on appearance.

Judgment by appearance can take on a number of distinctions that usually include race, ethnicity, gender, age and societal situation. Other aspects concerning appearance include facial features or characteristics, disfigurement, disabilities/ health issues, un-cleanliness, mannerisms, dress choices, tattoos, body piercings, hair length, styles and colors, height, weight and overall body shape.

The various aspects of judging appearance are all related to the actions of stereotyping, profiling and discriminating against others, which coincides with the treatment of almost any class of people or specific individuals. For example, a person in a large city who is professionally dressed, clean-shaven, carrying a briefcase, and walking with crutches is more likely to be helped if he or she falls on a city street as opposed to a long-haired homeless person, wearing a hooded parka, struggling with crutches and juggling a sleeping bag and duffle bag. The person with the briefcase will automatically be classified by his professional demeanor and manner and given thumbs up for positive treatment while the homeless person will be given thumbs down if he or she falls on the same city street. Those repelled by the bedraggled and unattractive person will simply go on about their business and either gawk or totally ignore the person and his situation. The only help for a downtrodden or homeless individual appears to come from those living under similar circumstances and knowledgeable about real-life dilemmas.

The why of the relationship between appearance and treatment of others is tied to the insensitivity and coldness of the human condition. Instead of evaluating a person’s situation and using charity, practical measures, or common sense to assess whether a person really is in need or suffering, appearance becomes a determining factor as to whether or not to offer help or aid to someone.

Obviously, there are persons who can be a threat, dangerous, or simply feigning need in some form or fashion while profiting from it, but there are those who are in need of a helping hand. Judgment by appearance seems to supersede any kind of compassion for those who need assistance or a kind gesture. If the appearance of the person that is incapacitated or suffering doesn’t fit a certain set of standards, little attention is paid to the person. He or she is usually ignored, gawked at, and left to suffer. Because of a lack of awareness or a concern for the less fortunate, the results are a prevailing fear of getting involved, which leads to selfishness, which becomes ingrained in society.

The whole situation of judging by appearance basically comes down to callousness and utter disregard for someone else’s situation, fear of the unknown, and a refusal to participate in helping another human being, unless they fit the perfect person “safe” profile. The lack of compassion for others in response to someone else’s dilemma is appalling.

It seems that the only way that people will not judge another by appearance is in the case of national disasters and catastrophes where many are positioned in survival mode and others rush to the aid of their fellow citizens. These kinds of situations inspire nationalism and a do-gooder sense of responsibility to maintain the spirit of the nation and her fellow citizens, but when it comes to the plight of a less than perfect individual, the conscience goes numb and the right kind of appearance becomes a pre-requisite for compassion.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-I once met up with a friend while in town. To my surprise, he was all dressed and ready for work. As a consequence of my curiosity, I inquired if he was going to work. His response? “No, I’m just coming from the clinic and I am heading home.” I questioned at length as to why he needed to attire in his work uniform. He made it quite candid that if he hadn’t dressed that way, the nurses would all believe he was there to waste time. The nurses would delay in tending to him. Simply, it is obvious, how you look or how you appear to people affect the way in which you are treated.

Another scenario: There are recent studies performed dealing with appearances, but one in particular on YouTube demanded my attention. An experiment was done with two individuals portraying a different way of life or stature. The first experiment was done with a man with a clutch who seemingly had everything in terms of possession. He was well attired, clean with good disposition. Upon falling, people flocked to his aid. In every instance he fell, there was someone present to catch him; people didn’t pass him by. Diametrically opposed, there was another individual with clutches, seemingly homeless bearing ragged accoutrement. He fell several times, of course, with no one attending to him. The only individual who got up to assist was someone who was homeless as he was.

The moral behind the scenarios, if you’re not wealthy, abounding in assets, professionally or modestly attired, no one gives a damn about you! That is a sad reality, but that’s how it is. Why do people react this way? It’s simple, they consider the lives of others superior to the next. Yes, how you appear does have a bearing on how people treat you.

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