Nothing worked. The women always chose the tall men. Sherr asked whether there'd be anything she could say that would make the shortest of the men, who was 5 feet, irresistible. One of the women replied, "Maybe the only thing you could say is that the other four are murderers." Another backed her up, saying that had the taller men had a criminal record she might have been swayed to choose a shorter man. Another said she'd have considered the shorter men, if the taller men had been described as "child molesters."
The desire for tall men begins very young, apparently. ABCNEWS gave elementary school students a test, asking them to match a small, medium or large figure of a man with a series of words. The kids overwhelmingly linked the tall figure to the words strong, handsome and smart. The linked the short figure to the words sad, scared and weak. More than half of the kids also chose to link the short figure to the words, dumb, yucky and no friends.
Add 'Lookism' to the List
To conduct an experiment, 20/20 hired actors — some great looking, some not — and put them in situations to gauge how often the "lookers" would get preferential treatment.
In the first test, we put two women next to cars without gas in Atlanta. The women wore the same outfit.
Both Michelle and Tracey stood helplessly by cars with their hoods up. For the average-looking Michelle, a few pedestrians stopped but only made suggestions as where she could walk to get gasoline. But for the beautiful Tracey, cars came screeching to a halt. More than a dozen cars stopped and six people went to get Tracey gas.
The two actresses helped with our second test, at an Atlanta shopping mall where both women set up a table and sold calendars and teddy bears to raise money for charity. Overall, it looked as if both women were doing well with their sales. Then we counted the money and found Tracey collected 50 percent more.
What if we tested something requiring qualifications, like getting a job? Looks shouldn't matter then but would they?
20/20 hired two men and two women to apply for jobs. The clearest difference between them was looks while they shared similar education and work experience backgrounds. To match them up more closely, we rewrote their résumés to match.
Mark, who was our more attractive applicant, and Mike, the more ordinary-looking one, both had corporate experience and had run their own companies. Donia, our more attractive female applicant, and her counterpart, Amy, both had been secretaries and saleswomen. A consultant trained them so their behavior matched.
Hidden cameras captured interviewers being warmer and friendlier to the better looking applicants and being less friendly to the other applicants. With Amy and Donia, for example, one job interviewer told Amy employees got a 45-minute lunch break but with Donia the interviewer said there was a flexible policy about lunch. Who got the job offer? Donia. Amy never even got a call back.
We ran similar tests using Mike and the especially good looking Mark. Would looks make less of a difference when the interviewers were judging men? Apparently not. On the first interview, for a sales job, the interviewer told Mike he'd call him later but he never called. With Mark, the interviewer was eager to have him return for a tryout day.
"It's a non-conscious process," said Tom Cash, a psychologist at Old Dominion University. "They assume that more attractive people have an array of valued characteristics."
We should add the bias of "lookism" to sexism and racism. It's just as bad but we don't need a federal program.