The Privilege of Being Beautiful


All of us like to look at beautiful people, but does beauty really bring you privilege?

A few people say no, beauty is a curse!

ABC's "The Bachelor," the show where women compete to win the affection of a handsome man, often provides insights into the way these incredibly beautiful people think.

Last year, one jilted contestant tearfully complained that there were plenty of disadvantages to being beautiful.

Watch a special two-hour edition of "20/20" Friday at 9 p.m. ET

"People are mean to me because of the way I look. People hate me because I'm beautiful," she said. "It's a curse as much as it is a blessing to be pretty."

The 'Beauty Penalty'

She might have a point, according to researchers Rick Wilson of Rice University and Catherine Eckel of the University of Texas at Dallas.

In a study called "Judging a Book by Its Cover: Beauty and Expectations in the Trust Game," the researchers found what they call a "beauty penalty."

"The beauty penalty is a kind of backlash that we hadn't anticipated finding," Eckel told "20/20."

"People have very high expectations of the level of trust of beautiful people. When beautiful people fail to live up to those expectations, they're punished more harshly than people who are not beautiful," Eckel said.

Wilson said pretty waitresses, for example, might be penalized with small tips.

"A beautiful waitress may provide extremely good service but not nearly the level that you might expect because of your expectations -- you may think that such a person ought to be providing fabulous service," he said. "And as a consequence, you penalize the person for not living up to your own expectations."

The Right Look Is Everything

But if you've ever been turned away by the doorman at an exclusive nightspot, you might find it hard to feel badly for the beautiful people as they enter.

Roxy Summers, night-life editor of, a pop culture music and video Web site, arranged for "20/20" to videotape at the 205 Club in New York's SoHo.

If you didn't have the right look, you weren't getting in.

"The door staff picks and chooses who are the beautiful people and who is going to create the look for the night," Summers said.

And, 205's doorman Henry Binge confirmed, beauty opens doors.

"A beautiful face, of course, gonna get everywhere for sure," Binge said. "It's not about just beauty -- but beauty helps."

Summers, however, had little sympathy for the people who couldn't get in.

"I don't really feel bad at all for the people outside. … I mean you can't let everybody in."

Beauty, Evolution at Work?

We want to associate with beautiful people because we think their lives are so much better than ours, said Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher.

"It's just remarkable the attributes we give to a human being who is good looking," Fisher said. "We think that they are smart. We think that they're funny. We think that they're friendly and warm, and social and popular."

But that's so stupid, I told Fisher.

"I suppose it is stupid, but natural selection has evolved all kinds of mechanisms in order to win, and this is one of them," Fisher said.

By natural selection, she means thousands of years of evolution. Good looks are often a sign of health and fertility, so evolution has conditioned us to prefer certain looks.

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