Saturday, July 3, 2010

Distracting Beauty? Remarks on Aesthetics

The recent lawsuit of Debrahlee Lorenzana, a 33-year-old single mother, against her former employer Citibank branch at the Chrysler Center in New York made me think of a conversation I had with a dear, close friend the other day on the subject of, what I uneconomically call: "the quotidian ramifications of superior aesthetics i.e., beauty." I am told that I frequently observe the following in conversations: "aesthetics is never inconsequential." I believe that high-frequency phrases reveal much about our general attitudes about things. In my case, I pay attention to aesthetics because I see it - not only philosophically - as a reflection of content.

There are many recent studies that state that people tend to remunerate certain employees who are endowed with higher aesthetics much better than those who are not. Some studies say that employees get much better evaluations on their job performance if they are perceived as good-looking or that a better-looking person gets hired over one that is less good-looking and so forth. The moral of the story is that looks do matter and they are, indeed, never inconsequential.

In literature we are also exposed to the high frequency use of 'beauty' and its effect on other things. More specifically and historically, in many medieval narratives, beautiful people are, for most part, privileged of God. Interior beauty was seen as a reflection of divine favor. I could also mention Dante here but instead I'll tip the hat to Virgil, his guide. In pre-Christian literature whether it's Virgil's Ovid or Homer's Illyad and the Odyssey, beauty served as a text that begged for much attention. Think, Helen of Troy and her face that apparently was so beautiful that it "launched a thousands ships."

Usually, we are exposed to the positives of beauty, however. Many maintain that a person reaps more from life if he or she looks a certain way. More attention is given to the better-looking. I am not of this same belief, however as I do think that a generosity of good content is bound to generate more fruit than a well-moisturized face with the right aesthetics, proportions, and feature-to-feature ratio.

However, I also tend to think that even those who say they don't care about how they look, care about it. I'll present one fundamental reason here and that is the playground psychology. I've always been a kind of a jock. I was generally picked first on the playground. I only see romantically those who look a certain way, I have very clearly defined standards of beauty and I only give attention to those who look a certain way, or the way that I consider worthy of my attention.

But while aesthetics and presentation do matter, content matters just as much. The trick is in the balance. One can't privilege one at the expense of the other as, in the long run, this kind of modus operandi tends to lead to some kind of dysfunction. Good presentation and aesthetics take time, work, and resources. I am not sure whether we as a collective are perhaps somehow wired to pay attention to things that take time to prepare. What I do know, however, is that a good visage and get-up do surely take time.

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JJ said...

Aesthetics plays a big role in life as most people are visual first and they inform their decisions with visual input.

Anonymous said...

"a good visage and get-up do surely take time." Indeed, they do.

Dana said...

Aesthetics usually helps people get ahead that's why people are surprised by that woman's experience.

Scott said...

I think that it is fair to, at times, judge a book by its cover. Aesthetics plays an important role in content analysis.