Beauty Matters

mona ace

You’re one of fifty-two people who mill about in a large room.  Each of you holds a playing card against your forehead.  No one knows their own card, but you can see each other’s.  The goal of this little game is to pair off with the highest card possible, but to accomplish this, your request for partnership has to be accepted by the other.  Of course the Aces and Kings are the most popular and they pretty much know right away that they’re the cream of the crop.  It’s instant mutual acceptance when an Ace requests to partner with another Ace.  It works fairly quickly with the Kings as well.  By the time this experiment is over, for the most part, Aces have paired with Aces, tens with tens, sixes with sixes, and twos with twos.

It must be kind of depressing being a two, being the last in the room to find a partner, watching all the high cards go, then the middle ones, and experiencing the horrible realization that you’re the low card that no one wants to pair with.

Research has shown this is how couples typically pair off in the real world.  Hot women tend to be with hot guys.  Sevens with sevens.  Twos with twos.  Through the process of assessing interest and receiving rejections, we get a pretty good gauge of where we stand relative to others, and we choose our partner accordingly.

The popular belief is that beauty is subjective—beauty is in the eye of the beholder—but really, we all hold similar opinions as to who we consider physically beautiful.  Even people in one culture can easily pick out beauty in another culture.  We are hard wired to perceive beauty.

So we do our best to enhance ourselves, to add value to our card.   We’ll diet and exercise to maintain the best proportions or wear makeup to project the illusion of youth.  We do this because it’s necessary to attract a partner with the most sexual allure.  We value other traits too, but physical beauty reigns supreme.  Talents can add to one’s overall allure but it’s more like one suit value trumping another.  Adding a Harvard degree to a killer body might make you the Ace of Hearts to the Ace of Clubs.  In other words, talent, charm, and intellect can increase the value of your suit, but not your pip value.

We often talk about the shallowness of physical beauty and how real beauty is something within, and there is a certain internal beauty we do admire.  It’s this internal beauty that makes a close friend or relative loveable in a heartwarming kind of way, but this kind of beauty doesn’t translate to romantic attraction.  They are two distinct kinds of beauty—one endears us to many friends and the other excites a potential romantic partner.

So can a Six ever make it with an Ace?  It happens but it’s not common.  If we’re slightly devious, we’ll try some sleight of hand.  Alcohol to level the playing field.  The use of power and/or intimidation.  Money.


Our stories, myths and legends try to convince the lower valued cards to hold out hope and that maybe in some perfect universe, Marisa Tomei might be attracted to short, stocky, bald men.


The lesson that many of our most cherished love stories attempt to drive home is that  inner beauty is everything.  But in what fairy tale is Prince Charming a three hundred pound oaf with big ears and acne?  The truth is, most fairy tales and stories are populated by pretty heroes and ugly villains.

So what about the twos and threes?  What is their destiny?  To become witches?   Criminals?  Is this what we expect from less physically attractive people?  With constant rejection and low societal expectations, wouldn’t a two or three naturally come to resent the world?  I’m sure at some point we’ve all felt that sinking feeling of being the last man or woman standing in the room—it sucks—but we all haven’t faced this rejection on a day-to-day basis.  This rejection does not come from only potential sexual mates.  Pulchronomics, which studies the economics of beauty, shows us prettier people earn more money than their plain counterparts.  Handsome children earn more attention from teachers.  It’s no wonder that criminals tend to be uglier than most.

Obviously, being ugly does not make one a criminal just like being depressed doesn’t cause someone to commit suicide.  There is, however, a striking correlation, and I wonder if we fully consider and appreciate the consequences of being physically unattractive and receiving constant rejection.

What we do tend to do is ridicule those who are preoccupied with their looks.  But in a world where looks has a greater bearing on future success than education, a focus on primping actually seems to be the smarter path to take.

This being said, we also tend to overvalue the benefits of beauty in relation to overall happiness.  Perhaps being the perpetual object of desire makes it easier to engage in extra-marital affairs, which can lead to painful divorces, breakups, or love triangles.  Perhaps the promiscuity associated with Hollywood is less indicative of the loose morals of show business and more the result of extraordinarily beautiful people constantly in the midst of each other.

So what’s the lesson?  Obviously beauty matters more than it seems appropriate to acknowledge.  But the more important question is what can we change?  Do we try to make the not-so-physically attractive more eye-appealing and encourage vanity?  Or do we try to change the perception and importance of beauty?  Can we really transform something that is hard-wired within us?

I think it would be nice if we could occasionally ask for a reshuffling of the deck.

61 thoughts on “Beauty Matters

  1. As many beautiful people work at being beautiful, many ugly people work hard at being ugly. A stroll through any prison yard speaks to the truth of this. Perhaps people instinctively understand that 1’s might be a bit resentful and perhaps a bit dangerous…. thus logic dictates that being a .0001 comes with a power all its own.

  2. A frog is not beautiful to a toad which affects the frog little until it croaks. The toad is warty and could not care less. Do frogs and toads mate, if they are in Australia are they good mates? I am confused for some of the most beautiful girls would never speak to me and would walk out of their way to avoid contact. Yet I am not ugly just a plain joe.

  3. I would challenge everyone to do it blindfolded. If the eyes are closed, it can be amazing what you may find. Beauty is a bit overrated, and tends to fade as one grows; but it goes without saying that the beautiful tend to get the breaks a lot more often than anyone else; to include being too too pretty for jail.

    I am quite happy I found my ace while being that 2, but all I saw of her for the first year was pixels.

  4. This is soooo well written. It was like shedding light on something I thought I could already see and finding that there were a thousand details I had never been able to pick out. Thanks for sharing. This absolutely deserved to be freshly pressed and I’m glad it was or I might have never seen it.

  5. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. That is what I always believe. There are many way people can pair with each others. Sometime the strange and abnormal is actually the best pairing. Love is a wonderful thing. Its knows no limit. Its lets nothing gets in its way. Never mind some number. Number only matters to fake love. True love is infinite, no number can represent infinite.

  6. The first sense that we use when assessing the others is sight. In most cases. And yes, the physical attributes a.k.a. the beauty plays a huge role in those first moments. Having said that, being beautiful doesn’t necessarily mean being attractive. I rather be with a ‘two’ that I can share my laughs, values, ideas with than an ‘ace’ that is an acehole.

    Beauty is superficial….but it helps. If it matters, is a subjective opinion.

  7. Like this post, although I have to say I disagree with the most part of it. In my experience the 2’s and 2’s are paired off first. The Lowers daren’t aim for the top. And the Kings and Aces get left partnerless because nobody dares try and win them over they are seen out of reach. And I find that attractive people actually find it more difficult to find partners because they are put on a pedestal and are seen as intimidating. Just a thought.

  8. Interesting topic. Of course, physical beauty does make things easier…but I think intellect is more important when it comes to job opportunities. Being pretty and smart…well, I guess that person has it pretty easy.

  9. Don’t forget that tastes vary greatly. Some women are repulsed by bulging muscles, some men drool over corpulent women. I learned the term Ugly-Sexy back in the 90s from a girl who found Tommy Lee Jones, Benicio Del Toro, and Steve Buscemi as intriguing as I did.

    And then there is the quiet agony of the beautiful person who is tired of constantly being judged visually, who aches for a deeper connection with a mate than just being their trophy. It’s not always a high income that binds a gorgeous woman to a homely man or an Adonis to a Plain Jane–that might just be their best friend and the only one they feel they can trust.

    • Agreed! What ends up binding people together is often impossible for outsiders to see. Physical attraction might have something to do with initial chit-chat, even dating, but I don’t think it can hold people together. I know plenty of couples with different cards, all together for different reasons.

  10. After reading this post, I realized that, our naive-ness could be the reason for why we wish for 6’s and Aces to meet. Fairytales had us from the beginning urging us to see the “true heart” of another person. I, for the longest time also believed that everyone can be an Ace and everyone can woe an Ace. Maybe it’s better that way, to be blindly hopeful. Maybe it’s a wish for ourselves rather than naive-ness that drives us.
    I even remember telling people, “oh I don’t look for look I look for (insert personality quality here)”. But now, I don’t think so anymore. I’m going to rethink a whole lot about my perspective on this now.
    Thank you for making me think and for a great blog post!

  11. I believe the issue is what beauty is for us personally, if we see through different eras it has changed, beauty standards change like fashion trends, and it’s always dictated mostly by society. Therefor I think we should really look into ourselves and decide for ourself what beauty is instead of associate it to a standardized concept.

  12. This is really interesting, but I think it’s kind of a narrow view. A couple other commenters have pointed out some situations, like the attractive woman who doesn’t want to be a ‘trophy.’ I guess a big one I’m thinking of is age. Someone who is a 10 at age 20 might not age that well, while another person who might’ve been a 6 at age 20, might still look pretty young a few decades later. That’s just one example. I don’t know, I’m sure part of attraction is our ‘wiring,’ but at the same time, I like to think that reason and love and friendship play equally important roles, just because we’re not simply apes looking for mates. We’re people, more often, who don’t even know what we’re looking for! 😛

  13. I really really like this! Something different on FP. Aside from the fact that a lot of psychopaths tend to be good-looking (according to a recent doc I watched), there’s also the age factor. I think as one gets older, the ‘beauty’ standard gets a little lax, just to not be the last card left in the room any more.

  14. This was a beautifully articulated message and article. I generally agree that the world is often an easier and more pleasant place for attractive people – and that sometimes they don’t even realize their own advantage. Honestly, as much as I understand this, it still absolutely disgusts me when I see myself categorizing people or being taken aback when I see two people who don’t “match”. More disturbing still is the resentment/envy I sometimes hear from friends (and in my own tone, too) when mentioning these pairs. I still haven’t figured out what to do with that.
    As for your argument, I found myself wondering what role confidence plays in all of this. Because I’ve heard countless people say that someone can be of average attractiveness but their confidence is what will win them over – I especially know a ton of women who want a confident man more than they want Ryan Gosling. However, if they could find a confident Ryan Gosling, well that’d be jackpot, pack up, and head home.

    Flux: Encountering Adulthood

    • I would think that often, though not always, confidence comes from being beautiful even if the confidence is an outward projection rather than an inward feeling. This may be why CEOs tend to be taller and more attractive than average.

  15. Great observation! I do think it is possible for talent and money as well as an ACE personality can bump somebody up at least 1 number and not just a step up in suit. Look at many professional soccer players wives in England and you’ll be astounded with these beautiful women hanging on the arm of these ‘average’ looking men.

  16. A very interesting read! If we’re looking just at physical beauty then Hollywood (where beauty seems to matter the most) are already paving the way towards changing that perception. Look at Beyonce and JayZ, Alicia Keys and her man, Salma Hayek and her husband. Beautiful women with not so typically beautiful men. Physical beauty or lack of is not a deal breaker. It’s just a stimulant everything else matters JUST as much. Personality, attitude, interest factor, sense of humor, money, physical chemistry (this can occur even without beauty) shared values and so on. They all matter. Follow us: A five and a six: who is which we’re still deciding after 4 years.

  17. Pingback: The Eye of the Beholder | theauthorwhoknows

  18. You are all clearly very young. Attraction is beautifully and artfully complicated if you’re over a certain age…otherwise you are just young and shallow and your debate is “who gets the hot girl.” Grow up.

  19. I think you’re right that money and power can make up a lot for a lack of looks. That being said, I’ll take hard-working, intelligent and funny over gorgeous any day!

  20. I really loved this! I agree that people of the same attractiveness usually end up together. I think we should also factor in intelligence. We seem to gravitate to those that we can have a great and simulating conversation with. Physical beauty, might be the first component and brains the second? A 5 might pair with an Ace for pure physical fun and the Ace is attracted to the 5’s big brain. But the 5 will ultimately get bored with the Ace’s lack of intellectual compatibility and go in search of another 5 that is brighter. Think about most academics- they usually marry one another- despite physical attractiveness.

  21. There is absolutely no substance to your subject. The “beautiful” people aren’t “winning”. Basically, babies are cute so we don’t eat our young, and in this way symmetry has been helpful to our human evolution. Body chemistry perpetuates the human race and eyeballs are only one factor in creating the love-illusion thereby ensuing procreation. The Beauty concept manifested from health. What is healthiest, is what is most beautiful. Youth generally appears healthy. Advertising cashed in on that. That’s all. However, and to the point of beauty attracting beauty, Have you never heard “opposites attract”? In any case, ultimately, Smart people get bored with shallow beautiful people. And higher pay is really only offered to those people willing to take a dirty paycheck. The kind of beauty you’re talking about is the big sell out. Your kind of beauty is a form of propaganda. A beauty “standard” which you equate to having power when you possess it. But who is telling you what that standard is? Rupert Murdoch’s control over television? Donald Trump overseeing Miss America pageants? Your card game is only the perpetuated beauty myth. Brainwashes come and go. Barbies are a dime a dozen and her doll collectors aren’t as interested as they once were.

    • The point I was trying to make was not that beauty should matter so much but rather that it does. I agree that attraction probably derives from our biological need to find a healthy mate, but its this biological hard-wiring that makes our attraction and bias toward others unconscious. We can’t help that tinge of sexual excitement we get when we see someone we’re physically attracted to. But it’s not as if advertisers and modern culture are just now cashing in on physical beauty. The depiction of “ideal” beauty has been found in thousands of years worth of artwork from the Venus de Milo to the supermodels of today.

      • I realize art is propaganda and is historically responsible pre-television for standards of beauty as paid for by the nobility of the time. I mean check out those cave paintings of Lascaux! Of course chemical attraction is built into the human animal. Voila, pheromones. The Nose knows. I never said advertisers were “just now” cashing in on beauty. Classism is timeless. It’s about the money. So what I disagree with is your conception of the beautiful attracting the beautiful as you’ve depicted it and that those so called beauties have better luck in finding beautiful mates and higher paying jobs. Money backs whatever image is coveted in its time. It affords better healthcare and or the appearance of youth as assisted by Botox and the like. Charisma is not necessarily beauty. Most rock stars are actually ugly, for example, but they get laid. Money and status attracts shallow “beautiful” people. I’m not sure our culture really prizes beauty as much as it loathes itself. I truly appreciate your discussion.

  22. Great observation- or more specifically the articulation of a reality. As an online dater, nowhere is the attractive/ugly perception more at work. When people say looks don’t matter, they usually are already in a relationship, or, are super attractive, or fairly homely. By far a controversial topic, but, you nailed it.

  23. This is an interesting look at beauty. I wonder if it’s more like we have two cards – one for physical attributes and one for internal? I don’t know. I’m just wondering about all the people I know who began with an ace and now have a 6 or vice versa. Perhaps life reshuffles for us sometimes and our average is our true value. Oy vey, what a metaphor!

  24. Interesting post. However I do think you have overweighted the importance of beauty. If one is relatively attractive, I think you come to understand how shallow it it really is. Personally, I find a bright, interesting, challenging mind in a man the sexiest thing going. And the pretty boys with nothing between their ears, bore me to tears.

  25. There may be something to what you’re saying but it seems like a deliberately narrow perspective on a terribly complex subject. I’ve always sort of dreaded the thought of winding up with an attractive someone that I can’t fucking tolerate being around. It’s like a hell we search out and long for. Perhaps you’re giving the thought of pairing more attention than it deserves. There’s a big goddamn chasm through the middle of each of us. However, it is formed and fed by clinging to desire, which is after all a mental rather than a physical circumstance. Learn to outwit your biology. Why let the horse ride you?

    • A lot of people have been saying that they’d rather be around someone whose personality they like rather than boring body. But I think that’s missing the point. It’s not like there’s only 1 card of each suit. In reality there are millions of “Aces” out there and millions of “twos” and we search for the most socially compatible of our number match. Would a socially compatible “2” be on equal footing as a socially compatible “Ace?” Given the choice between two equally compatible people, most would choose the more attractive one.

      But you do have a point. Perhaps by having an awareness of “the game” and intellectualizing about it, one can beat the game, thus making a socially compatible “2” as desirable as a socially compatible “Ace.”

  26. Great points made. I do have to add that a lot of this judgmental behavior rests on individuals living by or beneath societies standards and ideals. If we focus on inwardly motivations rather than outwardly appearances we can begin to teach ourselves how to push through those barriers of judgement and start living and believing in our own life’s purpose. The way we look is just a vessel to carry us uniquely through our own journey. 🙂

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