Saturday, May 03, 2008
Early on in the history play Richard III by William Shakespeare, the evil incarnate of a king describes himself physically as “rudely stamp’d” and “deformed, unfinish’d,” someone who cannot “strut before a wanton ambling nymph.” He is further presented as a twisted hunchback possessing a shriveled arm, and is so awfully made that dogs growl at him as he passes them by. It is not surprising then that Richard should lament his physical attributes since his monstrosity and unattractiveness are conflated to his profound evil character, which is suggested by his response to his agonized condition with the resolve of an outcast: "I am determined to prove a villain/And hate the idle pleasures of these days."
However, deformity’s signification of an evil character is but a product of a superstitious age. Because this biased reflection is being propagated and reproduced up to the contemporary times when superstition had been superseded by science (which, arguably, is the new superstition), the ugly stereotype has caused prejudice and discrimination physically, economically and socially, i.e. persons who are deemed unattractive may be judged unfavorably versus a fellow job applicant who fit the prevalent ideology of the Caucasian-looking, able physique, may receive lower work benefits than superficially desirable colleagues, or may be mistaken for criminals or terrorists. The classical promotion of the true, the good and the beautiful also helped in concretizing the unfair notion of beauty being fixed under the rigid framework of the symmetrical, the unblemished and the athletic—things that supposedly please the eyes, the beholder’s myopic view notwithstanding.
While contemporary factual information proves that Richard III had not been disgustingly crooked in any physical way, the ugliness being metaphorized to his hideous soul in the text is a reliable testament of how prejudice works against those who do not pass the standards of the preconceived idea of beauty. Ugly people are culturally stereotyped as inferior, dispensable, unproductive, marginally reproductive, frail-bodied, among others, and this is just based on their appearance. They are already expected to sow all things evil more than their opposites. As such, their unattractiveness proves a disadvantage because negatively perceived unlike the attractiveness of their opposites, whose beauty is advantageous because positively perceived.
Lookism or the stereotyping based on the physical appearance is shown to be an appalling business because the oversimplified image representation overlooks the importance of what is inside in favor of what is on the surface. Its narrow and inaccurate means of justifying the existing paradigm, of making sense of the complicated world or of producing dramatic shorthand causes part of the troubles the world is struggling to untangle since the exact opposite of the lookists’ objectives are often achieved. Ugly (or beautiful, for that matter) people are not necessarily what they seem to biased individuals. If reflections and explorations are allowed before one makes quick stereotyping, then one is not misled by unfounded prejudices. As the cliché goes, “looks can deceive.”