How People Assess you by your Appearance

Whether we are conscious of it, or not, the truth is that we can’t help but judge people by the way they look. As social creatures we are clearly influenced by the people around us and our culture. If we are continually informed that skinny individuals are more attractive than fat people, this will no doubt have some bearing on our attitudes towards people of different sizes. We may like to think that we do not discriminate against people because of their ethnic background, but in our determination to prove how ‘fair’ we are to those of other races we may go too far the other way and end up favouring them.

There are obviously some features individuals cannot change about their appearance (unless they are prepared to undergo extensive surgery!) such as their race, gender, and facial features, yet how we have been raised, the influence of our parents and teachers, as well as the media can affect how we perceive people. Take a look at how racist incidents against Muslims rose after the terrorist atrocities of September 11, as some of us were prepared to believe that all followers of Islam posed a serious threat to security. Such attitudes were fuelled by media coverage, almost hysteria, about the potential for more terrorist attacks.

Its extremely unfair that we go around judging people because of their race, gender and age, yet we, as individuals, are all subject to a similar list of criteria that other people use to weigh up the kind of people they think we are. We may not be able to change certain features of our appearance, but that won’t people making assumptions about us, whether they are fair or not.

We are also judged by how we choose to present ourselves, yet even here there may be limitations to our choice. A homeless individual clearly cannot afford to spend a fortune on designer clothes, and so the fact that he looks scruffy and unkempt and wears rags is because he cannot afford to dress differently. He may not want to present himself as a tramp to the rest of the world, but he has little choice in the matter. For some of us, though, the way we dress is a form of self-expression and allows us to convey to the world something about ourselves. Perhaps some of us subscribe to a hippy lifestyle and like wearing long, flowing clothes, whilst there may be others amongst us who have an aggressive, punky attitude and decide to dress in a style that reflects this.

This means there is a good chance we will fit in with people like ourselves, who have similar beliefs and values, but may be regarded as outsiders by wider society, but at least we have a certain degree of choice over whether we conform or not. Life can be more challenging for those who face discrimination because of their race, for instance, since when we go for a job interview we can just cover up our tattoos or style our hair differently; people are unable to change the colour of their skin.

We live in reasonably tolerant society, though, and although everyone makes preliminary assessments about the people they meet; they are usually willing to concede when they are wrong and accept that going by appearances will not provide an accurate assessment of an individual.