Leslie’s post “Boys to Gentlemen” over at Segullah got me thinking along a tangential line of thought, which I would like to open up for discussion here.
I remember seeing an ABC John Stossel special once, all about the many advantages the physically beautiful get in life. There’s a written version of the special, called The Ugly Truth about Beauty, here. They ran various tests, and in every situation looks really mattered. For example, they did one where an average looking woman stood by her car at the side of the road, out of gas. Not much in the way of help. Then they had a striking woman do it. Cars screeched to a halt with people wanting to help her; six people actually went to get gas for her. I’m sure these results don’t surprise anyone; this is something we see all around us all our lives.
I’ve sometimes wondered what it would be like to be strikingly handsome. I had a friend in my freshman BYU ward, a kid from California whom I’ll call “Jacques,” who was basically the most handsome man I’ve ever seen in my life–counting the movies, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, you name it. I’ve sometimes over the years stopped and wondered what my life would have been like if I looked like that. He was so good looking that women would simply melt in his presence. He served a mission, and I could imagine doors opening for him that would have remained shut otherwise. It’s a pleasant little daydream I sometimes indulge in.
Taking it into the professional world, I was doing a deal once when the junior investment banker took me and my senior partner out for dinner. He was black and strikingly handsome. We went to Houstons in Chicago, a steak place that appeared to be a sort of hangout for professional blacks. Jesse Jackson Jr. was there, a friend of our host, and across the aisle from us Jon Kelly was having dinner with a woman (at the time he was a local sportscaster, but he has since gone national). During our dinner together, the waiter kept passing our host slips of paper. Women in the restaurant were sending him their numbers! I’m sure it didn’t help that there is a major imbalance between successful, professional black woman and professional black men in the City. Still, I admit that I was seriously impressed by that guy.
Another time I was doing a deal in Michigan, and one of the other lawyers in the deal had been a running back for the University of Michigan in college. He was very handsome and took care of himself; he looked like he could have stepped right back onto the gridiron. His neck looked like it came from an oak tree. Everyone just tripped over themselves wanting to talk to him.
While I sometimes allow myself the fantasy of wondering what it would be like to be that good looking and have all the perks that come with it, most of the time I realize that God did me a huge favor by granting me ordinary looks only. My friend Jacques was doubly blessed in that he didn’t seem to recognize his own beauty; he was in no sense vain, he was very humble about it and acted like he was nothing special. But if that had been me, I suspect that I would have been very vain indeed and let it all go to my head. For me there would have been a substantial risk of my becoming a huge jerk, because I could and women would still want me and men would still want to be me. Having only average at best looks has forced me in life to really try. I have to do the best with what I’ve got, take care of myself, be nice and genuine and strain to put my best foot forward. No one’s going to ever give me a deal because of my looks; I have to work hard to be the best technically competent attorney I can be.
I’m reminded of this scene from Juno:
Juno: You’re like… the coolest person I’ve ever met and you don’t even have to try.
Paulie: I try really hard actually.
I feel like the Michael Cera character in Juno, in that I’ve always tried really hard. And God in his infinite wisdom created me in such a way that I would have to try hard, that things wouldn’t come too easily to me, so that I would grow from the effort and become a better person than I would have otherwise.
What do you guys think about this? If you could trade, would you take physical beauty over the character that comes from lacking it? For those who are perceived by their peers as in some sense beautiful (don’t be shy, you know who you are!), how do you keep yourselves humble and keep it from going to your head? Or does it kind of mess with you no matter how hard you try not to let it?