Posted by: leahchiaverini10 | April 4, 2013

Beauty Is Power?


As a psychology major, I have always been interested in the psychological aspect of leadership studies.  When looking particularly at the concept of appearance as it relates to leadership, I begin to think about socialization (I want to be a child psychologist so that may also have some impact on that) and how we organize our world around us.  Sure, there is a research supported biological draw towards people who are more physically attractive for evolutionary reasons but there is a lot of socialization that goes on in the first few years of life.  By kindergarten, a child has already been impressed upon by their parents, friends and other people around them.  What does this have to do with appearance in leadership, you ask?  Well, here’s what I have targeted.

Beauty can be viewed as “good” or competent in some situations, as we read for Tuesday.  However, on the opposite of side of the spectrum, beauty can be “beastly” and really hinder a woman’s ability to be taken seriously within the work world.  To this, my head immediately went to childhood fairy tales and stories (maybe because I am in children’s lit!).  The typical villainess is hard to define, although when pulling visuals from one’s schema, many will pull images of Ursula from The Little Mermaid or the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz.  These types of characters’ outsides reflect their insides: dark, twisted, cold and unattractive.  However, often these characters oppose their heroes or heroines with some difficult challenges due to their power over magical elements or over others (take for example, the Flying Monkeys, talk about power over versus power with!).  As children, we are socialized to target these people as “bad” because of how they look on the outside, oftentimes mistaking the person who looks a certain way as someone to watch out for.  A woman in particular who is less attractive than others around her may be viewed as incompetent or otherwise unqualified without the magical powers that the unattractive villainesses are given in childhood.

On the other end of the spectrum, female villains can also be attractive and use that as a way to manipulate and intoxicate characters into believing that they are for the side of good.  As I did my research for this blog post, one of the first hits on the search was “10 HOTTEST female villains!”, some of the examples being Catwoman from the Batman comics, Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada or Madison Lee from Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle.  Especially to a child, it is against their usual prediction to see an attractive villainess, adding to the surprise and shock if she reveals herself to be untrue.  These attractive villainesses play upon their beauty, often having it be advantageous, particularly over men.  These characters typically don’t have magic on their side because they have their beauty as their power.  So I ask, why do we supply ourselves (and our children) with these precepts of power?  Is it these socializations that steer young women to try to utilize their beauty?  Or does it impact on the other side by limiting more unattractive women to lower levels because of the inscribed idea of bad as unattractive?  Is it a play on both?  I would love to hear your thoughts!


  1. I think that beauty is a unique thing when it comes to leadership, mainly because it can be used in the concept of good versus evil. In most fairytale stories there are beautiful princesses and ugly and evil villains. Movies, I believe, have created these images that the more beauty that is presented in a person the more genuine and accepting the person is where as if a person is not as attractive, they are not as nice. Now on the flip side, if the villain is attractive I think that they only reasoning to this is to show that beauty is only used for bad. That the beauty is used as a control mechanism for the villain to defeat the good person. If I haven’t confused you already here is what I overall think. Foremost I think in movies that we can relate our lives to the movies. Movies are fictional and unrealistic whereas our lives are as real as it gets. I think that in movies there are the good people who are beautiful and the bad people who are ugly. This is what is represented and what we have seen as we have grown up. I think that because we see these images starting at an early age it is what we learn and thus children start to apply it to there own lives. Therefore, I think that we tend to be more focused on the attractiveness of any individual rather than whether or not they are a good fit for the job compared to someone else.

  2. Not being a psych major, it is funny to see how I never think how images within our childhood can affect our outlooks on life until I read something such as this and have an “ah ha” moment. Looking at the image from the little Mermaid, it makes me think how Ariel, once she didn’t have a voice, struggled to impress Eric. Maybe this is a correlation to in real life how a woman with just beauty really isn’t always at the man’s full attention. Yet when Ursula transforms into a gorgeous girl with Ariel’s voice, Eric is captivated by her (plus being entranced), because although Ariel was beautiful, it was the words she spoke which mattered. I see the main message here being that powers were given to the evil ugly women of these stories, but yet they also have parts where the winning women aren’t just the triumphant beauties coming in and winning everyone with their looks, they had to be smart in order to get there. Ariel had to think outside of the box and use determination in order to reach Eric beyond her beauty to grab his attention and save him from beauty’s corruption. Other examples are Bell, who had to use her communication and counseling skills in order to free the Beast. The princess in Brave had to use her survival techniques in order to solve the riddle to free her mother from an ugly curse. Pocahontas had the courage to stand up between two fighting enemies to be a leader in a time where there was no middle ground. These women are beautifully depicted but really it isn’t the beauty that just “magically” gets them to power, it’s the acts that they take in order to prove that they have more to themselves than just beauty.
    I think Disney’s point of perceiving evil ugly women in power was to see how each one of them only cared about themselves, their advancement, and power. These are the traits that are unwanted of any kind of leader within the world, which resonates as the bad guys in every story. Just like how no one wants to be ugly in today’s world, it shows that no one should want to be that type of leader in power. The thing I really do like about Disney movies, isn’t all the twisted, behind the scenes psychological meanings behind the stories, but instead the proof of women succeeding, fighting, and standing up for themselves in the world.

  3. I can see where everyone is coming from with their posts on the advantages and disadvantages and effects on beauty, but personally I struggle to form an opinion on the topic. EIther way you spin it, someone defined as “beautiful” can use it to their advantage for good or bad, and vice versa. I dont think the problem is with the creators of shows or characters, but rather with society. When we see a character or person, even a celebrity, we classify them as pretty or ugly…It is a bipolar scale with little room for anyone in the middle to be “average”. Society looks at these characters and people on surface value, rather than for their personality. Regardless of what they look like, these characters influence the younger generations based on what they do, not look like.

  4. Beauty is such a tricky topic. It has its good sides and bad. It is interesting that Disney portrays good and evil but their looks in combination with their actions. For children, they learn to group certain characteristics with the word bad or evil. Why couldn’t Disney have the same looking cartoon characters but make them different solely by their actions?
    But it is interesting that as we grow older, movies start to show beauty as manipulative. Bad characters can be beautiful. That is a source of leadership too. Not only can beauty be used for leadership, but can be used for evil.
    I’m not sure what the allure of beauty is and what attracts us to it, but if society puts less pressure on appearance then it will take its power away.

  5. You have brought up a very interesting topic. I have never thought of the beauty of villains and there effect on children or young women. I believe that young girls do see the way that the female body is manipulated in movies to motivate people, particularly men, to do things that the female character wants. However, I do not feel that this alone motivates girls to use their bodies to get what they want out of life. I feel that beauty is very subjective and since everyone views beauty differently it is hard to tell someone that they are doing things a certain way because they are attractive versus not attractive. I think that all people no matter how physically attractive will have insecurities about some part of them (sad but real) and that those insecurities make people go out and look for reinforcements to make themselves feel better. I think that women use their bodies to manipulate men, but men are not naïve to the fact that it is being done.

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