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Tootsie & Beauty Bias

Tootsie & Beauty Bias

Dustin Hoffman would never have given Tootsie a second look.


"If I met that woman at a party, I'd never talk to her.”

So realized Dustin Hoffman when he first saw himself on screen dressed as the title role of his 1983 film Tootsie. Speaking in an interview for the film's 30th anniversary, Hoffman tearfully recalled the moment he realized that, in real life, he never would have spoken with his female screen character – not deeming her attractive enough to approach.

Hoffman lamented all the "interesting" women he's never gotten to know because of his bias toward women who are conventionally beautiful. Hoffman's revelation struck a chord with many people. His interview quickly went viral. We can all relate to his frustration in trying to get beyond the physical when relating to others.

It isn't only Dustin Hoffman who finds it difficult not to be swayed by exterior looks. People who are rated as physically attractive by their peers earn more money, enjoy greater happiness, and are even healthier than their more ordinary-looking colleagues. University of Texas Professor Daniel Hamermesh has quantified what he calls the "beauty advantage": an extra $230,000 of lifetime earnings that more attractive men make compared with identically-qualified men whose looks are more ordinary.

Incredibly, researchers have even found evidence that parents are more attentive to attractive children than less-attractive ones, for instance keeping a better eye on them in stores. Is it possible that we are so shallow that even this deepest of bonds – between parent and child – can be swayed by superficial attractiveness?

Indeed, many of us have personally felt the sting of being overlooked in favor of more attractive peers.

Affection Creates Beauty

Judaism puts forward a very different idea of beauty. Instead of the modern formula where beautiful people are more likely to command attention – and thus have others want to get to know them better – the Torah reverses equation: We find people attractive when we already know and like them.

The Sages of the Talmud grappled with the question of how to define physical beauty. “May one praise a homely bride by calling her beautiful? Or would doing so be a lie?” (Ketubot 17a)

Where there is affection, beauty will grow.

The great sage Rabbi Hillel answered: we can indeed praise a bride – no matter how she looks – by calling her beautiful, because to her husband, she is indeed beautiful. Rabbi Hillel recognized a powerful truth: our feelings for others strongly influence our perceptions, and where there is affection, beauty will grow. Moreover, this beauty is stronger than mere “prettiness,” because it is a byproduct of deep affection.

We see examples of this all around: the bland-looking neighbor whose spouse thinks they're the greatest-looking; the run-of-the-mill kid whose mother thinks they could be a model; the best friend or sibling whose gradual aging or weight gain over the years we never even notice. I remember my grandmother laughing as she described herself as “never being a beauty.” I didn't know what she was talking about, for in my eyes she was incredibly beautiful – and who could possibly think otherwise?

Judaism says that another way to forge connections with others – and to make them dearer and more attractive – is to invest in their well-being.

Again, this logic runs counter to conventional wisdom. Whereas today many believe that feelings of “love” cause us to feel closer to others, in Jewish thought the reverse is true.

Giving creates a bond. It makes us feel more invested in others, which in turn makes us care about them more.

Tisha B’Av Connection

The Talmud tells us that the Second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred, sinat chinam. But don’t we all have our reasons for not liking someone?

Dustin Hoffman gave us a perfect example that unfortunately applies to many of us; we don’t like people based solely on their exterior. We just don’t like the way they look. And that leads to disengagement, estrangement, coldness and lack of care. That is baseless hatred; denying a person’s humanity for no real reason at all.

Rebuilding the Temple starts with us. Take a hard look at your inner bias and move beyond your knee jerk discrimination. Instead reach out and give. And discover the exquisite beauty that rests inside every one of God’s gorgeous creations.

July 13, 2013

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Visitor Comments: 21

(17) julia, July 20, 2013 7:47 AM

This article makes the same assumption that leads to beauty bias

This article makes the same assumption that leads to beauty bias: that being beautiful is an absolute advantage. I would like a link to this study so I can read it myself. I wonder what the monetary advantage of being a beautiful woman was? I bet on average it was not as advantageous as being a beautiful man. Also, let's reason why parents might keep an eye on their beautiful children more closely - because pedophiles kidnap beautiful children when they can and any other children when beautiful children are unavailable. I am an extremely beautiful woman. My brother was a male model growing up. I did not make it as a model because I am average height and 4 inches too short to model. The first time a pedophile tried to kidnap my brother and I we were 3 and 5. I can recall at least 15 times middle aged men of every race drove up to us and tried to get us to get in their car. People do not love beauty - they hate it. They want it and when they cannot have it they brood and can even attack those who are beautiful out of frustration. High school sucked for me, because people became obsessed and weird around me. It is 10 years later and I still get FB messages of guys who tell me how they wished they had asked me out. That is unhealthy. Socially people treat me like I am stupid, until I start talking, then they may accept my intelligence. Let me tell you what you should wish for yourself and your children. Wish to be just above average beauty, not far above, wish to be 'girl next door' or 'boy next door' beautiful. Beauty sucks.

(16) scott, July 18, 2013 5:04 AM

Whats the problem again?

And women want a man who makes a good living and listens to their multiplicity of problems and takes out the trash after coming home from work at nine at night.

Life isn't fair.

When you actually look at Tootsie what do you see? Bad hair. Bad glasses. Bad dress. And a woman that doesn't act like a woman. My wife is the most beautiful woman in the world to me. (What she sees in me-I have no idea-but I go with it) But I live in reality. Neither one of us would win the Universe Pageant.

What I remember about our first meeting was her smile that takes over her whole face. I remember her hair that said "Hello I'm here" I remember her outfit that was professional and flattering to her 40 year old figure. She's not classically beautiful...but she assembles the elements together to make herself beautiful...especially when combined with that smile.

And then she starts talking and wow...everyone is in love.

I like women. Always have. I've never met a woman that could not be beautiful if she wanted to be. Yes, you can lose 20, 50, 100 lbs. Just like a man who has a low paying job is unattractive and can make himself more attractive by working harder and getting more skills, a woman can join a gym. There are thousands of places to go to get your wardrobe looked at and to learn how to arrange your hair and make up. I actually had to stand in front of a mirror for hours when I started dating for marriage to learn how to smile-if I can affect a warm smile anyone can. There's no excuse not to make the most of your appearance.

Not everyone is a 10. Or a 9 or even a 6. Every day I see women (and men) that are presenting themselves in a truly unattractive way pushing strollers and laughing with their spouses. What's the problem again?

(15) Anonymous, July 17, 2013 11:03 AM

Let us not forget that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Yes, men want to be seen with a classically beautiful woman. Women want to be seen with a classically handsome man. That is simply human nature. However, someone who seems very attractive to me might not appear the same way to my neighbor.

(14) Anonymous, July 16, 2013 2:24 PM

From Tanya teaching by Sarah Schneider

It is true that G-d is pure, simple Oneness. Yet, when Divinity interacts with creation He manifests a hierarchy of attributes from above to below; from the inner, higher, essential and concealed realms to the outer, lower, superficial and revealed realms.

(13) Yehudit, July 16, 2013 1:51 PM


So true, beyond the cleverness. We all think we aren't really guilty of baseless hatred, because we usually have a "good reason" to dislike others. Here Aish shows us how we really are truly engaging in constant baseless hatred without even really being aware of it. The truth of this particular generation.

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