The beauty myth: Prescriptive beauty norms for women reflect hierarchy-enhancing motivations leading to discriminatory employment practices

Leeat Ramati-Ziber, Nurit Shnabel*, Peter Glick

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

We proposed that the Prescriptive Beauty Norm (PBN), the injunctive demand for women to intensively pursue beauty, reflects motives to maintain gender hierarchy and translates into employment discrimination. In Studies 1a and 1b, the PBN (distinct from other "beauty myth" [Wolf, 1990] components; namely, bodily and grooming standards, and attainability beliefs) uniquely correlated with hierarchysupporting values and ideologies. In Study 2, experimentally threatening (vs. affirming) gender hierarchy increased PBN endorsement among sexist (but not nonsexist) participants, an effect mediated by power values. In Studies 3 and 4, participants who scored high (vs. low) in sexism (Study 3) and social dominance orientation (Study 4) enforced higher appearance requirements for women in powerful (vs. entry-level), masculine professions. This "beauty tax" targeted women more than men (Study 3) and was mediated by PBN endorsement (Study 4). Illustrating real-life implications, in an organizational setting (Study 5), sexism predicted penalizing "insufficiently groomed" female candidates more for high-power (vs. low-power) jobs. Finally, supporting the hypothesis that the PBN represents a contemporary, subtle replacement for traditional hierarchy-maintaining ideologies that have lost their influence in modern secular society, Social Dominance Orientation (SDO) correlated with PBN endorsement among secular more than among religious respondents (Study 6), whose "ideological arsenal" contains more straightforward means to police women. We discuss practical implications for gender equality, as well as theoretical implications for reconciling evolutionary and feminist perspectives on beauty norms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)317-343
Number of pages27
JournalJournal of Personality and Social Psychology
Volume119
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 2020

Keywords

  • Appearance-related bias
  • Backlash
  • Gender hierarchy
  • Prescriptive beauty norms
  • Sexism

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