I'm a 30-something woman, tall and thin, whom friends describe as beautiful, People often assume things are handed to me on a silver platter. I'm financially independent, have a full-time job, own a home, car and dress modestly. What can I do to change their perceptions?
—Not Just Skin Deep
Sadly, complaints about the difficulty of being eye candy in a world of eye-kale tend not to engender much sympathy and researchers haven't helped matters. There's a considerable pile of research that has found a "beauty premium"—a bias toward hiring/promoting the hotties of the workforce—and an "ugliness penalty" holding back the more Shrekalicious among us.
According to a 2017 paper by evolutionary psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa and sociologist Mary Still, once you drill down into the details though you see a more nuanced result: "It appears that more beautiful workers earn more, not because they are beautiful, but because they are healthier, more intelligent," and have more desirable personality traits: more conscientiousness and extroversion and less neuroticism.
Sure, this probably sounds absurd—this association of good looks with intelligence, a winning personality, and good health. However, take that last one. It turns out that beauty is more than nice human scenery; it's also advertising for what's on the inside. For example, consider this: "Facial bilateral symmetry" is anthropologist-ese for both sides of a person's face being a strong match—meaning, for example, that one eyelid isn't a little droopier than the other. Facial or bodily asymmetry is an indicator of the presence of parasites or disease and we evolved to be drawn to healthy people.
Getting back to you, just as previous research on "the beauty premium" failed to zoom in on the details, there's a good chance you're seeing your problem a little too broadly. Research on sex differences by psychologist Joyce Benenson suggests it's probably women who are doing most or all of the sneering.
Men—from childhood on—tend to be comfortable with hierarchy and openly duking it out for top spots in a way women are not. Women tend to engage in covert aggression — like with frosty treatment and undermining remarks — in hopes of making another woman dim her own shine and voluntarily relocate lower down the ladder.
The best way to combat such sniping in the moment is to go placid pokerface, treating their comments like lint to brush off—there's little satisfaction in verbally battering somebody who doesn't appear to care.
In the long run, your best bet is being somebody who's hard to hate. Research by behavioral economist Ernst Fehr suggests it's in our self-interest to be altruistic—to engage in behavior that's somewhat costly to us (in, say, time or energy) in order to benefit other people: developing a reputation as someone who's always looking out for your colleagues' interests—like by tipping off co-workers about opportunities and publicly cheering their achievements.
Finally, if I'm right that women are your main detractors, consider Benenson's observation that women show each other they aren't a threat through sharing vulnerabilities—revealing weaknesses and problems. Ideally, of course, as in don't use, "Sorry I'm late. ANOTHER guy drove into a pole looking at me, and I had to wait with him for the ambulance."