Beyond being knockout gorgeous, the model Emily Ratajkowski — you might recognize her from Robin Thicke and Pharrell’s video “Blurred Lines” — has a gift for the incisive. After Piers Morgan shamed Kim Kardashian for her internet-breaking nude selfie, Ratajkowski joined Kim for a double-middle-finger topless selfie comeback heard around the world. She wrote about the trials of early adolescence for Lena Dunham; and in an interview that’s now buzzing about the internet, she dishes on how her looks have shaped her life in “an interesting paradox.”
“I started to realise that I was being perceived differently” in puberty, she tells the Evening Standard. “It was confusing. Basically it was more about the way that people had a problem with a girl looking like a woman because it confused them, it made them feel uncomfortable and I think there was a lot of guilt that they wanted to induce.”
Being perceived differently — is there a more apt way to describe the experience of being beautiful? Some of us stop traffic, some cabs would happily run over. Digging into the psychology literature, there’s ample evidence that the beautiful get ahead in life in lots of ways: Super-hot people are indeed perceived differently. They get ahead in life in many ways (spoiler alert: teachers call on cute kids), but they run into problems all their own.
The most deflating example is a finding called the “beauty premium,” which states that the wealth gap between the hot and the not is like those between sexes and ethnicities. That’s a long-term result of the halo effect: If someone is “easy on the eyes,” the enjoyment we derive from looking at them colors our perceptions of other attributes. The research says we’re more likely to view them as intelligent, healthy, and socially capable simply because they look good — consider the “handsome bubble” that Jon Hamm’s hapless doctor played on 30 Rock.
Harvard economist Markus Mobius and Wesleyan University economist Tanya Rosenblat published the seminal paper “Why Beauty Matters” in 1994. They found that in three different samples of workers, more attractive people consistently earned 12 to 14 percent more than unattractive people — regardless of gender — with evidence that the “labor market sorts the best-looking people into occupations where there looks are productive.” To that end, a 2012 paper found that comely real estate brokers outperformed homely colleagues. More uncomfortably, first- and sixth-graders think attractive teachers are kinder and happier, and college students thought that attractive professors were clearer, more helpful, and of higher overall quality.
In news to no one who was awkward in high school (or beyond), hot people tend to be super confident. Mobius and Rosenblat chalk this up to a self-fulfilling prophecy that will have been at work since kindergarten — teachers expect cute kids to do well (thanks to above-mentioned halo effect), so they give them more attention than ugly kids. With that attention comes better grades, more confidence, and greater comfort with public display.
But not everything is in the hots’ favor. Other research has shown that people placed in the role of hiring managers or admissions officers give lower marks to people of the same sex that they feel are more attractive than they are. As Columbia psychologist Heidi Grant Halverson quips in her book No One Understands You and What to Do About It, nobody says to themselves, “I’m threatened by this person, so there is no way I’m hiring this applicant,” but that’s exactly what happens.
Ratajkowski is apparently a case study in this: She’s instafamous, but she still has to deal with lots of other people’s insecurities. Like, say, Piers Morgan’s.