Should Ugly People Have Special Legal Protections?

In a recent New York Times Op-ed piece, economist Daniel S. Hamermesh asked a provocative question: should ugly people be a legally protected class?

Hamermesh definitively thinks so. And he’s proposing that anti-discrimination laws be extended to more, er, homely people.

But why, exactly, should something as seemingly subjective as beauty be the subject of anti-discrimination laws? For one thing, as Hamermesh points out, extensive research has shown that attractive people have measurable advantages over unattractive people.

Unattractive people are more likely than their attractive counterparts to earn less money, recieve longer prison sentences and be poorer. Attractive people, on the other hand, are more likely to recieve more attention from their bosses, get better deals on their mortgages and find a higher-earning spouse. The list goes on.

But how could you possibly offer legal protection to unattractive people when beauty is so subjective? Hamermesh offers an important counterpoint: Individuals might have different opinions on who the most attractive person in the room is, but when it comes down to it, most people agree on who is generally considered attractive and who isn’t.

And, perhaps the supposed subjectivity of attractiveness is precisely the problem for outlawing appearance-based discrimination. As Deboarah L. Rhode, a law professor at Stanford University and author of The Beauty Bias: The Injustice of Appearance in Life and Law said in an interview,

Most Americans have bumped up against some aspect of the problem and might be energized to do something if they came to see this as not just an individual problem but a social injustice and cultural challenge.


In 2000, a bartender at Harrah’s in Las Vegas lost her job because she wouldn’t wear makeup. The Nevada Supreme Court later sided with the casino. In 2002, Jazzercise turned a fitness instructor in San Francisco down for a franchise because the company thought she was too fat. Jazzercise ultimately reversed its decision and stopped requiring its instructors to look “trim and fit”.

What explains the different outcomes of these two cases? Indeed, San Francisco, unlike Las Vegas, has appearance-based anti-discrimination laws on the books.

What do you think? Should unattractive people have special legal protections?

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Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

If you did that, somebody would have to define "ugly". Who has the authority to do that, Nazis?
Dictators? Tea-Baggers? Old white men? Another thing, who sets the standard of beauty in this country? I think all of the above.

Robert O.
Robert O5 years ago

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I'm more concerned about the ugliness that people hold on the inside and spread to the outside via their negative actions and hateful attitudes.

holly masih
.5 years ago

You can't regulate the condition of a person's heart.This would be almost impossible to regulate-who is to say who is "ugly" and who is not?Too bad pettyness and shallowness are not outlawed.I do not see how they can enforce something so vague.Instead of laws that are impossible to enforce,what about educating people,especially school children,about what is and is not important,and counteracting the media and other sources of wrong information.

leslie c.
leslie c5 years ago

My sentiments reflect those opinions already mentioned.
This legislation in & of itself is prejudicial. To imply that
someone is ugly in the first place is discrimination.

Victoria Pitchford
Vicky P6 years ago

There are no ugly people. A person's personality should count for more than someone's face or body in my eyes. People's attitudes in society need to change.

Halee M.
Halee M6 years ago

Why would a fat fitness instructor believe anyone would enroll in her class???
Would you visit a dentist who flashes a mouth full of cavities?
There are times when discrimination/profiling is the correct way to go but who really cares how an accountant looks as long as he can balance books.
If discrimination exists in professions like these, then I say put your court clothes on and litigate.

Kiana Siino
Kiana S6 years ago

How preposterous! Who would decide whether or not someone qualifies? There's a lot more involved to perceiving someone as attractive than the configuration of their features. As Alamzeb said someone who might otherwise be seen as "ugly" might not be because they are a good person. In my experience whether a person is attractive or not has a lot more to do with their attitude than their physical appearance.

Alamzeb Akhund
Alamzeb Khan6 years ago

Beauty and ugliness is depend on individual's mental attitude.Sometimes' ugly people become more attractive to people due to their good deeds as faithfulness,honesty and straight forwardness.But always even beautiful people seem ugliest creature due to their negative attitude towards people and friends.

Kari Knabe
Kari Knabe6 years ago


Hope K.
Hope K6 years ago

How will they do it? Will they send us a letter saying 'You have been deemed unattractive, as your features no not measure up to the classical ideal of beauty, we will assure you are protected from discrimination and lookism'.

I know I'm ugly, but I really don't know what I would do if it was officially confirmed.