Assault of the Envious

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The Telegraph’s William Leith is out with a mad theory that to win at top ranked tennis you need to be beautiful. I am not making this up. Here is his theory:

A few weeks ago, I interviewed the number-one female tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki, and a friend said to me that the strange thing about women’s tennis is that it’s being taken over by beautiful women.

Well, I said, it’s certainly true that Wozniacki is beautiful, or at least gorgeous; I’d been to Denmark to interview her, and noticed the local version of Heat magazine, Se Og Hør, had featured her in a photo shoot that made her look like a pop star or an actress, with her long blonde hair and short black dress. But that, I said, was just one player.

No, said the friend, there’s more to it. At least half of the top female tennis players are beautiful these days. “Ten, 15 years ago, it was just one,” he said.

“Remember Anna Kournikova? She used to be the exception.” And he listed some of the current female tennis players who are beautiful: Ana Ivanovic, Maria Sharapova, Sabine Lisicki, Vera Zvonareva, Lucie Safarova… and there were more. That was just off the top of his head…

Some of the higher-ranked but less attractive players were relegated to the outer courts. But then the mystery was solved; it was all to do with ratings.

A BBC spokesman said that, even though the decision was in the hands of Wimbledon officials, “Our preference would always be a Brit or a babe, as this always delivers high viewing figures.”

Yup, that’s it. Ugly people are manipulated away from wining tennis matches. Puhleeze. The fact of the matter is the early years of championship professional tennis were dominated by lesbians (Billie Jean King, Martina Navratilova, Renae Stubbs, Virginia Wade), who tended to have a more severe look (Think Rosie O’Donell, Ellen DeGeneres, and Rachel Maddow). Because the sport is now more mainstream, probably, curiously enough, because of the Williams’ sisters influence, you have young, athletic, healthy looking women, without the severe lesbian look, winning championships.

But this doesn’t stop Leith with his maniac theory, he takes it a step further and, yup, discusses government payments for the "ugly". He trots out Daniel Hamermesh:

What happens if you’re not attractive in this new world? In a chapter titled “Legal Protection for the Ugly”, Hamermesh argues there could be a case for some kind of affirmative action – after all, unattractive people, like those from racial minorities, are being denied opportunities.

“Bad looks,” writes Hamermesh, “can generate an earnings disadvantage of perhaps $140,000 over a lifetime compared to the earnings of an average-looking worker.” And the ways in which an unattractive person is disadvantaged are similar to the ways others – black people, say – are disadvantaged.

He goes on: “The causes of mistreatment of the bad-looking, and their results – inferior outcomes in a large variety of areas – seem little different either qualitatively or quantitatively from the mistreatment of other groups.”

The fact of the matter is that beauty is, indeed, in the eye of the beholder. I have seen plenty of severe looking lesbians walking the streets of San Francisco arm and arm – they obviously see something attractive in each other. But more than that, while the severe lesbian look may not be the general population’s idea of beauty, these women tend to be extremely successful, despite their supposed lack of beauty. It would take a long period of head scratching to come up with female television hosts more successful than the lesbians O’Donell, DeGeneres and Maddow – and I shudder to think what these women look like without their television make-up on. (Note: I am keeping Oprah out of this discussion, but there are plenty of rumors in Chicago about Oprah and her friend Gale).

Bottom line, beauty is one way to make a living and there is nothing wrong with that, but talented people who don’t fit the mainstream idea of beauty can have successful careers if they have a skill or talent, the severe looking among the lesbians are proving this everyday.

Reprinted with permission from Economic Policy Journal.

2011 Economic Policy Journal

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