~ S P E C I A L ~ F E A T U R E ~

"The Pretty Presidents"

an excerpt from the new book

Why They Matter More Than
You Ever Imagined

by Gordon L. Patzer, Ph.D.
Published by AMACOM Books
Reprinted with Permission

INTRODUCTION LOOKS by Gordon L. Patzer, Ph.D.

In his new book, LOOKS: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined, sociologist Dr. Gordon Patzer presents a wealth of research, backed by real-life anecdotes, exposing the pervasive practice of lookism -- judging and treating people on the basis of how they measure up against a list of physical ideals. "While this subject continues to be studied," Dr. Patzer notes, "a fair appraisal of science’s collective conclusion is that in America, more than in most Western cultures, what you look like -- or more important, how others perceive you -- shapes your life in dozens of often subtle ways from cradle to grave."

The condensed excerpt below is entitled "The Pretty Presidents." It deals with voters' perceptions of physical attractiveness in candidates, especially in Presidential campaigns.

More information about the book, LOOKS: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined, and author Gordon L. Patzer, Ph.D., follows the excerpt.

"The Pretty Presidents"

by Dr. Gordon Patzer

"A clever, ugly man every now and then is successful with the ladies, but a handsome fool is irresistible." So wrote novelist William Makepeace Thackeray, long before the communications revolution that allows the handsome to reveal themselves as fools to millions in the blink of an eye.

Thackeray wrote of success in romance implying seduction: lovers fostering feelings that make the object of their affections feel comfortably desirous about surrendering their bodies, their entire being, to the seducer.

What are modern electoral politics of not campaigns of seduction? Isn't an election much like a courtship, where several candidates, instead of competing for the opportunity to pass their genes along through a single mate, vie for each voter's affection, for the opportunity to pass their *ideas* and policies along? If you examine the process, rather than the result, isn't the real objective of an election to get voters -- objects of the candidates' desire -- to surrender their vote?

Physical attractiveness isn't just important in the sexual arena. Candidates for political office have great concern about optimizing their physical attractiveness (PA), too. And the higher the office, the greater the concern.

America's last PA-challenged president was elected in 1860. Tall and gaunt, Abraham Lincoln had gigantic hands and feet, oversize ears, asymmetrical features that included a too-prominent nose, gnarled, yellowish skin, thick, unruly hair, an awkward, almost comical gait, and a penchant for careless dress. His appearance inspired churlish jokes and childish ridicule, and not merely among children.

Although a principled man and a brilliant orator, Lincoln had never held national office. He won the presidential election of 1860 only after America's dominant political parties, the Democrats and the Whigs, split themselves along geographical lines over that very issue, while Lincoln's new Republican Party, firmly committed to ending slavery, remained united.

Even so, had most voters been exposed to his physical appearance in the modern manner, it is doubtful that Lincoln could ever have won national office. When he stood for election, however, neither television nor motion pictures had been invented and periodicals of his era were incapable of reproducing photographs. Consequently, few voters actually knew exactly what Lincoln looked like, though many had seen drawings or read newspaper accounts.

We live in different times. On television and the Internet, information circles the planet at a furious pace. Video footage of anyone aspiring to high office is ubiquitous. In such a media environment, PA is more than important -- it is vital. As Michael Deaver, an aide to President Ronald Reagan and an enormously successful presidential image manager, famously observed, "In the television age, image sometimes is as useful as substance."


Image is more than PA. It is both truth and lie, both accurate perception and the gap between reality and perception. It is neither policy nor substance but linked to both. Image is deposited in the ATMs of public consciousness picture by picture, slogan by slogan, slowly gathering value and accruing interest in the bank of public opinion.

Ultimately, our image of the president encompasses his character, talents, worldview, style, family life, and reputed sexual behavior. It includes his use of language, speaking voice, repertoire of facial expressions, and mot important, his physical appearance -- which in our media era sharply limits who can even be considered a serious candidate for president.

Consider what happened to H. Ross Perot when he ran for president in 1992. A natural leader who had been elected battalion commander and president of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy, Perot was a brilliant salesman and manager who built a billion-dollar company from scratch, a self-made mogul without even a hint of scandal in his life. When his employees were trapped in revolutionary Iran, he spent his own money to hire mercenaries to rescue them. Patriot, shred businessman and innovative manager, a loyal and decisive leader, Perot was one of the best-qualified people ever to seek the presidency.

But he was short. Very short. He had jug-handle ears. He spoke in a squeaky Southern accent. Although he wore expensive suits, they never looked as good on him as they did on taller rivals. When Perot debated on television, instead of mouthing meaningless but easy-to-recall slogans, he used charts and graphics to make his points. He appealed to people's intellects instead of their guts. He ran against two tall, handsome, well-spoken men and was lampooned without pity by editorial cartoonists from coast to coast. He got a mere 8 percent of the vote.

According to James N. Schubert, a professor at Northern Illinois University, most people, regardless of culture, like male leaders with pronounced lower jaws, sharp brow ridges and cheekbones, and receding hairlines. Tough and strong more than handsome. Schubert calls this look "facial dominance." Think Charlton Heston. Think Steven Seagal. Think Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In the 2004 U.S. presidential election, hunky North Carolina Senator John Edwards scored high in attractiveness but low in facial dominance. Most people gave him high marks on such qualities as honesty and compassion, but Edwards had to work hard to overcome that baby face, constantly reminding crowds that he was fifty years old, mature and experienced, an able leader. Schubert characterized Senator John Kerry, the eventual Democratic candidate, as the lonely resident of a sort of facial no-man's land, rating neither high nor low on dominance or attractiveness.

Another factor for candidates, especially men, is their height, which Rosenberg theorizes is related to the issue of perceived dominance. Others believe that height may also be an expression of our ancestors' evolutionary survival strategy. When a large, hungry bear wants to evict your clan from a cave, which guy would you expect to have the best chance of driving him away?

The so-called Presidential Height Index -- an unscientific analysis of presidential hopefuls since the dawn of the TV age -- shows that the tallest candidate won the most votes in every White House race except a few: In the 1976 contest, five-foot-nine-inch Jimmy Carter beat six-foot Gerald Ford. Ford, however, suffered the handicap of having pardoned disgraced former president Richard Nixon. Even Al Gore (six feet one inch) earned more popular votes than George W. Bush (five feet eleven inches) in 2000.

The 2004 Democratic primary offers a good example of how height dovetails with the phenomenon. The seven men who emerged from the pack as Democratic hopefuls were in general agreement on most issues confronting America, and they especially agreed that the Republican president was not doing a good job.

The tallest candidate was John Kerry, who at six feet four inches towered over his rivals. John Edwards was next tallest at six feet. Al Sharpton was five feet eleven inches; Wesley Clark, five feet ten inches; Howard Dean, a shade under five feet nine inches; Joe Lieberman, about five feet eight inches; and Dennis Kucinich the shortest, stood at five feet seven inches. Because the media habitually mentioned it, several candidates found their height a sensitive issue.


The tallest man, Kerry. Followed by the next tallest, Edwards. Followed by Clark. Though he's an inch shorter than Sharpton, a black man with a reputation for stirring the racial pot, Clark was white and a retired four-star general and actually stood a chance of getting elected.

The general election was a very long and bitterly partisan campaign. George W. Bush, the incumbent president, defeated the much taller John Kerry. Bush not only benefited from holding office during wartime, but also from proxy groups that effectively, if not always truthfully, attacked Kerry's stature as a war hero. He also had a highly motivated voter base that responded to his campaign. All this rendered traditional if unspoken height issues less relevant. Even so, Kerry won more votes than any Democratic presidential nominee before him.

Many voters won't bother to consider any candidate's positions on the issues until and unless they perceive the person has sufficient PA and media manners to be "electable" based on attractiveness and manner. They presume good-looking politicians are smarter than ugly ones, and they see them as more poised, effective, and sociable.

But while attractive candidates are rated as more competent, honest, and compassionate, and as having more leadership ability than their more homely rivals, appearance holds less sway with people who pay great attention to politics, especially those who would be fairly described as policy wonks or ideological die-hards. A candidate's PA matters far more to swing voters with loose party identification who pay little attention to politics than it does to die-hard conservatives, liberals, or progressives.

From all this it seems obvious that if American voters took the time and expended the effort to ascertain a candidate's qualifications and positions, if we all went to the polls armed with issues instead of impressions, we might actually elect the candidates best qualified to represent our interests.

About the Author

Dr. Gordon L. Patzer

Gordon L. Patzer, Ph.D., has devoted more than 30 years to investigating the power and perplexity of physical attractiveness (PA), and is recognized internationally for his expertise on the subject. Committed to scientifically understanding the deep psychological impact and wide social implications of a person's looks, he is the Director and Founder of the Appearance Research Institute at Roosevelt University in Chicago, where he is also a tenured professor and previously served as Dean of the Business School.

Frequently sought out as an authority on how PA affects more than meets the eye, Dr. Patzer has been quoted in The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Sunday Boston Herald, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Harper's Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Working Woman, and Self, among many newspapers and magazines. He has been featured on national television, providing on-camera analysis in a Dateline NBC segment exploring the role of PA in routine interactions and discussing the reality of pay differences based on looks on The Today Show. He has been the voice of discomforting findings on radio heard across the country, including a 25-minute interview on The O'Reilly Factor. He has also contributed compelling research and insights to WebMD, CNN.com, and scores of online magazines and blog discussions.

Before joining Roosevelt University, Dr. Patzer was Dean of the School of Business Administration at California State University. Beyond academia, he has held executive positions with the CBS Television Network and Saatchi & Saatchi, specializing in strategies related to consumer and audience behavior.

About the Book

LOOKS by Dr. Gordon L. Patzer LOOKS:
Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined

by Gordon L. Patzer, Ph.D.
Published by AMACOM Books
(ISBN 9780814480540, 288 pages, hard cover, $23.00)
Available through this site or directly from the publisher:

We all know one hard and undeniable truth: Physical beauty comes with tremendous power, and tremendous benefits. Those who possess it are generally luckier in love, more likely to be popular, and more apt to get better grades in school. But very few of us realize just how much looks affect every aspect of our lives. Recent studies document that people blessed with good looks earn about 10% more than their average-looking colleagues. They are also more likely to get hired and promoted at work. What exactly is this "physical attractiveness" phenomenon and how does it affect each and every one of us?

Dr. Gordon L. Patzer has devoted the last 30 years to investigating this unsettling phenomenon for both women and men, and how it touches every part of our lives. In LOOKS, he reveals not only its impact on romance, but also on family dynamics, performance in school, career, courtroom proceedings, politics and government. "Looks" is the first book to explore how the power of beauty affects both sexes and how the rise of reality TV shows, cosmetic surgery, and celebrity culture have contributed to our culture's overall obsession with being beautiful.

Unflinching and topical, LOOKS uncovers the sometimes ugly truth about beauty and its profound effects on all of our lives.

Copyright ©2007 by Gordon L. Patzer, Ph.D. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this file as long as the contents are not changed and this copyright notice is intact. Thank you.