Pretty privilege: How being conventionally attractive takes precedence over talent


As teenagers at an all girls school, it is really easy to fall into the trap of comparison. Many of us don’t feel like we’re smart enough, funny enough, athletic enough, pretty enough. And living in a society where beauty is prioritized and rewarded, it can feel impossible to try to ignore the pressure of living up to these expectations. So if it’s something that affects and hurts us all in our daily lives, why are we guilty of putting that weight on others, too

We are all guilty of judging others based on how they look. Sometimes, we talk badly about others and point out their insecurities. It’s easy to feed off of others’ problems to make yourself feel better about your own. But, we also prematurely judge those who somehow manage to live up to society’s standards of perfection. We can tend to feel that if they’re that gorgeous, with perfect skin, silky hair and sculpted faces, that they must be perfect in every other aspect of their lives as well. 

Pretty privilege is the notion that people who are conventionally attractive are given more opportunities than those who are not. But you wouldn’t like someone more just because they’re attractive, right? You wouldn’t be so cliche that you would prioritize looks over substance?

So…let’s talk about Harry Styles. He’s undoubtedly one of the biggest celebrities of our generation. He can sing, act, is charming, but most of all, he’s handsome. But is he really worth all the hype? Sure, he has talent, but have you actually listened to his album this past year? Or is his just the first name that pops into your head when someone asks, “who’s your celebrity crush?” 

Throughout his career, Styles has obtained 42 awards out of a total 119 nominations. His dedication and hard work has paid off, growing his fan base to about 35,384,650 monthly listeners on Spotify. While acknowledging that it takes talent and skill to maneuver throughout the entertainment industry, some of his success must be attributed to Styles’ style itself. Whichever era of Harry was your favorite, nearly everyone has had a crush on him at some point or another. His looks and fashion sense have transcended him much further than his former bandmates and transformed him into an icon. 

When listing celebrity crushes, while Harry Styles is usually at the top, Ed Sheeran’s name is rarely even mentioned. In fact, he has become a meme over the past several years simply because of his looks. However, this criticism has not stopped Ed Sheeran from becoming one of the top singer-songwriters currently alive.

Despite constant feedback, Sheeran has obtained nearly 70,000,000 listeners on Spotify each month. He has earned 43 awards out of 107 nominations and every single he drops can reliably be found near the top of global music charts. When, in 2017, both Sheeran and Styles dropped albums, Sheeran’s single, “Shape of You,” sat at number one on both global and US charts for 12 weeks and his album “Divide,” was the most streamed album of the year, catapulting two of his former albums to numbers 3 and 16 for the year. In comparison, Harry Styles’ single, “Sign of the Times” was 19th in sales and his album, “Harry Styles” only made it to Billboard’s 39th spot on the year-end charts and did not even make the top 200 globally. According to numbers alone, one of these musicians is noticeably more talented and successful than his counterpart. And it would be that way, when half of the reason one is famous is not based on musical talent, but looks. 

Although Ed’s albums and singles are more reliable and popular than any of Styles, it is Harry that we fangirl and obsess over. This begs the question, what would happen if each man kept their own talent and voice, but switched bodies?

How much more popular would Ed Sheeran be if he looked like Harry Styles? Likewise, would Harry even be on our radar if he looked like Ed Sheeran? And why do looks have so much to do with what we listen to, if it makes no difference to their voices what the men look like? Two words: pretty privilege. 

Normally, when we hear those words, we think of the Kendall Jenners and Bella Hadids of the world. Our minds instantly associate them with supermodels and women as a whole. But this issue relates to a lot more than just those who are given a platform just for being attractive. 

Men are gaining more and more fame in the music industry because of the attention listeners give to them based on their appearance. Fan attention has a direct correlation to how much a celebrity is talked about, and whether that talk is skewed in a positive or negative light. Harry Styles, an objectively attractive man who fits societal standards, is gaining more and more attention for a talent that doesn’t even come close to that of Ed Sheeran. Sheeran, who does not fit the average person’s definition of handsome, is constantly memed and humiliated on the internet, rather than being praised for his musical talents. 

Pretty privilege is everywhere. We feel the pressure to become what society deems “beautiful.” We also continue the cycle of putting beauty over talent. We decide who we listen to, what we watch, how we live our lives based on aesthetics. And most of the time, that jeopardizes exceptional musicians like Ed Sheeran, while uplifting mediocre ones such as Harry Styles. 

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