Judging Susan Boyle On Her Looks Was Mean, But Natural

Ever since the video of Susan Boyle singing “I’ve Dreamed A Dream” hopped onto the internet, the world has been talking about her awe-inspiring performance on “Britain’s Got Talent.” This 47-year-old, unmarried, frumpy cat-owner shocked the show’s judges, the studio audience, and YouTube viewers by looking like one thing and sounding like another.

Over the past week or so, people on both sides of the debate have spoken about whether they thought Susan should change her look, and bloggers monitored every little change in her appearance, down to the pruning of her eyebrows. Now, a New York Times article says that snap judgments, like the one we made based on Susan’s looks, are only natural. Part of the reason stereotypes exist is because they help our brains sort out the world. For example, a chair is labeled a chair so that we have a standardized way to talk about the item. It gets a little tougher when labeling people, because no one fits into particular categories quite so easily. Then the stereotype that attractive people are popular and do well in society becomes self-fulfilling, because we have certain expectations about good-looking folks that end up coming true as a result. We want them to do well, so they generally do.

Susan defied the expectations we had of her. According to Rutgers anthropology professor Helen Fisher, “Novelty drives up dopamine in the brain and you feel good.” But a novelty is only novel for so long, and Susan has changed her look to something a little more socially acceptable — covered her grays, plucked her eyebrows, and dressed in nicer clothes. But she never would have gotten all of the attention if there wasn’t this mismatch to begin with. [NY Times]