LEGEND has it that a young Naomi Campbell – already dripping attitude and angles – was “discovered” while gazing at shop windows in Covent Garden.
Kate Moss – younger still, finely chiselled and photogenic – was “spotted” at an airport. The future supermodels were just 15 and 14 at the time. Their long-limbed potential must have been obvious, their good looks already bubbling to the surface.
Yet models – and successful actresses for that matter – almost always refer to their early teenage years as “awkward” and “gangly” and on occasion, “ugly”. It may well have been how they felt, but it probably wasn’t how they looked – not even on a bad day. Still, when beautiful people claim they were just as dreadful as the rest of us when growing up, well, it gives us all some hope of a late transformation.
Of course, at 15, whether you were strutting your stuff in Paris and Milan, or just the school disco (with the vain hope you’d become rich and successful if you passed your exams and might one day marry Tony Hadley), the point is, the future should be packed with possibility, opportunity and the chance to succeed. World and oyster spring to mind. And, it is fair to say, that at that difficult, in-between age, personalities are still forming, minds expanding and spots (hopefully) fading. That’s why they call it “growing-up” – and most of us do, in the end.
But imagine if, at the tender age of 15, life’s path was already set, and chances and opportunities distributed there and then.
It’s a frightening thought – depressing in fact – but according to new research, the key to future happiness and success hinges upon how you looked at that age exactly. Apparently, if you were deemed “good-looking”, the dice were already loaded in your favour.
If you were glossy, as opposed to grim, you were already “significantly” more likely to prosper as an adult. Chances are, if that was you, you’ll be married, have a better job and a higher income, compared with those viewed as less attractive. It really is a cruel world.
Now, the idea of a “beauty premium” isn’t a new one. Happiness, health and income have always been closely linked to physical appearance, but the idea that key life outcomes are determined at such an early age is interesting, and not a little alarming.
The study, by the Medical Research Council in Glasgow, also takes into account factors such as self-esteem and IQ, and the fact is, brains alone cannot save the day.
Certainly, the links between childhood and adult socio- economic circumstances are complicated, but we would do well to remember that such studies deal largely in perceptions – people who are “perceived” to be attractive or those associated with attractiveness. There is always the hope that we can learn to fool others, if not ourselves, when we are adults.
Remember, the truly attractive teenager doesn’t have to try, doesn’t have to work and won’t understand in later years why throwing a mobile phone at a maid is not normal behaviour. (Yes, I am referring to you, Naomi). No, teenage years are supposed to be difficult and angst-ridden, which is why judging our adult selves against our 15-year-old selves seems both ridiculous and unfair.
This week, the women’s minister in the UK government had some advice for parents on this very topic. Jo Swinson told parents they should stop telling their children they look beautiful because it places too much emphasis on appearance.
She believes that mothers and fathers who praise their sons and daughters for combing their hair or wearing nice clothes, are sending out the wrong message entirely – that looks are the most important thing to succeed in life. She’s suggested children should be praised for completing tasks and that mothers should be careful not to focus on body image.
And she’s right of course, only she’s wrong too. The minister may well believe that praising a child for completing a jigsaw, as she has suggested, is a good idea – but if you’re “unattractive” or just a gawky, bespectacled 15-year-old, who, other than your parents, are going to tell you you’re fabulous? Surely life is already tough enough – unless you’re a supermodel of course, which means it’s an absolute cakewalk.