Wednesday, August 17, 2005
Beauty... or brains?
"If she weren't a model... She would probably have been employed with a software company, ingeniously developing code for a software package!"
That's not a statement one hears too often... but there it is. 21 year old Mashoom Singha is a first class engineering graduate from Mumbai who has just hit the glamour scene. That's her pic and soundbyte from a recent issue of Midday.
Mashoom follows in the footsteps of Shefali Zariwala, the babe whose claim to fame - besides the 'Kaanta Laga' video - was the fact that she was a student of Sardar Patel College of Engineering. One of the 'most wanted' tech schools in Mumbai.
So what's the big deal? Don't tons of engineers usually end up doing something quite different from their original course of study anyways? The Elex gold medallist may eventually market credit cards while the mechanical or civil dudes chooses to write software. Why does the odd grad entering the glamour world cause a collective ripple in the engineering student community?
Books vs looks
It all boils down to well-established stereotype: Beauty and brains do not co- exist.
As in people are either beautiful, or they are brainy (in conventional, IQ terms) Rarely, if ever, do both qualities converge in a single human being.
Folks who clear intense entrance exams to 'most wanted' professional courses are like Pentium 4 PCs. Considering the chip on their shoulders, they ought to bear the same blue sticker: 'intel inside'.
Intel junta are endowed with faster processing speeds and can handle a lot more data than the average bloke. But if there's one thing they generally lack it's drop dead gorgeous good looks.
Why, I wonder? Is it God's way of balancing the universe? Kabhi khushi, kabhi gham. Brains zyaada, toh beauty kam?
As one IITian puts it, tongue firmly in cheek: “There is nothing wrong with the intelligence of girls in our country. It's just the fact that the government does not want us to get distracted so they intentionally select very few average looking girls in IITs (based on the photo they send for JEE) irrespective of their performances.”
Well, well, well. The striking thing is how most discussions on looks - or lack of them - centre on the female of the species. The average female IITian may not be Miss India material - neither is the average male IITian likely to be a finalist at the Gladrags supermodel contest!
But then again, different standards apply. Take a profession where looks are extremely important, such as airline cabin crew. The air hostesses - bar Indian Airlines - will invariably have twinkling eyes, near-perfect teeth and flawless complexions. The stewards will fulfil the height and weight criteria but rarely outstanding in the attractiveness department.
Nothing even half as dishy as the average waiter in Kashmir. Sigh!
Blondes prefer gentlemen
There are a multitude of theories that come to mind.
Firstly, it could be that those who are born beautiful - especially girls - have less incentive to slog and make it through entrance exams. They have enough opportunities, enough self-esteem and enough admiration from the world already.
Conversely, those who are lacking in the looks department would compensate by trying to gain coveted qualifications.
This works especially well for men. Because women generally look for 'high status' when choosing mates. As researchers Satoshi Kanazawa and Jody Kovar of the London School of Economics point out," More intelligent men are more likely to attain higher social and economic status than less intelligent men".
So even though they may be unappealing looks-wise, an IIT/ IIM/ H1 B visa holder who's 'doing well' in life will have tipped the scales adequately in his favour.
On the other hand, conclude the researchers, "Brains are a plus for beautiful women, but they aren't the main attraction.".
In fact women who are beautiful and brainy often try to play down their intelligence. Watch Aishwarya Rai giggling and you’ll know what I mean… How do I conclude she has brains in the first place? Well, I’m guessing she didn’t into architecture school by fluttering her blue-green eyes!
A bonafide career path
Besides, women have to contend with what Dan Ondrack - a professor at the University of Toronto - calls the "Boopsey" effect: If women are too gorgeous, people assume they are airheads.
So why battle these prejudices? Had Mashoom and Shefali decided to go join Infosys or TCS, can you imagine how much harder they’d have had to work at:
a)Proving they were as smart and capable as anyone else
b)Fending off unwanted admirers.
Whatever their reasons for getting into engineering in the first place, it makes perfect sense for them to garb this chance to opt out. And get paid simply for looking good.
Although I must add, ‘looking good’ on a sustained basis is no mean task. It’s not just genius that’s 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration. Much the same applies to beauty.
Va va voom involves spending hours in curlers and under blow driers. Painting on make up, panting in gyms. Constantly worrying what to wear and what not to eat. All of which sounds like harder work than using your brains, to some of us…
But given that you’re ok with that kind of thing – and you get the right break – it is possible to have a ‘career’ based on looks. Not just a few years of timepass.
You can begin with modelling, easily get into television and if lucky - Bollywood. And a few years down the line - if you play your cards right – no more do you necessarily fade away.
Former stars – both major and minor – have plenty of earning opportunities. From starting up choreography and grooming schools to cutting ribbons for designer sari showrooms. They make guest appearances in films and much touted 'comebacks' on K soaps. And at the very least, rake in the bucks hawking miraclulous products on late night television.
Which means that the conventional wisdom, which says ‘get a degree, get a qualification’ is not necessarily any good. After a decade as a model and minor actress, can Aditi Govitrikar expect to ever ‘fall back on’ her MBBS degree?
No, because it’s experience – and not mere degrees – that count. The doctors who graduated with Aditi would have racked up
Marriage as a career
And let’s face it, marrying and ‘settling down’ is also a valid career choice for women. Even those with the fanciest of degrees.
So, beautiful girls who intrinsically know they are ‘in demand’ in the marriage market may choose – and even be encouraged – not to be overly intellectually qualified.
High status (intelligent) men + Beautiful (not completely dumb) women = Offspring with both beauty and brains.
And there you have the question once again – especially relevant if you are a woman: Should you cash in on your dimaag or your derriere?
It’s a beautiful dilemma...