When I was 17, I saw a “hiring” sign in the window of a local bakery, and decided to apply for the job. That afternoon, I put on my most professional outfit, and headed to the bakery to see if I could fill out an application. When I got there, however, the owner looked me up and down and told me all positions had been filled. But when another girl walked in behind me and requested an application, she was handed one immediately.
I knew better than to be surprised. By 17, I was accustomed to strangers treating me as if I were subhuman.
I have Crouzon syndrome, a craniofacial condition where the bones in the head don’t grow. I had dozens of operations to expand my skull and face. These surgeries saved my life but altered my appearance. I’m 30 now, and while my surgeries are behind me, my facial difference has impacted my income, opportunities, and how I’m treated by strangers in public.
My experience at the bakery was one of many similar ones. At 15, I worked at a pizza restaurant. I made $6.75 an hour, which seemed unreasonable when factoring in how customers made fun of me. “Quasimodo,” they sometimes called me. At 20, I applied for a legal internship and was told by the hiring attorney that he’d worked with my “kind” before and the work (filing and answering phones) would be too much for someone like me. After college, I applied for a copywriting position. The hiring manager was impressed with my work until she met me in person. Because of my appearance, she didn’t believe the resume and writing sample I’d submitted belonged to me and made me “prove it” — to show her I could actually write. My twin sister, Zan, who also has Crouzon syndrome, has had similar experiences. She was once asked during an interview to explain her medical history. Another asked if her appearance impacted her intelligence.
In the Western World, beauty is perceived through a narrow set of ideals: white, thin, able-bodied, and symmetrical. Thus, having a facial disfigurement meant having my humanity constantly called into question, which drilled into me a lesson I’ve spent my entire life learning: Pretty people are valued more. They also make more money.
Economists have found that “attractive” individuals who meet Western standards of beauty earn roughly 12–14 percent more than their unattractive coworkers. A 2021 study on physical appearance and income found that for men, greater stature meant a higher income, while for women, obesity meant lower income. There is also a racial pay …….