Am I Good…or Just Good Looking?: Susan Boyle, Rap, and The Halo Effect

So I said, “I’m going to start working on my mixtape…but I’m not sure how good it’ll be.”

And then with a coy smile, Tomato said (name changed to protect his identity), “I’m sure it’ll be good.”

Then I chortled and asked, “How do you know when you’ve never heard me rap?”

And his reply was, “with your looks, it has to be good.”

Wait. What?

Because what do looks have to do with rap?!?!

I mean, let’s look at Biggie Smalls a.k.a. The Notorious B.I.G. (for the uninitiated), commonly regarded as the best rapper of all-time. This is what he looks like:

“Make sure you get my good side.”

He’s not exactly gonna be pictured next to David Beckham on a bus in a black and white Calvin Klein ad anytime soon (well, part of that is because he’s dead — RIP — but even if he were alive, well…just look up. Yup. Not a model.). In fact, Biggie in his song, ‘One More Chance (Remix)’, even goes as far as to rap this line about himself:

“Heart throb never, black and ugly as ever!!”

And he says it with so much conviction that even if you didn’t know what he looked like you’d believe him.

Okay, now that we’ve established that Biggie is, um — aesthetically challenged — let’s see if there is any correlation between his looks and his rap skills.

This is what Biggie Smalls sounds like:

Baby baaaaby!

So, yeah, he’s pretty good. But he certainly ain’t good-looking. There is definitely no correlation between looks and rap skills — unless it’s a negative correlation where being good-looking means you won’t be a good rapper and vice versa…hold on a minute…was Tomato calling me ugly???

Hopefully. It wouldn’t hurt being as good of a rapper as Biggie was. But I don’t think that was the point he was trying to make. I think what Tomato was trying to say was that I’d likely be a good rapper because I was good-looking.

Which is friggin’ ridiculous.

I’m a good rapper because I practice. :p

But seriously, connecting my subjectively rated good looks to my rap skills is erroneous at best. And as such, in my next trick, I’ll try to explain why Tomato would make such a statement.

Now enter, The Halo Effect.

[The] Halo effect is a cognitive bias in which an observer’s overall impression of a person, company, brand, or product influences the observer’s feelings and thoughts about that entity’s character or properties. It was named by psychologist Edward Thorndike in reference to a person being perceived as having a halo. Subsequent researchers have studied it in relation to attractiveness and its bearing on the judicial and educational systems. The halo effect is a specific type of confirmation bias, wherein positive feelings in one area cause ambiguous or neutral traits to be viewed positively. Edward Thorndike originally coined the term referring only to people; however, its use has been greatly expanded especially in the area of brand marketing.”

This definition is taken from the most academic of sources — wikipedia!

Basically, all the fancy schmancy language in the above definition means this: people tend to think good-looking people are nicer, more charming, more talented, and generally overall better as human beings because they are good-looking. This is untrue. They’re not. It’s a computational error made by our apparently shallow and weak-willed brains.

Now, looking in the mirror (figuratively, not literally — I’m not Narcissus), it’s been said that I’m good-looking. This may or may not be true. However, assuming that the people who have said that I’m good-looking are telling the truth, it makes me think…shit…maybe I’m not as charming or talented as I’ve been led to believe?

Maybe I’m a boring, untalented, hack who’s gotten by due to a fast metabolism and a magnetic smile.

Or maybe I actually am charming. And maybe I actually am talented at a few things. But honestly, the Halo Effect has made me think about how my looks have affected my success along my career path.

This is the part where I give a personal example from my life and try to connect it with my main argument. Here it goes.

I’m a pretty successful public speaker. I get a pretty decent amount of work. I don’t promote myself at all. This blog, which generates as much traffic as a dirt road in rural Idaho, is the closest thing I have to a promotional tool on the internet. Yet, I get a lot of work by word of mouth and one of the most common things said about my personality as a speaker is that I’m charming and charismatic. And I often have questioned myself of whether this is actually true or not, because I don’t feel especially charming or charismatic. To be real, I sometimes display awkward body language and I have a tendency to stumble over words with more than three syllables. But yet, I’m called charming, which is fairly new to me. Want to know why?

Because I was an ugly duckling.

At 16 years old in high school I was about 6-feet tall and 150 lbs, and about 30 of those lbs were in my head. Now that I’m a stout 6’4″ and 200 lbs with functional facial hair I’m often called charming. Here’s the thing — I don’t feel like I act particularly different than I did when I was 16 years old. I’m a little goofy now and I was a little goofy back then. I make intentionally cheesy jokes connecting nerdy things to pop culture now and I made intentionally cheesy jokes connecting nerdy things to pop culture back then. I sometimes smile awkwardly when my “social skills” aren’t able to generate a suitable response to a situation — just like when I was 16. And get this, when I was in grade 11, nobody told me I was charming. Instead, I was just a skinny kid with a big head and few friends who was largely ignored by the opposite sex. So, what’s the difference between high school pariah Asante and audience celebrated adult Asante? Four inches, lot’s of weight, a little bit of facial hair, and better personal grooming.

And now I wonder, what am I actually good at? Am I even good at anything at all? I hope so. Because it would suck not to be. I want to be able to offer something tangibly valuable to society. I have to be able to make a real contribution to the world based on what I can actually do well.

Or I could just get by with my good looks. That works too.

But seriously, despite being unfairly tethered to the lottery of one’s genetics, apparently looks matter. And that sucks. Because there must be plenty of people, like Susan Boyle, whose immense talents get overlooked because they aren’t considered physically attractive.

This is Susan Boyle:

Seriously, the woman can sing.

Susan Boyle was 47 in that clip. Nobody wanted to give her a chance for close to twenty years of her adult life because she doesn’t look the right way for TV and magazines. And on the other hand, again looking in the mirror (again, figuratively), I feel like I’ve been given a preponderance of opportunities in my adult life due to my looks. Which is stupid and unfair. I want to be judged by my actual character and abilities — and not my face, just as Susan Boyle should have been. But, in order for that to happen, we as a society need to stop placing so much importance on looks.

So, with this post, I challenge you, the reader, to be less shallow and to recognize people for their virtues regardless of their physical appearance. Let’s celebrate each other for what we can do, and how we contribute to the enrichment of each others’ lives. Yes, as it stands right now, looks matter, but they shouldn’t. Let’s change that.

Maybe then I’ll know whether or not I’m actually good at anything.

DISCLAIMER: This post is not a 1396 word humble brag. I swear. Seriously. I’m actually engaging in self-reflection and trying to make the point that my success has absolutely zero to do with my skills and work-ethic, and instead has everything to do with my traffic stopping good looks. That sound you hear is your hyperbole meter exploding. Toodles.

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