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Over the past few years there have been frequent articles, blogs, and television shows talking about how looks aren’t important. How it’s what’s on the inside that counts and that “you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover”. I believe that’s true. Looks shouldn’t matter, but they do, and while we can try and fight to change aspects of that it will always be true.

If you hire a lawyer and s/he comes to meet you wearing ripped jeans and a t-shirt supporting some band you’ve never heard of, with greasy hair and visible tattoos, can you honestly tell me you’d be just as comfortable as if s/he arrived freshly washed, and in a nice suit? I believe that in 99% of cases you would be more comfortable with the clean-cut, “normal” lawyer. Maybe you’ll tell me this is different, that that’s about professionalism and in the professional world things are different, but that still means that looks are important to you.

I remember when I was 15 or 16 and I wanted my tongue pierced. I had just watched the movie Thirteen and I really liked how it looked. I told my mother, who wasn’t a fan of the idea. Mainly she was against piercings because of the permanence “what if you don’t want it in 10 years time?”, but in this case she explained something else to me. She asked me if I knew what tongue studs “said” to people (I didn’t). She explained that people often got them for giving oral sex, and asked is that the impression I wanted to give. Now, don’t get me wrong, my mother is a very liberal person and won’t assume that if she meets you and have a tongue stud, but the point was clear. People will judge you based on what they think you are trying to say by how you look.

I sometimes played a “game” when I went to the mall. Sometimes I’d wear a nice pair of jeans and a nice shirt, other times I’d wear dark clothes (Hot Topic style) with baggy chain pants. I was treated so much differently in stores depending on what I wore. In the Hot Topic clothes I was observed much more closely and sometimes followed by store employees, whereas in the “nice” clothes I was spoken to and asked if I needed help. This was the first time I realized just how important looks were. I had been of the “looks don’t matter” bandwagon, but I realized they did matter, not just to me but to everyone around me.

I am not saying this is the right or wrong way for society to be, but I just want people to realize that looks do matter. We can’t go around blindly telling out children and peers to “be themselves” and dress and do what they want without ensuring they know that to others looks are important, and that how you dress does say something about you.

It’s not just clothing, it’s looks in general. Age, for example. There are plenty of studies citing that patients trust older looking doctors far more than younger ones, simply on the assumption that if someone looks young they must be young and therefore less knowledgable.

I see one commercial pretty frequently that shows just how much looks do matter and it’s a commercial for acne medication. I’ve seen it in two formats: one for adolescents and another for adults. Let’s face it, spots are part of adolescents and they don’t always go away after puberty. Everyone gets them. But we are so obsessed with how we look and how others look that we are willing to take and give our children medications with incredibly dangerous side effects just because of a natural part of puberty (as a side note, I understand that some forms of acne are more severe than others, but I’ve noticed that in this country kids are treated for acne when they have just a couple of pimples).

Looks do matter. I will admit they matter to me. Sometimes I think something about a person based on how they dress. I will immediately chastise myself for making an assumption about that person, but the thought still comes. Can you honestly say you haven’t judged a person for wearing something they “shouldn’t”? Or that you haven’t made a guess as to a person’s sexual preference, income, or even belief system based on how they look?

Whether or not this behavior is “wrong”, we need to accept that it happens and that we all do it. Should this stop us trying to change things? I am not saying that, but I am asking that we stop blithely claiming that looks don’t matter when it is so obvious that they do.