James Fell, CSCS
In the movies the overweight couch potato rarely gets the girl. In real life, he is less likely to get the girl, the job, the promotion, the raise, the better insurance rates, or even better grades in school.
No one would argue that adding muscle and losing fat will increase your likelihood of success with the opposite sex, or make your wife or girlfriend find you more attractive. Also undeniable are the health benefits such as improved strength, sexual performance and increased longevity.
What is less widely known is the mounting evidence suggesting that getting in shape can have a significant positive impact on your bottom line.
Getting in shape costs. It costs time, and it costs money. Gym memberships, clothes, training, running shoes and bicycles all take a chunk out of your paycheck and your day. Feeling and looking better, plus adding a number of higher quality years to one’s life are priceless. But in strict financial terms, does the investment generate a positive return?
Hell, yes, it does.
First, let’s just focus on the looking better part. Vanity is a powerful motivator, and I’m cool with people embracing the desire to improve their physique if it prompts them to action... as long as they don’t go off the deep end and start injecting, waxing, tanning, Speedo-ing and posing.
So keep it real, and reap the benefits.
Pretty from the Neck Down
Dr. Gordon Patzer is the world’s leading authority on physical attractiveness and how society is biased based on looks. We’re all a little shallow. Get over it.
Patzer, who has an MS in psychology and an MBA and a PhD in business administration, is the author of six books on physical attractiveness. When I spoke to him I figured that when people think of being pretty, they’re mostly talking about the face, so I was curious about the effect slimming down has on how people look from the neck on up.
“Slimming down will certainly make their face more esthetically pleasing,” Patzer told me. “If their features are well-defined, then this is considered to be more attractive. Weight loss creates a more ‘chiseled’ look.” (No one wants that third helping of bacon filling up their chin hole.)
Dr. Patzer also said that slimming down gives the face “a look of health and youthfulness which allow people to judge them as more physically attractive.”
But we’re guys. It’s not our job to be pretty, right?
Not so fast, informed Patzer. The times of being a fat ass, they are a-changin’.
Although it’s still more important for women to be attractive than men (because men prefer boobs over personality), Dr. Patzer told me, “The increase in the importance of men being physically attractive is growing much faster for men than for women. This is due to a whole change in society, but could be related to women having higher earning potential.”
Women be Picky
See, it’s not enough to be rich anymore. If she’s making some bucks, she’d rather have a pretty boy than a rich one. And if you’re handsome and rich, women will fight over you like your living in an Axe Body Spray commercial.
All of this is making things more competitive for guys, and sales of crap like cosmetics for men (Gak!) are taking off. Personally, I’ll do a bit of manscaping, but that’s where I draw the line.
Patzer says, “Beyond the effect on the face, an impressive physique makes a man more physically attractive, which makes them more likeable and appealing. The reason is evolutionary biology. Historically, these individuals were the ones who could bring food back and defend against attackers. We are more attracted to these people because of their ability to provide more resources and comforts.”
So I guess all that time spent on bench press makes me more accomplished at mammoth stabbing.
Patzer warns that it’s important not to go overboard, however. “We want them to be naturally attractive. We don’t judge them as favorably if they had to do it through surgery, lots of cosmetics or taking a physique to an extreme like a bodybuilder.”
So, we know there’s an expectation to not be a pot-bellied gargoyle, but what about that return on investment stuff?
Buff Man on Campus
As early as elementary school, teachers favor better-looking students and reward them with higher grades, and this trend continues all the way up through college. An analysis of the research asserted, “Physically attractive students usually received higher grades and/or higher achievement scores on standardized tests than unattractive students.” The study explained that it can have less of an effect in college with large class sizes, but because the trend of academic favoritism begins at such a young age, the students are more likely to continue this trend of higher academic performance.
And even large class sizes can be made less relevant when it comes to sucking up, or simply asking for a higher grade. A 2004 essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education polled teachers and students about how attractiveness can affect a student’s grade. “No matter what standards we use for beauty,” the author wrote, “professors are not immune to it and students realize that.” The article also revealed that students felt “the more handsome or pretty (or more naked) you were, the more likely you were to get special help, special breaks, and a specially positive attitude from a professor – advantages that could, in turn, affect your grade.”
No wonder I scraped through the first half of undergrad. I was fat back then.
The Chiseled Career Path
Looks can affect grades, which can affect jobs. However, looks alone can also affect employment. For women, Patzer says, looks are more important at lower levels of employment, but attractiveness can actually be a hindrance for female executives. For men, however, being physically attractive is beneficial to one’s career across the board.
James Fell, CSCS
James S. Fell, MBA, is a certified strength and conditioning specialist in Calgary, Canada. He authors the syndicated fitness column In-Your-Face Fitness for the Chicago Tribune and can be found at www.bodyforwife.com.