I got smiled at

This morning, on my way to work, I got smiled at. I was trotting across an intersection, and this dude who was walking his kid to school made very deliberate eye contact with me and smiled. It was definitely a flirty smile, a “you’re attractive” smile. And my first response was to break eye contact and think about what I was wearing (jeans and a v-neck t-shirt).

And really I only noticed this process because a couple weeks ago I was in the company of the straight, partnered woman who, finding herself in the company of men, noticed that she was putting more effort into being attractive – choosing outfits and stuff.

When she told me that, I went, “Huh, that’s interesting because when I find myself in the company of men I dress to be LESS attractive.” I had never explicitly thought about it before, but that’s definitely what I do. Example: when someone told me that they had heard a group of people talking about me – talking about my legs, actually (I had done a guest speaking thing in a knee-length black and white tweed skirt, opaque black tights, and black and white tweed, round-toed 3.5 inch heels) – I started to wear skirts less frequently. Because… because don’t look at my legs, that’s why.

I’ve talked before about the relationship between perceived beauty and getting your voice heard. What’s weird is that my instinct runs totally counter to the research, mostly. My instinct has always been that if I’m LESS attractive, people will be MORE likely to listen. I don’t know where I learned this, but that’s definitely what my gut says.

But there’s all kinds of research all over the place about pretty people being cooperated with in a game (PDF), appearing in the media, getting a job (most of the time[PDF]), and being paid more (another PDF). Just Google “halo effect” as a starting point if you want to know more. Pretty people DEFINITELY get more attention paid to them – and not just attention to their bodies.

There’s probably some insight I could gain about myself if I tried to get to the bottom of my incorrect intuition – hell, maybe some of you will have hypotheses. But it’s useful to have a reminder of how totally ass backwards a person’s intuitions can be, even in the face of knowledge to the contrary.