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The Influence of Globalization on “Lookism” In Workplace Environments of Different Cultures

Zahra Ghodrati*, Joorabchi TN, Abdul Muati

1. Master of Corporate Communication, Department of Communication, University Putra Malaysia H/p: 60142670317,Malaysia

2. Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

*Corresponding Author:
Zahra Ghodrati
[email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

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The practice of discrimination on the basis of physical appearance in the workplace has attracted a good deal of academic interest in recent years. They all found evidences that appearance can have a different effect on one’s career, depending on the occupation. In many organizations, appearance is rewarded either in increased productivity or by consumer discrimination. In his research about globalization and beauty, Geoffrey Jones (2011) confirmed that the growth of the world beauty market was closely linked to the waves of globalization. The aim of present study is to explore if there is any relationship between globalization and lookism in workplaces. Furthermore, there is an attempt to understand how these two phenomena of globalization and lookism vary in different cultures which in return can influence working conditions.


Globalization; Lookism; Workplace; Meaning of Beauty


According to Taheri (2012) if we could take out human being from the universe, there will be no meaning of beauty or ugliness for all existences in the universe. It is us, as human being, who determines and interprets everything in this world to be beautiful or ugly, and it is much related to the theory of relativity. Otherwise, the whole universe with every particle in it is living together without any exception or protestation. But human are stricken to absolutism and forget that the meaning of beauty is a matter of relativity. He is true is saying that it is us as human being who determines what is beautiful or not and then we start to discriminate based on our own criteria. It is not very surprising if you hear a beautiful, attractive, and fashionable person is treated very well and gain extra attention and the other one who is not that attractive, is not attended in the same way in different occasions (Taheri, 2012). Lookism was first recognized as a term for discrimination based on looks in 2000 by dictionary writers. Both the Oxford English Dictionary and the American Heritage Dictionary have included the word “lookism” in the editions published since 2000 (Ayto, 1999). Considering the fact that discrimination based on appearance namely lookism (see also Tietje & Cresap, 2005) may have always been there in human life, a new “ism” word related to appearance shows that it is just recently that the issue is alarming. The concern is that we do not see all diversities as beautiful and we instead create limited ideals of beauty and assess everybody according to that criterion, unaware of the fact that beauty is a subjective matter which is based on relativity. So the problem is not in preferring attractiveness or beauty, the concern is the people who identify what is beautiful, and what factors are involved to build criteria of attractiveness of people in different countries and cultures.If previously, every small size of groups, tribes, cities or in large scale countries could identify norms and beauty ideals, recently, the phenomenon of globalization has hugely impacted the cultural values and has created a united norm of beauty. Multinational organizations, corporate brandings, advertisements, models, movie stars and global media play a very important role by accelerating interactions among societies around the world. Also for Schaeffer (2009), globalization has many positive and good benefits for people around the world and is sometimes inevitable. But does it have the same positive influence on the lookism as well?Among many elements of globalization, global media and visual advertisements are consciously or unconsciously specifying the norms of beauty and these two elements are hugely used by corporations for their advertising purposes. Some may be true in saying that a person’s look is not only a personal decision but it should consider many norms and values. As industries know the importance of this appearance norm, they indirectly educate people to judge based on the norm that they define for the societies. They define what they want to be beautiful by creating market demands for their products and brands. The creation of beauty norms by industries has now a wider impact on people because the industries are not limited to their cultural boundaries but their profit is dependent on the global village. Jones (2008) and Scranton (2001) also admit in their findings that industries play a main role in developing images of beautiful people. If previously, discrimination based on appearance was limited to cultural norms, now it faces a bigger phenomenon, because this cultural norm is turning to global, then individuals may need to transform their appearance in line with a global defined norm rather than their cultural ideals. For Viva & Zheng (2013) international advertising has become a major force driving the globalization of international marketplace, as the global beauty industry directs its attention to more parts of the world. Consequently, judgment based on appearance may not be un-justice but judgment on idealistic basis may be controversial.Although there are lots of researches done in the past decade addressing lookism in workplaces (Spiess & Waring, 2005; C Warhurst, Broek, van den, & Nickson, 2009; Waring, 2011; Witz, Warhurst, & Nickson, 2003), very few have surveyed the influence of globalization on lookism, especially in workplaces which is the interest of the present study. Tietje and Cresap (2005) stated that “in the absence of an uncontested standard of justice, individuals should be free to discriminate on the basis of their own values. This means that institutions are free to enact policies that prohibit discrimination against or benefit in some way those who are aesthetically less fortunate. Institutions may also engage in aesthetic discrimination or refrain from enacting any policies related to beauty discrimination”. Obviously, companies have noticed that hiring, developing and promoting good looking people who have also got technical skills at some level impact their bottom line, so attractive, fashionable individuals are preferred in the employment market. The same result was found by Little and Roberts (2012) in their research about “Evolution, appearance, and occupational success”. What they confirm in their research is that “there is growing evidence that appearance influences hiring decisions and attractive individuals are more likely to be hired. (p. 795)”. Not to fall behind, applicants and employees do extra effort to improve their appearance in line with beauty ideals of the societies including workplaces that are a small representative of each society. Therefore, discrimination based on appearance which is now labeled as “lookism” starts to become a concern because some features of globalization including media and global visual advertisement is influencing lookism regardless of geographical area or cultures.The practice of discrimination on the basis of physical appearance in the workplace has attracted a good deal of academic interest in recent years. They all found evidences that appearance can have a different effect on one’s career depending on the occupation. Given the above mentioned findings from previous research, the present paper attempts to identify if there is a relationship between globalization and “lookism” in workplace environments of different cultures.

1. Is there a relationship between globalization and lookism in workplace environments? 2. Is there any different in the influence of globalization in different cultures? 3. Is there any different in the level of lookism in different cultures?

Literature review

Globalization and Lookism

In his study about information society and globalization, Drori (2007) explains about social life transformation and its change toward globalization and the ways we are moving toward a world culture. As he claims, the placement of a worldwide society with a united culture constitutes national norms and expectations, rules and regulations of diverse countries and cultures. Consequently, the issues and concerns that were previously a national, ethnic groups or familial groups’ concern, are now changed toward human and thus are universal and global concerns. Looking from this perspective, it is doubted that globalization doesn’t have any impact on lookism in organizations. If we look back at the studies and researches done about the history of lookism and also the history of globalization, it is found that the studies about globalization are much older than lookim. However, Jones (2011) in his research about globalization and beauty confirms that the growth of the world beauty market was closely linked to the waves of globalization which began in the nineteenth century.

Lookism “was first used in the Washington Post Magazine in 1978” (Pettinger, 2004; Spais & Konstantinakos, 2008). Before that, the term “Aesthetics” were used in many studies to address the discrimination based on appearance or other factors relating to beauty of individuals. In fact “Aesthetics, introduced to name that area of philosophy concerned with art and beauty, is a relatively recent rubric – which was first used in this sense in Germany in the 18th century (Spais & Konstantinakos, 2008). Implicit in the definition and explicit in the reported data are the connotations “aesthetic” has with beauty and attractiveness (Pettinger, 2004). Also “The new aesthetics is concerned with ‘‘aesthesis,’’ that is, the sensual perception of the reality—and links with consumer research that sees experience as the apprehension of something via the sensorial and the corporeal, emphasizing the importance of embodiment and the link between the mind and bodily feeling (Biehl-Missal & Saren, 2012).

According to Jones (2008) , during the process of globalization the image and beauty industry was mainly under the impact of western society. Presence of multinational companies mainly from western countries based in US and Europe, in all countries played a very important role here. The USA is still the largest economy in the world by some distance, and it accounts for a very high proportion of the revenues of media corporations. Reflecting the economies of scale to be gained in that huge market, US products dominate the world trade in media artifacts (Sparks, 2007). As Jones (2011) outlines, these companies were the main leverage of creating first global economy and from nineteen century till now they have crossed borders and established their operations in all counties. In summary, he outlines how beauty industry was internationalized after 1945, and was spread over other non-western countries. He emphasizes that the beauty culture was transferred all over the world through television which transformed ideals in terms of life style, fashion and beauty. Among all, the United States became a major source of television programming for other countries, with programs dubbed or subtitled into local languages.

Globalization and Culture

Globalization as interconnection of countries could have a very positive impact for all countries as well, but cultures and diversities have started to meld and diversity and individuality has begun to fade. Although for the western industry it was not very easy to influence strong eastern society very fast but “in many cities of the world, the waves of globalization have forced the introduction of strategies to enhance competitiveness” (Eraydin, 2011). The inventions of new products and the need of using them in the east was the best leverage to accelerate the process. Export of products was not limited to skin creams and soap as initial step of globalization, but was expanded to wide range of products which were creating a consumer market and dictating an ideal look. To achieve that, a potential need should be first planned and created in targeted countries till industries could sell their products and have more profit. Product advertisements help industries in that direction. “It is widely known that product advertisement has generally given way to lifestyle adverts. Hence, the language of advertisements is more about the consumer than the object to be consumed (Chaudhuri & Holbrook, 2001). These businesses have no other choice except to address cultural norms all over the world and change them in direction toward global norms and all countries obey these norms without acknowledging it. Changing appearance of different nations in line with globalization is not limited to make up, diets, clothing and hair styles. Following western celebrities, many undergo plastic surgeries all over the world to get the best attraction and have most similarities to models. Sara Lenehan did a research on common practice of rhinoplasty in Tehran, which was presented in a conference about “Globalizing Beauty: Aesthetics in the Twentieth Century” in 2010 in Washington D.C. She explained it as predominantly a middle-class phenomenon and declares that with no expensive prices they undergo nose operation. No matter what age or sex they are, it is as common for men as well as women, either in conservative religious population or modern type families. Lenehan declares that this ideal look of nose is too much westernized, and Iranians just have mostly seen it via their satellite and the first surgeons were trained in Europe and US, but they see this operation a national initiative rather than a western imitation. To confirm studies of Sara Lenehan (2011) if you are an Iranian living in the country, you can witness what the local broadcast and media shows as a life style and appearance of youth is something that governors wish it to be, especially in market place, workplaces and universities. But the reality is that, life style, clothing, body shapes and total appearance of most of the people especially youth is under influence of globalized media which is broadcasted by satellites and product advertising (Grabe, Ward, & Hyde, 2008; Hargreaves & Tiggemann, 2001; Tiggemann, 2005). Although people need to customize the global style to some legal and local norms, they look more modern and western than local in big modern cities, considering the fact that international company’s presence is too limited so the main influence is from the media broadcasted by illegal satellites. In another study, Nath (2011), tried to understand how Indian employees try to adapt a western identity or change their speech pattern or even change their names to assist their social advancement despite being naturally repressive, negating their individuality and belittling their ‘Indian-ness”. These examples show how western world has influenced different cultural appearance ideals by getting help from media, technology, consumer society and advertising as the elements of globalization. In fact, globalization is in a way to teach human eyes to discriminate individuals based on the defined appearance norms as such if a country tries to inclusively limit its broadcast to local, tradition and political standards, it cannot stay away from dominant global image standards advertised by fashion companies, enterprises and celebrities.

An overall review of “foregoing organizational history shows how global developments of a multinational temporary-help company are negotiated in culturally local contexts of work and labor regulation” (Heidi.Gottfried, 2003).This phenomenon affects employers as well, now “employers are seeking to create congruence (or fit) between employee appearance and corporate image” (Chris. Warhurst & Nickson, 2007), and only those workers with the right appearance are employed. However, before the impact of globalization in national level, employees were “selected on the basis of whether or not their habitus matched the national brand image (Williams & Connell, 2010). It seems that all people are living in a global vision in which all norms and standards can’t be limited to one country’s defined standards. Furthermore, these outside visual incidents influence us unconsciously, whether they are big advertisements on the highways or the way people dress up on the streets.Kalantzis & Cope (2011) also emphasized that globalization and diversity are at odds. They emphasized that based on theory of neo-imperialism, in elements of economic, cultural and political cases; the concept of globalization is the enemy of diversity. How can one stay culturally independent when he is globally bond? On economic level how one can eat Mac Donald, watch CNN, use Microsoft and stay away from the trends and influences of globalization? Besides, considering the political level one can understand the impact of politic powers on the rest of the world. Thus, diversity’s role is in its most superficial and trivialized form (Kalantzis & Cope, 2011) .Besides, in employment culture “there is growing evidence of corporate demand for employees who have aesthetic qualities that can be deployed in marketing and branding strategies” (Waring, 2011). Wellington &John (2001) have highlighted the increasing importance of appearance and individual look in a way that employees or as they emphasized service workers must be conceptualized as cultural sign vehicles and this is a result of visual age. It became so important that image consultancies started as advisors to assist corporate employees to change in direction toward the business they decide to join. It is a socio-economic transmit ion which have been more popular in UK and US during past decade and is a consequence of globalized dominated world of signs, symbols and image that emphasize on blurring of economic and cultural factors as they mentioned.

Methodology of the research

This research used quantitative method of data collection. A population of linked in profile was selected for this survey. Linked in is a professional network which connects professionals all over the world, so it can be a good sample to cover respondents who are both in working status and also from different cultures and countries, because the variable of culture was needed to be covered. On the other hand, respondents can be accessible on line and geographical distance can overcome to some extent. The first population was chosen from the connection list of the researcher linked in profile based on language preferences and non-governmental employees. The first reason for doing so was that the questionnaire was in English and the second reason was that governmental environment might also create other influence on appearance with different strategies of working which was not intended to be addressed in this study. As such, 1460 were selected out of 1550 connections of the personal profile of the researcher. Then, the population was divided in terms of its geographical distributions. There were connections from all over the world in the connection list, but some countries didn’t exist in the population. As such, the population was divided into 3 categories of Asia, Middle East and North America/Europe to represent the geographical presence of the available population in the best way. For example, for Middle East with 99 population, 79 (54.1%) for Asia with the population of 43, 38 (26%) and for Europe/North America with 31 population 29 (19.9%) sample size were selected in the present study.The email was sent three times to the selected population, explaining the research purpose and how and why they are selected with a brief description of the nature of the research, asking their voluntary participation in the study and providing them with contact information of the researcher. It was explained that the research did not require the use of their name and that their responses would be kept in the strictest confidentiality. In addition, validity of questionnaire was approved by two of the lecturers in University Putra Malaysia who are experts in globalization. Considering reliability of the questionnaire a pre-test was employed and 20 questionnaires were sent to the respondents. The results showed that the Cronbach’s Alpha was above 0.7, meaning that it was reliable.

Result and discussion

Demographic of respondents

The demographic characteristics of respondents were useful in providing an understanding of the nature of respondents. Demographic characteristics comprised gender, age, working experience, level of education and job level of the respondents. Table 1 shows that, 68.5 % of the respondents were male and 31.5% were female. The respondents of the study ranged in age from 18 to above 40 years. Thirty five percent of the respondents were between 31 to 40 years old and above 40 years old, followed by 26 to 30 years old with 24%. Furthermore, majority of the respondents had work experience of more than 10 years with 60% followed by 5 to 10 years with 22%. In addition, almost half of the respondents were Master with 46.6% followed by 38% were Bachelor. Almost half of the respondents were director with 41% followed by 26% manager.


Table 1: Demographic (n=146)


Table 2: Distribution of Respondents According to Globalization (n=146)


Six questions addressed the globalization among respondents who were asked to respond to each statement based on a five-point Likert scale (ranging from 1= “Strongly disagree” to 5= “Strongly agree”). Among the questions related to globalization “I face a lot with global advertisements in my daily life that shows a beautiful and handsome woman representing a product.”(M =3.26, S.D =0.66) obtained highest mean, following by “Global media with all celebrities and advertisements has influenced cultural preferences of my origin. (Mean=3.14, SD= 0.66), lowest mean relates to the statement “I wish and attempt to look like models in advertisement” (M=2.14, S.D=0.81).


According to Table 3, seven questions addressed the lookism among respondents who were asked to respond to each statement based on a five-point Likert scale (ranging from 1= “Strongly disagree” to 5= “Strongly agree”). The highest mean related to the statement “It is not surprising that if all other things equal, those who dress professionally are consistently given better interview rankings.”(M =3.17, S.D =0.60), followed by the statement “It should be legal to consider a person's appearance as one of many factors for job requirements in some special industries like outward facing jobs” (M =2.86, S.D =0.77), also If I had a choice, I would prefer my workplace have more people who I find attractive” got a high mean (M =2.80, S.D =0.85). For this question however Zakas (2005) found a low mean outcome and related the reason to neutral responses.Lowest mean was for the statement “I have been discriminated because of my appearance in my workplace statement (M=1.75, S.D= 0.68), the findings are consistent with the study findings done by Zakas (2005), followed by “I am more concerned about discrimination based on my look than my age, gender, or race.” (M=2.3, S.D=0.84), which was lower than what Zakas, (2005) found in his study when asked the same question.


Table 3: Distribution of Respondents According to Lookism (n=146)


Table 4: Pearson Correlation between Globalization and Lookism (n=146)


Table 5: The mean differences among culture level and lookism (n=146)

Globalization and lookism

Based on the finding of correlation test, there was a significant and positive correlation between the two variables, (r = 0.717, p = 0.000). According to Gilford rule of thumb table, this relationship was moderate. No previous research was found to find relationship between lookism (discrimination based on appearance) and globalization (media and visual advertisements) but some studies have been done to compare the influence of media exposure on body image. In their study about the influence of media exposure on body image, Legenbauer, Rühl, & Vocks (2008) found out “that media exposure can act as a trigger for body-related schemas, which affects both the attitudinal and perceptual aspects of body image; the results of that study suggest that media exposure acts as a stimulus that triggers body-related schemas. Also according to Lora E. Park, DiRaddo, & Calogero (2008) internalizing media appearance ideals and feeling pressured to meet such ideals were related to Appearance Rejection Sensitivity for both women and men (Park, Calogero, Harwin, & DiRaddo, 2009). The finding of this study confirms previous researches that media and visual advertisements as features of globalization influence on the way people choose to look, what is added value here is that they do this not to face discrimination.

Culture and Lookism

ANOVA was applied to compare lookism across three regions. The result showed that there was a significant difference between the group means. Based on this finding, it was concluded that culture has a significant impact on lookism among different regions of Middle East, Asia, Europe/North America and level of lookism varies in different groups of country. The Tukey post hoc tests indicated that lookism in Europe/North America differed significantly from level of lookism in Middle East , also it indicated that level of lookism in Asia was significantly different from influence of lookism is Europe/North America.

However, according to the result, there was no significant difference between Asia and Middle East related to the level of lookism in those countries. Also based on Tukey HSD test the Europe/North America was significantly different from the Middle East and Asia. However, Asia did not differ significantly from Middle East.”

Globalization and Culture

ANOVA was applied to compare Globalization across the three regions revealed an F statistic of 8.70 that was significant at p <0.05 (Table 6). The result showed that there was a significant difference between the group means of globalization. According to this finding, it was concluded that culture has a significant impact on globalization among different regions of Middle East, Asia, Europe/ North America. Influence of globalization varied in different groups of races. Although the small sample population of all regions may not be a good representation of all regions but it can provide valuable source of information to compare how globalization influence is different among cultures.


Table 6: The mean differences among culture level and lookism (n=146)

Discussion and Conclusion

The practice of discrimination on the basis of physical appearance in the workplace has attracted a good deal of academic interest in recent years (see for instance, Witz et al., 2003; Spiess & Waring, 2005; Zakas, 2005; Warhurst et al., 2009; Waring, 2011,). Besides, Jones (2011) in his research about globalization and beauty confirms that the growth of the world beauty market was closely linked to the waves of globalization. “The basic theoretical debate underlying current discourses on globalization focuses on the relationship between economic and cultural forces”(Banerjee & Linstead, 2001), meaning that culture of people plays an important role in facing globalization. Many factors may influence the behavior and the structure of labor markets within a country. It is “media, in combination with other outside influences, which help to shape the world in which” people think they need to change and be attractive based on the defined norms in order to be successful and accepted (Bissell & Chung, 2009). Depending on which of elements and values are more important for a particular country, and the particular characteristics of the country, it identifies how to face advantages or disadvantages of the new opportunities and challenges dictated by globalization, which will lead to different effects in each culture.While the measurement of attractiveness is based highly on human preference; the level of lookism people perceive in each country is highly related to the atmosphere of globalization influence of that country in recent decades. The cultural and social conditions of the next few decades will continue to be transformed and shaped by the forces of globalization. The cultural response is difficult to predict and will vary from place to place, in line with local histories and cultural roots. Among the features of globalization, the internationalisation of the mass media and global advertising has produced homogenizing cultural effects worldwide, as finding of this study also confirms. It can be argued that the world has become much more discriminated when it comes to looks thanks to the visual nature of media, including television and the Internet, and the constant barrage of attractive endorsers encountered on a daily basis. And beauty care product companies have their key role as they spend great budget on advertising (Reynar, Phillips, & Heumann, 2010; Ye & Cheong, 2012), although the mass media is thought to have the greatest influence on the transmission of sociocultural beauty standards, apart from peers and parents (Tiggemann & Slater, 2004). This finding shows there is no difference among all regions, as increase of globalization cause an increase in the level of lookism. All countries have to deal with the influence of globalization in their labor environment. This finding “shows how race gradually prevails upon geographically and culturally based definitions of beauty to become a common ground hiding” diversity (Fila-Bakabadio, 2015).It can be concluded that invent of new technology and rise of using of visual tools in advertisements and media in general are changing the level of intensity with which the effect of lookism is experienced. Also, it indicated that level of lookism in Asia is significantly different from influence of lookism is Europe/North America. However according to the result, there is no significant difference between Asia and Middle East related to the level of lookism in those countries.The result shows that there is a significant difference between countries and lookism. Based on this finding, it was concluded that this country has a significant impact on lookism among different regions of Middle East, Asia, Europe/North America and level of lookism varies in different groups of country. Furthermore the relationship between globalization and lookism was significant. The result shows that there is a significant difference between the group means of globalization and country. According to this finding, it is concluded that culture has a significant impact on globalization among different regions of Middle East, Asia, and Europe/ North America.There are not many studies that have evaluated the effects of globalization and lookism either within or across countries. This could stand as a platform for future studies to find out how globalization influence beauty norms of different cultures and strengthen the level of lookism in different societies and cultures.



1. Appendix

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