Last Updated May 11, 2010 2:50 PM EDT
How that plays out in the business world is pretty straightforward: Fat women earn less than slender women. Tall men earn more per inch than shorter men. Former cheerleaders are so much more successful than other demographics that there are recruiting agencies that specialize in cheerleaders.
So what can you do about this?
Go to the gym. There are some things you can't control, but you can control your weight. So if you want to succeed in business, you must exercise. Ninety percent of CEOs work out three times a week because they know powerful people are almost always fit. Successful people also have self-discipline -- as exhibited by their workout schedule -- and there is more research than you can imagine on the benefits of exercise: You think better, you are a better friend, and you have more self-discipline in other areas of your life.
And, of course, fit people are better looking. You might not have a god-given set of great gams, but drop sets in the weight room can give you a great butt. And people want to hire attractive people. Which is logical since attractive people do better at work, according to research published by Gordon Patzer in his book, "Looks: Why They Matter More Than You Ever Imagined."
In fact, you are more likely to do well at work if you are good-looking than if you are smart because, according to research from Tiziana Casciaro, professor of management at University of Toronto, it's more important to be liked than to be competent. People want to work with people they like more than they want to work with people who are merely skilled at their job.
A digression: There is no correlation between getting good grades and doing well in your work because being the hardest worker is rewarded at school but not on the job. So work too hard and you will look lame -- like you have some sort of problem that requires you to put in more hours than everyone else to get your job done. Which is why you should get only 80 percent of your work done and then leave work and head for the gym. Your time at the gym will go farther to get you a promotion than your time at your desk doing the 20 percent of your work that, truth be told, no one at the office cares about anyway. Do you think all your work you do is really important to everyone? If you answer yes, this is a very bad sign. Think about this while you're at the gym.)
Don't complain. The people who are first to bitch about how people should see beyond appearances are usually those who are fearful of being judged by their looks -- and the ones, I might add, who aren't exercising enough. Instead of complaining, just do whatever you can to win at the looks game. So, beyond exercise that means...
Get plastic surgery. What I'm suggesting is not so outlandish. Think about your teeth. If you grew up in middle-class America, they're straight. Good teeth, like a college degree, have become a ticket to play in adult life. Part of the norm.
And there's the hair-coloring example. Some of you might remember when hair coloring was a cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre. Feminists said women should not kowtow to the media by dying their hair to hide the gray. Now, of course, it's a nonissue: Women of every age color their hair, and so do men. Why? It makes them look better. And it's fun.
We are on the cusp of another norm: Plastic surgery. It's easier than ever to find a doctor (look, here's a site that tells you all about it). It's totally okay to talk about (look: even Alexa Joel!) and you can even do plastic surgery on credit (click here with caution). Most importantly, though, high performers hopefuls are doing it right when they graduate from college so that they can get the most from their procedures. Think about it. Plastic surgery is like an MBA. We already know that timing is important for an MBA, and (women especially) need to get an MBA early for it really to help their careers. Well, the same is true for plastic surgery. Where you land at the beginning of your career affects the rest of your career. So the benefits of fixing that nose or chin that has annoyed you your whole life should be done before upon graduation.
So, here's my advice to new grads: Tell your parents you want plastic surgery as a graduation gift. Hate those thin lips? Fatten them up. It'll help you land the job. I'm sorry. But adult life is hard. Getting a job is hard. And the reality is that being bad-looking makes it harder.