Some might consider it an ugly truth that attractive people are often more successful than those less blessed with looks.
But now our appearance is emerging in legal disputes as a new kind of discrimination.
‘Lookism’, it is claimed, is the new racism, and should be banished from civilised societies.
It is currently the subject of several court actions in America, and some experts say similar cases should be considered here too.
Economist Daniel Hamermesh argues that ugliness is no different from race or a disability, and suggests unattractive people deserve legal protection.
‘My research shows being good-looking helps you earn more money, find a higher-earning spouse and even get better deals on mortgages,’ he said.
‘Some people are born ugly and there’s not much they can do about it. You’re pretty much stuck with your looks.
‘Logically there’s no less reason to protect the ugly than the disabled, African Americans, other racial minorities or religious minorities, as we do. We could even have affirmative action for the ugly.’
But Lawrence Davies, of the Equal Justice law firm, believes we should be wary of amending current equality laws.
‘People who appear to be conventionally beautiful have fewer barriers to workplace success,’ he said. ‘However, protecting conventionally ugly people or offensively linking that condition to a disability would take society in the wrong direction.’
The issue has been highlighted by the case of Shirley Ivey, 61, who is suing her former employer in Washington for ‘lookism’. She left her job at the Department of Consumer and Regulatory affairs suffering from stress after allegedly being told by a supervisor that he would like her more if she was prettier.
Meanwhile, it emerged yesterday that Germans think the average European looks just like them, while the Portuguese believe a Mediterranean appearance is more representative.
A study published in the journal Psychological Science found that when we are asked to describe a group we belong to, we tend to attribute our own features to that description.
Roland Imhoff, of the University of Bonn, recruited two sets of participants, in Germany and Portugal, and asked each person to study 770 pairs of pictures on a computer. The pictures were based on the same composite photo but had been subtly altered.
The subjects were asked which photo they felt looked most European.
Mr Average for the Portuguese group was a darker man with wider-set eyes.
But the person considered to be the average European by the Germans had lighter hair and Germanic features.
Dr Imhoff said: ‘It may be that this is just a sort of mental shortcut people use to think of an abstract concept, like “European” or “American”.
‘It may also be that people are expressing a kind of subtle belief that they think their group is better than others.’