Teen Blog: Why Beauty Over Brains Isn't Always an Easy Choice

How a discussion about art became a debate about plastic surgery

by SHFamily | Mon, November 20, 2017

By Ryane Liao

Teen columnist Ryane talks to us about why beauty over brains isn't always an easy choice.

Would you rather be extraordinarily beautiful with a subaverage intelligence, or extraordinarily bright with a subaverage appearance? This is a question that was somehow brought up in a class of mine, where a discussion about art turned into a debate about plastic surgery.

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You’d expect that in a classroom of high-achieving, well educated seniors, the latter would be the unanimous choice. You’d expect people to be cerebral enough to choose what really matters, what really has value, instead of the superficial and materialistic alternative. But expectations aren’t always met. As we raised our hands indicating our decision, I noticed that while all the guys chose math over muscles, every girl in the room collectively chose beauty over intelligence. Including myself.

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I don’t believe our choice reflected a distorted system of our values, but rather a clear-sighted pragmatism; an understanding that, as a woman, we’d get further ahead by being beautiful. Beautiful people tend to have advantages in job interviews; can make a living off of what they look like; can rely on the support of others and they sure seem to ride through life having a better time. It’s chilling to me that in 2017, as girls we still see beauty as preferable to intelligence. And it’s not our fault! The notion of having to look a certain way is something we grew up with.

Even as a feminist, a writer, and someone that loves school more than anything, I find that being praised for looking nice feels better than being praised for writing a good essay. Somehow, the approval of my appearance is more gratifying and symbolic of success than that of my work or achievements. Which grosses me out even as I’m writing this.


As I left the classroom, I regretted my choice immediately. Not because I felt I’d revealed a shallow side of myself, but because I knew better. I know I’m worth more than that. And maybe beautiful people have it easy, but maybe they don’t. Maybe every pimple, every piece of cheesecake, and every bad haircut is a threat to how people see them. I walked through the hallways thinking about my studies, every time one of my female classmates scored the highest in the class, and I realized how silly we’d been. Our generation of young women are on their way to make a real difference in the world.


A difference that closes wage gaps, discovers cures for diseases, and proposes systems that ease climate change. In the face of everything a beautiful mind can bring to the table, a pretty face just doesn’t seem quite as attractive. 

Ryane is a high school senior at Shanghai American School, Puxi. She was born in Taipei, Taiwan and has lived in Shanghai for 11 years. Her interests include poetry, literature, rap, rock music and playing piano.