The collective female swooning at Mombasa Governor Ali Hassan Joho, the excitement when curvaceous policewomen's pictures hit social media streets, the manner in which our eyes remain glued to the sensuous people on reality shows; nothing gets us going like beauty.
Study after study has informed us about how for people born with good looks, life is a silver tray offering them everything they want. From the seminal 2011 book Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful by economist Daniel Hamermesh, to the tomes of academic papers and newspaper articles fighting to prove this link, science has for a long time supported theories around the bounties beauty bestows.
As data has revealed, regardless of gender, better looking people get jobs quicker, earn higher salaries, rise in promotions faster, get access to loans with lower interest rates, sell more as sales persons and real estate agents, do better in politics, are rated better as teachers and end up happier. A whole field of study – pulchronomics – exists, exploring beauty and its economic ramifications. Beauty is regarded as a scarce commodity which commands a price.
A 2013 study by evolutionary biologist Gert Stulp showed that taller men make better leaders. "Tall men are more likely to win the popular contest in presidential votes and to be re-elected once in office. They are also happier, have higher self-esteem and are less likely to have jealousy issues.
But do good looks actually guarantee success?
"Looking a certain way gets you through doors faster. If two people are looking for a job, the better looking one will get it, especially when it comes to jobs in customer service, airlines and others in the hospitality industry. Have you ever been to Chase Bank? It's like Miss and Mr Kenya finals. I don't think it's as bad for men as it is for women. In most companies, the mid-level management is still mostly male, and they are the ones who give the jobs." Anita Njeri, a political consultant believes.
Carol Odero an image consultant agrees: "Much as we like to pretend, we live in a very image–conscious world. The more attractive you are, the more money you earn, and the more successful you are. Women who wear no make-up in general are taken less seriously than those who do. There was a study that showed that more attractive CEOs such as Marissa Mayer of Yahoo tend to have their companies listed on the stock exchange more often and perform better. It's not just looks but grooming and taking care of your body. People who look like they work out get more traction in their careers."
Kiki Kasera, an architect who runs her own firm In5 Architects and has been a television personality (she was in Nairobi Diaries Season 1 and hosted a TV show, Ideal Interiors) is one of these flat out gorgeous people that these studies seek to understand.
"I wouldn't say good looks mean an automatically better life. It depends on what forum and career path, and who you are dealing with. Sometimes there is a general preference for people who look good, but this can work for or against a person. If you are a good looking person in a senior position, some people can have the mentality that you slept your way to the top, especially for ladies. Again if you are dealing with people professionally, you may have that setback of continually trying to prove yourself because their first impression of you might be- this is just a pretty young thing who doesn't know what she is doing."
Angela Muhindi, an engineer with above average looks has mulled on this question for a while. "I have seen instances where looks help. I would be chasing a project and after getting it, one of my colleagues would inform me that the person gave me the project because he liked me. All of us who had pitched were capable of delivering on the project but people will always want to be associated with those who they feel emotionally connected to and beauty causes emotional connections. If you are competing with your equals, looks make you stand out."
Dr Owuor Olungah, an anthropologist at the University of Nairobi however does not subscribe to this ideal. "Do people who are considered beautiful and do not give in to their seniors advances, get promoted? Is it just beauty or beauty available in a sexual relationship that is looked at? Is it that good looking people will get promotions and then must be available sexually? And then what happens when they don't want to continue? This research needs to be interrogated. Statistics tend to lie and some of the variables interrogated further, would break down."
Olungah probes further. "Tell me of a Kenyan who has been successful through their beauty. If you want to look at examples such as Joshua Oigara, Tabitha Karanja, or Gina Din Kariuki you must then break it down. Is Oigara a successful head of a company because of his handsomeness or his intellect, work ethic and network? Is Tabitha successful because of her beauty or her entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen?"
Olungah is firmly against binaries and absolutes. "There are very beautiful and handsome people in bad marriages who have remained very poor. There are others who have exploited their beauty and capitalised on it and made a lot of money. This idea that good looks mean higher chances of success is a myth. Beauty is in the shop nowadays. It could be that beautiful women are not actually successful, but that successful women enhance their beauty because they can access expensive cosmetics and procedures."
Dark side of beauty
Other research on the other hand, states that there is a dark side to beauty. A Columbia psychologist Heidi Grant Halverson's book No One Understands You and What to Do About It shows that in job interview situations, hiring managers give lower marks to people of the same sex who they view as more attractive and therefore more threatening. More attractive people are also more likely to be singled out as prey by lecherous superiors in school or the workplace, with resultant backlashes when they fail to reciprocate on the favours given. Studies have also shown that attractive people tend to have shorter relationships, and of course there's bimboism, the stereotype that beautiful people are less intelligent and capable.
For Angela, beautiful people might even be disadvantaged by their looks. "You sometimes see good looking people sitting back and then others who are not so good looking having to work hard. Average people can then easily supersede the good looking ones."
Carol Odero believes beauty is just but a small percentage in the success game. "Beauty is going to open the door but intellect will keep you in the boardroom. Arm candy does not work in real business. It has an advantage in entertainment and sports but in other spheres, you must have the brains and be ready to do the work."
It could therefore actually be that beauty does not equal success. If it did, the Forbes and Fortune 500 company lists would be swarming with beauty queens and Calvin Klein underwear models. On the other hand, the research makes it clear that we are fascinated and react unconsciously to beauty, even to our own detriment (remember the Simple Homes scam?). Beauty is a form of capital which when used judiciously, can have good returns. But those banking on it as their be-all end-all need to know that it is but a short term asset. Beauty has an expiry date and they would be wise to diversify their portfolios.
Would you marry a very attractive person?
The narratives in numerous African tales, from Elechi Amadi's The Concubine to Grace Ogot's The Strange Bride and Chinua Achebe's Uncle Ben's Choice, with their array of spectacularly stunning characters, have overtly stated that beautiful people are trouble and should be kept away from. We asked a cross-section of Kenyans if they felt the same way. Would they be afraid to marry a very attractive person or did they see nothing wrong with it?
Edwin Buhere, creative manager in an advertising firm: No, I would not be afraid. A very attractive spouse is a human being just like the rest of us. What counts is the relationship between the two of you and just making sure that she's happy.
Nancy Cherotich, humor writer: Yes, I would be afraid. Have you ever encountered the ego of a very good looking man? These people believe that the world should come to a stop in their presence. They cannot be corrected because they are 'hot' and everyone wants them. Their thinking is 'How can you not give them attention? Do you know how many women are willing to do anything for them?' They want you to behave like a cult follower. I don't have the energy to deal with all that drama. Rumour also has it that they don't put any effort when it comes to sex.
Maria Kenya, fashion designer: Yes, I would be afraid to marry someone very good looking, I do not like suffering. A man might be very good looking but then have no brains. Being with someone of low intelligence and having to live around them is suffering, no matter how good looking they are.
George Odhiambo, lawyer – Personally, why should I be afraid? Beauty does not necessarily come with poor morals, it's about how an individual wants to be. You can get either a very beautiful or ugly person that sleeps around. The only problem with beautiful ones is that a lot of people will be attracted to them so there will be more competition.
Angela Muhindi, engineer: I would personally not be afraid, but I would agree that some people are actually afraid of marrying beautiful people. If you are good looking and highly achieved in your career, people will keep off you. If you're pretty and dumb, it's easier than if you're pretty and smart. Because guys think that with all that brains and beauty, you are too much for them and they can't handle you. A lot of people look at me and do not understand why I am still single, and so they just shy off.
Awuor Ponge, development expert: Yes, I would be very afraid to marry an attractive spouse. But that is not to say I married an ugly spouse, far from it. As the sages of old said, marrying an attractive spouse is like planting maize by the roadside, every passer-by wants to touch and feel it is ready. Men will always be looking at your wife every time she passes by, and this complicates issues when you are walking together.
Do tall men have it easier?
1. They earn more. Did you know that 90 per cent of Fortune 500 CEOs are of above average height? More than half are six feet tall.
2. They are more authoritative. According to a study by evolutionary psychologist Gert Stulp, taller men command more respect and attention as soon as they walk into a room full of strangers.
3. They have better hearts. According to research by the University of Leicester, every 2.5 inch increase in height lowers your chance in developing coronary disease by 13,5 per cent
4. They have lowered chances of dementia. Researchers from the University of Edinburgh found that men who were 5ft 5in inches or shorter were 50pc more likely to develop, and die from dementia, than those who were 5ft 8in inches or taller.
The average height of the Kenyan man is 5ft 7 in (170 cm). Netherlands is the country with the tallest men with an average height of 6 feet. In Africa, the Tutsi of Rwanda are the tallest men at an average height of 5 ft. 11.9 inches