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Army discusses using 'average-looking women' in ads

Nov. 20, 2013 at 11:02 AM ET

Video: An internal memo pulbished on Politico shows that Army officials are considering using “average-looking women” in their ads because they are perceived as “competent” instead of being regarded as having “used their looks to get ahead.”

What’s more effective -- showing a soldier whose face is enhanced with makeup or dirtied with mud?

An Army specialist is reportedly recommending that the Army keep it real when selecting images of female soldiers to use in the media, and show the gritty, not the pretty.

The messages came in an internal email sent from Col. Lynette Arnhart to Army communications officials as guidance for dealing with the Army’s integration of women into combat roles. The email was obtained by Politico.

“In general, ugly women are perceived as competent while pretty women are perceived as having used their looks to get ahead,” Arnhart wrote, according to Politico.

“There is a general tendency to select nice looking women when we select a photo to go with an article (where the article does not reference a specific person). It might behoove us to select more average looking women for our comms strategy,” the email continues.

Arnhart gave an example of what she calls a pretty woman, wearing makeup on duty during a deployment. “Such photos undermine the rest of the message (and may even make people ask if breaking a nail is considered hazardous duty),” Arnhart wrote.

By contrast, a photo used last spring of a soldier with a mud on her face “sends a much different message -- one of women willing to do the dirty work necessary in order to get the job done,” she wrote.

Arnhart is deputy director of the Army’s Training and Doctrine Command’s Analysis Center in Fort Leavenworth, Kan., and is helping to lead “an extensive study of the institutional and cultural factors associated with integrating women into previously closed” positions, Politico said.

Research in social psychology tends to suggest that the opposite concept is true: attractive people, men or women, tend to be perceived as being more capable and intelligent. Take the study published in 2011 that found that people judged women to be more competent and trustworthy when they were wearing makeup. And an Elle/MSNBC.com survey found that in the workplace, attractive female bosses were rated as more competent than their "average-looking" counterparts. Though it's worth noting that the military is not a typical workplace.

Politico said critics seized on the missive as proof that women in the Army are still not treated as equals. Army spokesman George Wright told the site that the comments were “an internal email conversation” and “not an Army position.”


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