Those of us who are not stunningly beautiful sometimes feel that the beautiful people are all getting breaks. Research suggests that we're not all paranoid.

Our looks and body types make a difference – not to mention how we groom and decorate ourselves.

According to a 2003 study by a University of Florida professor, taller people made more at the time – about $ 789 more per year and extra inches of height.

In 2011, researchers at George Washington University came to similar conclusions about the relationship between physical attractiveness and higher income. They discovered that overweight men made $ 4,772 less annually than non-obese employees, while overweight women made a whopping $ 8,666 less.

That same year, a Harvard University study found that women who wear makeup were seen as more trustworthy and competent.

While it's obviously not fair to pay more to perform – even if it's likely unintentional – there is research to suggest that good-looking people might develop a confidence that gives them an edge, says Professor Timothy Judge, who conducted the study by the University of Florida and now teaches leadership at Ohio State University.

This guy with the boyish charm or the girl with the beautiful face may have developed an attitude over the years that allows them to earn more for the company.

Is it fair anyway? After all, confidence is not limited to the best of us. Also, maybe you could sell a lot of widgets if only they gave you a chance.

What the courts say

Unfortunately, your mother was right: life is not always fair. It is not necessarily illegal to fire someone for their appearance – either for things that an individual has control over (e.g. tattoos and piercings, makeup and clothing) or for properties that are difficult or impossible to control, like height, weight and facial properties.

Federal civil rights laws prohibit discrimination based on race, religion, gender, or country of origin, while separate laws prohibit discrimination against workers based on age and disability. However, the courts were reluctant to apply discrimination laws to a rising barrage of complaints in a new area. According to a report by the National Law Review:

In recent years there has been a significant increase in claims discrimination based on appearance in relation to makeup, dress code, body weight, body art and grooming. … (But) courts have generally denied an employer's request to regulate the appearance of workers in the workplace. Indeed, courts seldom intervene in employers' business judgments to establish gender-specific standards of appearance and grooming, unless the standards are in a clear and unambiguous relationship to a protected class.

The report cites the landmark case of a former bartender at a Harrah & # 39; s casino alleging dress code requirements for female employees – including wearing stockings with uniforms, styled hair, nail color and makeup with Lip color – a discrimination against women. The court ruled that it was not and upheld Harrah's right to enforce the dress code.

In some cases it can work against an employee to be too attractive. Some research suggests that very pretty people may have difficulty being taken seriously.

In one case in Iowa, a dentist fired his attractive assistant because he and his wife viewed her as a threat to their marriage. That state's Supreme Court upheld the lawsuit, saying Iowa law doesn't prohibit firing someone for being too attractive.

Don't be a victim of DNA

With a few exceptions, those who make adjustments are unlikely to notice that they prefer the attractive at the expense of the less. Like the rest of us, they're only human. The judge urges employers to be clear about how appearance might affect their decisions and to focus on being as objective as possible.

For individuals, especially those who don't look like a movie star, Judge offers this advice: "I may not look like Brad Pitt, but I can make myself look a lot better than I do in my pajamas on Sunday," he says.

In other words, we can all improve our chances of moving forward by making better what we have – looking clean, tidy, and put together.

And it will help to follow corporate habits: if most of the people in your workplace dress casual for business, and you routinely show up in cutoffs and flip-flops, you're probably not helping your career – and you may be breaking company policies at your own risk.

When you're working with something that's less easy to change – a receding hairline, increasing age, or a tough skin condition – take comfort in the fact that while studies suggest looks are taking an unfair step up, the greatest advantage a worker can have but performance is.

So do what you can to look sharp and then make sure you are the one with the greatest talent, drive, and experience to get the job done.

Kari Huus contributed to this post.

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