"Sexy Beasts" and 'pretty privilege'

Jess Thomson 15 October 2021

The Netflix hit show sees contestants attempt to find love without seeing each other's faces. And yet it can't escape the fact that we are biased towards conventionally attractive people

When I recently settled down for my usual evening routine of simultaneously scrolling down Twitter and watching banal TV, my housemates put on a new show that was so insane it forced me to put down my phone and use my whole brain to watch it.

Sexy Beasts is Netflix's new dating show where people choose their partners based solely on personality due to all the contestants wearing insane animal/alien/dead old man masks. The idea is that the contestants are able to form more meaningful connections by exploring how they get along without seeing each other’s real face, skin or hair.

Sexy Beasts is an interesting concept which puts to task the age-old question: what is more important? Compatibility or chemistry?” says Maureen Tara Nelson, a relationship coach. “Sexy Beasts is experimenting with whether one can exist without the other: can singles feel compatibility and develop chemistry later? I think the answer is yes, because in my experience, chemistry can develop over time with compatibility, but chemistry is no foundation for compatibility to form.”

While watching these horny people chat about their interests, I realised that I, as a viewer, still made assumptions about them, despite their appearance being entirely latex.

I found one contestant quite intense and annoying, but once the mask was off it was revealed that she was actually really hot (not unlike all the other contestants), the level to which she irritated me evaporated. She was cute and quirky rather than grating. How messed up is that?

"While watching these horny people chat about their interests, I realised that I, as a viewer, still made assumptions about them, despite their appearance being entirely latex"

So-called “pretty privilege” is an unspoken undercurrent in our world. We make split-second judgements about people when we meet them for the first time, and if someone is beautiful, it makes us more likely to think positive things about them.

It can even carry over into education and jobs, with conventionally attractive people being more likely to get higher grades, or a new job. An entire episode of 30 Rock was dedicated to this concept, showing a character played by Jon Hamm, who, despite his general incompetence, coasted blissfully through his personal and professional life in what was termed a “bubble” for attractive people.

A Sexy Beasts still

Two contestants dine on the show. Credit: Netflix Media Center

“When people find themselves attracted to someone, they ignore poor behaviour and red flags, often dragging out bad relationships because they’re literally blinded by the other person’s good looks,” says Taly Matiteyahu, a founder of dating site Blink Date.

This flaw in our perception means that people who are conventionally attractive have a huge advantage in life. Sexy Beasts takes that advantage away and lets us watch the mess unfold. It represents a microcosm of a world where hot people don’t have a get out of jail free card—to an extent.

“Despite the fancy prosthetics replacing the participants’ faces, the participants’ bodies are still on display, which allows a component of conventional “attractiveness” to continue playing a role in the process (indeed, in the episode with James the beaver, he confesses to pulling out his dates’ chairs so he can check out their asses)”, adds Taly.

"Nearly every time, they express regret and sadness that they chucked a hottie, suddenly forgetting the reasons they eliminated them in the first place"

The hot person bias is clearly seen in the show, as when the contestants eliminate two of their three options over the course of several dates, they get to see their missed opportunities without their prosthetics on. Nearly every time, they express regret and sadness that they chucked a hottie, suddenly forgetting the reasons they eliminated them in the first place.

Of course, physical appearance isn’t the only way that someone can be attractive—good sense of humour, humility, kindness and wit are hugely important ingredients in the mysterious spell that gives a relationship that special spark. These traits are brought to the forefront of the interactions between the contestants.

A still from Sexy Beasts

The show sees each contestant don an eccentric animal mask. Credit: Netflix Media Center

Sexy Beasts is a social experiment, in many ways, on whether long-term bonds can form devoid of the physical component, and if compatible, can that be the cornerstone of the relationship”, Maureen says. “If you are compatible, chemistry can grow, but not the other way around.”

Is it easier to find a relationship if you are physically attractive? Of course, the answer is yes. But, according to Maureen, for a long-lasting bond, it’s much more important for people to focus on finding someone with whom they are compatible, and then try to develop chemistry afterwards.

Sexy Beasts shows the viewer that even hot people can be bad at flirting and can’t necessarily fall into a successful relationship; what it really takes is the formation of a real connection from shared interests and genuine affection, without relying on the blinding effects of a beautiful face. Ironically, it takes a two-inch thick dolphin mask to strip us to our core and offer our true selves to be loved.

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