Should professors let themselves be perceived as “hot”?

An article in The Chronicle of Higher Education discusses the propriety of attractive looks in the academia.  This is a photo of an actual professorThe comments to the article indicate the issue is hot within the academic community.  Here’s a selection:

“That’s just offensive to anybody who takes the life of the mind seriously.
We’re not there to be ‘hot’. We’re there to teach.”

“I would like to hear about professors’ experience as they age. What happens to their ratings and evaluations? Are they taken more seriously, or does ageism lead to negative perceptions?”

“Making a conscious effort to look ‘cute’ – rather than, say, ‘presentable’ or ‘professional’ – in order to make conversations about difficult topics such as race and prejudice easier is troubling to me. Are we now training students to take seriously only people who get their libidos revving?”

“An over-emphasis on physical beauty is the sign of a declining culture. We’re supposed to be saving it, not hastening its demise. For me, I think that means accepting that I can’t be sexy in the classroom, even though that might make my evals spike up a point.”

“Being sexy, even ‘erotic,’ as a professor is great. The main point is to drive, to inspire, the students to do work. I use the odd term ‘erotic’ to confront. Bottom line is, is the classroom cooking with good things? Are students getting their minds, skills, knowledge, and mission developed? Is their world opening up for them? Are they gaining a foundation? As far as clothing, I… would just as soon teach nude and in a scratchy wool blanket, as in an orange Buddhist monk suit. Who cares? Sensuality in and of itself can be a good thing, though some students will freak out and complain, the ones who leave the mountain of fast-food 48 oz. drink containers piled in the trash on their way out the door.”

“In a perfect world, I think these ‘rate my professor’ sites are a problem, as well as the distracting attention of student reviews and adminstration that relies on them. For a real teacher doing real work, it is like there are three people in the room, and two of them do not what is going on and are conspiring toward you.”

“Real world advice coping: If you know your business, give no heed or attention to student reviews of any kind. Don’t feed the troll.”

“…being attractive is not a crime, and should not be considered a liability. It may well be that most of us in academe are carrying over into our professional lives the bruises of our high school and undergraduate years, when attractiveness was about the only thing that counted for anything, and it hurt not to be the one getting the attention. So we look down on the few in our ranks who actually could have won that attention back in the day, and are still winning it now. We should bracket our past hurts and do what we claim we do: judge our colleagues on the basis of their work, and not on the basis of their appearance.
That said, it is really disturbing that a professor would actually accept as a legitimate tool the use of personal attractiveness against a student’s resistance. The description of “cute” for a dress evokes, in my mind, a particular intention to appeal to the male student population. I do not know what’s going on in the classroom, but, based on the language, I don’t think this sets a good precedent.
Now, dynamism is inherently attractive, and professors have been employing rhetorical devices for millennia (rhetoric is the third stage in the trivium). I’m not suggesting that the only tool in our bags should be Venn diagrams and syllogistic reasoning. But just looking sexy isn’t supposed to be a part of what we do as professionals.”

“I actually get rated many a chili pepper and am loved by my students. It bothers me tremendously that they want to party with me more than listen to me.
I’ve actually converted most of my courses to online, because I prefer to have them treat me like a human being than a piece of meat.
I never dressed in a sexy way and yet I constantly got student evals of ‘nice rack’ etc.
It’s offensive that professors cannot be taken seriously for what they have to say. Hence, my comment about life of the mind. It’s not about what we look like, it’s about our attitude and what we think, say and do that is important.”

“I’m on my first campus without an RMP chile pepper. I did get a ‘nice to look at’ at age 62, here, though. 😦 Sic transit gloria mundi…”

“I think that it is disrespectful to your students to not dress appropriately, that would include at least a tie and dress shirt for men if not a suit. You are the adult; the person with knowledge. Professors should act that way.

“Clothes make you confident, and confidence is everything in the classroom.
Students, who just so happen to be human beings, respond to confidence, and that more than mini-skirts and low-cut blouses are what make a person ‘hot’ nine times out of ten.”

“…None of the hot profs pictured above strikes me as especially bodacious. They all look presentable, even if Gary Hoover has a nasty itch on his back that he can’t quite reach and Robert Brinkerhoff is trying to accomplish what the great George Carlin called “The One Cheek Sneak.” But they just don’t seem all that hot to me.
What’s the problem here? Am I not getting their hotness? Do the rest of you look at them and simply swoon? Or are the standards of ooo-lah-lah actually that low in academe? And do I really have to shave my head to be a hot guy?”
“As a former ‘hottie’ who has aged into her 60’s, I have some experience and perspective. And yes, I no longer get hit on, but I believe my age has added to my credibility, even though at times (rarely)I hear favorable comments re my appearance. I’m also aware that I see my older self very differently, and my dress has changed. I think women who want to be ‘hot’ and still respected for their abilities need to spend some time exploring the difference between sexy and feminine. There IS a downside to being consciously attractive — some colleagues resent it, and some students feel competitive. Re sexual advances, many students have ‘teacher fantasies,’ and vice versa.
After 20+ years as a communication perfesser, including discussions on clothing messages, self-concept and public image, and social climate, I’m very clear that ‘hottie’ perceptions about women are strongly influenced by choices in appearance and behavior. Certainly less so for men, as they have fewer choices in ‘constructed’ appearance. When I was younger, at the beginning of each semester I would wear more formal business attire (less form-fitting and revealing) and darker colors to establish my credibility and authority. I did this to offset my appearance, which certainly was influenced by my self-perception as an attractive woman.
As individuals we have a great deal more influence on how others relate to us than we might think. This does not mean we are responsible for others’ reactions, but it’s foolish to pretend that how we present ourselves isn’t influenced by our self-concept and how we interact with others.”

“Age takes its toll, alas. However I was egotistically gratified–to borrow from a prior correspondent–when a student observed that I was ‘still kinda sexy, like the Stones are.’ I suspect the student was referencing Mick–although you never know with Keith–but nonetheless having grown up as a Stones’ rather than a Beatles’loyalist, it was a nice touch. Now, if the reference had been to Jimbo…..

“okay, I will admit it…I keep a fire extinguisher behind my desk for those occasions when even I have to admit to myself…’I am just too hot today’…got me

“For a bit of related entertainment see College Candy’s discussion of professor crushes. Especially read the comments. Crushes are quite the norm…”

“One thing that no one has really addressed(I guess because we are not supposed to care)is that rating professors’ attractiveness can be hurtful; Rate My Professor has now added a ‘not hot’ selection, whereas before students had the option of choosing ‘hot’ or skipping it. Moreover, when you get selected as ‘not hot’ it takes your hotness score down.
The whole thing is absolutely ridiculous and I really resent being put out there to be judged that way in a public forum. My job has nothing to do with being hot and to have a public website that allows people to evaluate me as such is deeply offensive. Nonetheless, it does hurt my feelings (and other young female professors I know)when a student rates me as distinctly not hot. I am a human being outside of my job that struggles with my own image issues while living in a culture in which women are constantly bombarded with unrealistic ideals of beauty and told that their most valuable currency is their appearance. For the young TAs I work with, many of whom are only a few years older than their students, these ratings can be especially hurtful.
Obviously, the wise thing to do is to stay off RMP; however, at least at the schools I have taught at, the students take those rating quite seriously when choosing courses and professors, and that being the case, I want to know what is being said.”


6 thoughts on “Should professors let themselves be perceived as “hot”?

  1. While I think everyone should try to look their best (a la What Not to Wear, not Vogue), I certainly don’t think anyone should let attractiveness be determined by RMP! And Helen Mirren is still pretty hot, despite being older…

  2. This is an email I received from The Daughter:

    I actually made it online today for more than 5 minutes and for more than watching the next LOST episode, and I was so surprised to see your blog with a muscle man on it! And VS girl too! Oh my! Well, here is my comment because I don’t know my password for your blog, and anyway I give stupid comments no one else should read:

    Being “hot” helps. There’s no doubt about it. It’s a foot in the door for getting the attention/respect/adoration of students. I think a good looking teacher can be a breath of fresh air and students want to be there. For some reason you get some initial respect if you’re good-looking, as if you’re somehow going to be on “their side.” Obviously, this is an initital impression that will or will not change as the students get to know the real person who is their teacher. And even more obviously, you don’t have to be hot to give off such an initial impression, either. But, fact is, it is just one of those things. Babies prefer attractive faces over convoluted ones, and students like their teachers to look good.

  3. I once read about “a study in which they found that” emergency room staff work harder to save people whom they think are attractive. A little more life and death than your RMP chili score!

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