Catherine Hakim: “Women were told that exploiting their beauty is dishonest”

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu presented in the social analysis in the 1970s four types of capital: economic, social, cultural and symbolic. These goods – that we could either own or not – facilitate our relationships and help us in gaining other goods. Well, then … After only a few decades, in 2011 the English sociologist Catherine Hakim dared to name another capital, which for her is as important as the others. That became a talking point ever since. This would be the erotic capital! In an exclusive interview for FAUSTO, the professor at the London School of Economics, author of the book Erotic Capital, talks about misunderstandings about the concept and how we can use it to our advantage. Surrender yourself!

Catherine Hakim.

Fausto – Are there people who confuse erotic capital with vulgarity?
Catherine Hakim: Erotic capital is not vulgarity. Gisele Bundchen is one of the most successful and highly-paid models in the world, because there is nothing vulgar about her looks or style. She exercises, and does yoga, to keep her body looking wonderful. Audrey Hepburn played a call-girl in the film Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but she looks very classy and stylish in this film. Style is everything.

Is erotic capital a kind of consciousness of one’s own worth?
Everyone has value, no matter what they do or where they live. Today, many people think that having qualifications gives you self-confidence. In my book, I show that recognizing the value of your good looks can have the same effect. Also, everyone can invest in their appearance, and style, often more cheaply than investing in education. A good haircut is cheaper than a degree.

Does sexual satisfaction make a person socially more confident?
Possibly, but not necessarily. However someone who is sexually satisfied usually appears more attractive to other people. They are relaxed, and have a bloom.

Can a parent’s oppression or repression determine a person’s erotic capital?
All young people have the benefit of the beauty of youth and good health.  Older people are often jealous of this, so they pretend that it is only wisdom and experience that are important. Unfortunately, many young people do not realize what an important asset they have, so they do not value their good looks, which they take as ‘normal’. It is interesting to note that models are given work at younger and younger ages – in their teenage years now, whereas it was in their 20s or 30s in the past. Their erotic capital is recognized by the fashion and advertising industries.

What is the difference between true self-esteem and the ideological justification that intends to make a gender superior to another?
These days, the idea that men are somehow superior to women is recognized as a thing of the past, out-dated. Even so, old habits persist – so that many employers are more willing to pay high salaries to men than to women.

Is using erotic capital at work a matter of intelligence or is it “cheating the game”?
Women have been told so often that attractiveness is superficial, and has no value – so they easily believe that exploiting good looks is somehow dishonest, cheating. Men are raised to think that you must use any advantage, any tool, to achieve the highest status, promotion, the highest earnings, by any method possible. So they have no hesitation to exploit their good looks.

For example?
It is said that David Beckham earned more money from posing in Armani underpants than from his career as a footballer. George Clooney has no hesitation to exploit his good looks to earn money from a variety of advertisements as well as his main job as an actor. Research shows that the CEOs of the biggest companies (who are almost invariably men) are more attractive than the CEOs of smaller companies. Obviously, these men have education, qualifications, intelligence, work experience, etc. However being good-looking as well gives them an extra advantage, which they use to get to the top.

How about women?
My book points out that women have been slow to recognize that getting qualifications does not exclude exploiting good looks as well, both in the workplace, and in private life, and they should be more active in exploiting their good looks and charm.  Walk on two legs! As Mao said.

Are there people interested in the erotic capital having no value?
Many men pretend that their money is more valuable than a woman’s beauty. They argue that good looks fade with age, while money retains its value.  But money can also be lost, sometimes overnight in a financial crash.  Beautiful people are still beautiful as they get older, as illustrated by Catherine Deneuve or George Clooney. Basically, men try to obtain the most attractive partners at the lowest possible price, in terms of time and effort etc.  Intelligent men know that they have to pay, sometimes a lot of money, to get attractive partners.

You present in the book a quote from a Jesuit, from 1606, that says “suaviter in modo, fortiter in re”. You say that priests should be presentable and persuasive. However, do Christian religions not see the erotic captain with fear?
The Jesuits were, and still are, very successful because they understood that a nice appearance is helpful in all occupations, and in all situations.  People who are beautiful and well-dressed attract more friends, converts, supporters, customers, clients, and voters. They sell more goods and services, they are more persuasive, and people remember them in a positive light. The Puritans of Northern Europe, even more than the Catholics, presented beauty and luxury as temptations into sin. They advocated a life of austerity, with plain black clothes, no music, no dancing, no jewels, no luxuries, and hence they were negative about beauty. However in the 21st Century, beauty is a luxury that is increasingly important, and highly valued. Attractive waiters/waitresses get bigger tips than unattractive colleagues, even if they do exactly the same job, in the same way. We have to recognize that, in the modern world, beauty has value.

Eliana de Castro Escrito por:

Fundadora da FAUSTO, é escritora, mestre em Ciência da Religião e autora do romance NANA.