By Wayne Besen Anything But Straight

Giving new meaning to a pyramid scheme, a recent New York Times article discussed how the pharmaceutical industry hires college cheerleaders as its drug representatives.

“They don’t ask what the major is,” T. Lynn Williamson, a cheering advisor for University of Kentucky, said of the drug companies who turn to the school to find pompom pill pushers.

Of course, the pharmaceutical giants would have us believe it’s coincidental that their reps look like runway models. Lambert Amoretti, a spokesperson for Bristol-Myers Squibb said that hiring cheerleaders “has nothing to do with looks, it’s the personality.”

And all this time I thought it was portly gals, such as Ricky Lake circa “Hairspray,” who had the great personalities. I guess you learn something new every day.

Not everyone is buying the silly spin.

“There is a saying that you’ll never meet an ugly drug rep,” the University of Michigan’s Dr. Thomas Carli told the Times.

Before we get upset at the pharmaceutical companies, we should look in the mirror. The most important decisions we often make have more to do with the superficial than the serious. For example, author Malcolm Gladwell wrote in “Blink,” his best selling book, that when it comes to choosing CEOs, the size of the body is more important that that of the brain:
“In the U.S. population, about 14.5 percent of all men are six feet or taller. Among CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies, that number is 58 percent. Even more striking, in the general American population, 3.9 percent of adult men are six-foot-two or taller. Among my CEO sample, almost a third were six-foot-two or taller.”

No wonder Ross Perot is nuts and Napoleon had a complex! They had to overcome incredible odds. If you apply this to presidential politics it seems that platform shoes matter more than the actual platform. Which just goes to show how inept the Kerry campaign was, with the taller man coming up short.

Unattractive people also have the misfortune of being less memorable. Another Times article points out “the power of a “‘distinctive face’ often renders actors who possess them paradoxically anonymous. Filmgoers are frequently unable to remember their names, even if they can describe their roles.”

On the opposite side of the spectrum, attractive people have to overcome the perception that they are stupid. I call this the Dan Quayle syndrome. “Hey, let’s put the hot Midwestern senator on the ticket who can’t spell potato. What a great idea!”

Attractive people also have to deal with sexual impropriety. Sure, they have an easier time getting a foot in the door. Unfortunately, some clients think it’s the door to the bedroom. An informal survey conducted by a doctor in Pittsburgh found that 12 out of the 13 medical saleswomen said physicians had sexually harassed them.

The question we must ask, is what will become of these women when their pompoms turn into bonbons and their splits into banana splits? Will sexy gay bartenders be driven to drink and Hooters girls left to bitterly gnaw on wings when they begin to look more like the customers they serve?

If it is okay to hire based on looks, then is it okay to fire?

Federal law is silent on the matter of discrimination based on appearance, although a case is winding its way through the courts.

A West Virginia surgeon and lawmaker wants to call off the eye candy and require all drug reps to have science degrees. I’m sure he’ll be real popular at the next annual convention!

A new cult movie on Quantum physics, “What the Bleep Do We Know,” suggests that we are programmed to be shallow. (Of course, this is the same movie that interviews Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, a quack that says Prozac may “cure” homosexuals.) In vivid detail, the film shows how seeing someone attractive floods our bloodstream with massive amounts of endorphins the body’s version of smack. In a physiological sense, we are junkies and the pharmaceutical companies are wise to our weaknesses.

I revamped my resume this afternoon and had to wonder if my most effective references weren’t my personal trainer and hair stylist. In today’s world, if an employer calls back and is interested in a second look, you have to take this literally, or at face value, so to speak. And if all else fails, just look at the interviewer and blurt out: “Gooooo Team!”

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