By Tom Ehrich

Forget "meritocracy." Apparently, benefits go to the attractive, not to the capable.

On the one hand, this article in The Times is discouraging.

Why should a handsome or pretty leader get higher pay or perks than someone who is getting the job done?

On the other hand, it's encouraging. For another study recently found that "neoclassical symmetry" isn't what makes a person attractive. Parents have been telling this to insecure teenagers for years. Turns out it is true.

A smile does more to convey personal worth. Lively eyes, an interested and interesting expression, attentive conversation -- these can make any of us seem attractive. No need for a perfect nose, chin, or figure.

Those attributes are within our control. Unlike facial symmetry or body type, which are largely beyond our control, we can decide to smile, to convey interest, to avoid substances that dull our eyes or thicken our voices.

Some of the most attractive people I know aren't the least bit handsome or pretty. None would survive a TV casting call. They attract by what emanates from within.

This reality is good news for those who get older every year and, in time, leave behind the blossom of youth. We don't need a "fountain of youth." We need to remain interested in the world around us, to keep learning new skills, to value engaging with people, and to listen first.

You've already learned this? Great. Now tell it to a teenager who's being accosted and manipulated by the cosmetics industry.