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What Would Happen If Everyone Looked Exactly The Same?

VO: Ashley Bowman WRITTEN BY: Nick Spake
Lots of us take pride in our physical appearance, and whole industries are built on achieving exactly the look we want. But what if our individual traits and style were totally taken away from us? What if everyone, everywhere looked exactly the same as everyone else?

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What If Everyone Looked Exactly the Same?

We’re all familiar with the phrase, “don’t judge a book by its cover.” Or the popular promise that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. And we’re often told that it’s what’s on the inside that matters most. But society doesn’t always live up to these proverbial ideals. In fact, some of history’s most influential academics, artists, and activists actually faced great adversity simply due to their physical appearance. And countless more may have had their potential stifled because of jibes, injustices and general intolerance based on how they look.

Though the United States abolished slavery in 1865, racial prejudice has proven a lasting problem in the century-and-a-half since. From the Civil Rights Movement to the Black Lives Matter campaign, there’s still much to do to achieve true equality. Gender discrimination and sexism is another everyday issue encountered all around the world. Showing noticeable signs of age also reportedly lessens someone’s job prospects, while even an individual’s physical attractiveness can have an impact - with studies suggesting that people considered more attractive are also more successful in the workplace.

But what if we all looked exactly the same? With identical bodies, faces, eyes and hairstyles. Would the notion of prejudice disappear? Would we no longer obsess over the way we look? And would that mean that all the various insecurities that seem to perpetually plague humankind could finally be put to rest?

It’s true that even the slightest physical difference can bring about significant behavioural change, as demonstrated by celebrated educator Jane Elliott. On the day after Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, she conducted a now-famous experiment by dividing a class of children based on eye color.[4] The kids with blue eyes were deemed superior, while brown-eyed children were labelled as inferior. And it wasn’t long before the blue-eyed group showed signs of holding a privileged attitude, while the brown-eyed group started to feel less important than their peers. Showing how even the tiniest physical differences can leave people feeling entitled (or entrenched) within society, Elliott’s experiment became a defining moment in sociological research. And it seemingly suggests that a world where everyone looks identical would lose some particularly damaging and painful prejudices.

There are immediately obvious plus points for a ‘looks the same’ reality in terms of beauty and body image, too. In a world of carbon copies, we couldn’t put so much emphasis and pressure on being thinner, stronger, or sexier than anyone else. Dating and relationships would, in some respects, bring about less anxiety and nerves, because we’d always know exactly what to expect. But we’d also surrender huge amounts of excitement, which could mean a massive loss of motivation to even build friendships and connections in the first place. And self esteem issues would still exist, as lots of people would likely still feel uncomfortable in their own skin - even if (or especially because) everyone looks the same. Today, increasing numbers struggle with gender identity, feeling they were assigned the wrong sex at birth. But, gender reassignment surgery wouldn’t even be an option in a world where we’re all completely identical… Which also leaves the question of human reproduction wide, wide open…

But assuming this alternate world has derived some other way of making babies, would everyone just accept the skin they’re in because that’s all there is? Terms like “masculinity” and “femininity” would move completely away from physical appearances, and hone further into human behaviour. In general, relationships could only be built on the person within rather than the image they aim for, which doesn’t sound like such a bad thing… But the blanket conformity would likely seep into general life too, stifling creative thought, spontaneity and selfless kindness. Ultimately, any action, movement or conversation that resembles anything even close to something different could be met with suspicion, fear or anger.

Of course, not all elitist and discriminatory attitudes are based on appearance, with people routinely finding alternative ways to put themselves above others based on their social status, philosophical and religious beliefs, educational background or wealth. In fact, Jane Elliott’s eye color experiment could still give grounds for prejudice, in the event that color contact lenses are available to buy, but that high costs make them a luxury only the rich can afford. In general, in a world of physical sameness, materialism could become an even more formidable force than it already is, with consumers desperately looking to express themselves (or impose themselves) through the clothes they wear, the cars they drive, and so on.

That said, if we take away the material goods, and imagine an even weirder world where exactly identical humans walk around naked and completely free of possessions, there’d no longer be any grounds to judge someone based on their skin colour, body size or shape. Which would be a very definitely good thing... But again, there are some significant trade-offs.

While a person’s cultural background doesn’t define their entire personality, and their skin tone should in no way encourage stereotypes, lots of people take pride in their heritage and find new ways of embracing it every day. So, if the world was devoid of different skin tones, or in the event that everyone is forced to wear the same thing, life would seem completely deprived of its diversity - despite the fact that we’d all carry unique and individual ideas, interests and beliefs. So, physical sameness could critically curtail our freedom of expression over time, and dramatically dampen artistic inspiration - meaning less diverse art, food, and music, to make it easier for everyone to conform. But, if you walk in the footprints of others, you won’t make any of your own.

The potentially crippling conformity aside, the other major issue would be mass confusion. Even parents with identical twins get their children mixed up from time to time. And if you showed twins a picture of themselves wearing matching outfits, even they might have trouble distinguishing which of them is which. So, picture that on a global scale! Any two people could easily switch places, ala “The Prince and the Pauper” or “The Parent Trap.” Sure, there’d still be identifiable individual traits like voice, mannerisms, and personality... But with a good enough actor, few would be able to tell the difference.

In 2014, 17.6 million Americans were victims of identity theft. But that figure would almost definitely be dwarfed if we all looked the same. Photo IDs would be useless, as the emphasis would shift to other types of biometric data - unless of course, our fingerprints are identical, too. Anyone could hijack a vehicle, for example, and highway patrol wouldn’t know the thief from the real owner. Or, you could claim your vehicle had been hijacked, when no such thing had even happened. Robbing a bank would become a breeze if you could lose the authorities in a crowd of clones. You could even fake it as the President and take over the whole country. In short, basic levels of trust would be blown apart in a world where anyone could conceivably be anyone else, at any one time.

In the absence of unique physical traits, there’d clearly need to be another system to tell people apart. Contemporary DNA tests can take weeks to process though, so they’d be impractical. Perhaps people would be required by law to have microchip implants or assigned numbers tattooed onto their skin. But, even then, identity theft would be easy. And the entire practice would highlight just how insignificant you could ultimately feel, if your only defining characteristic is a prison-like ID number branded into your body.

All in, the hypothetical notion of everyone looking the same does offer some positives, at first. A standardised appearance could theoretically lessen discrimination, and halt our never-ending efforts to ‘look good’. But prejudice would likely rear its ugly head in other ways, crime could skyrocket, and insecurity would likely still be an inescapable facet of human nature. But worst of all, we’d be conditioning ourselves into accepting increasingly less diverse ideas, cultures, and – of course – people. The human race would lose its variety, vivacity, energy, and colour - so it could only ever be a bad thing! As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “It is beneath human dignity to lose one’s individuality and become a mere cog in the machine.”

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