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Career Advice

Do Looks Really Matter in Closing Sales and Climbing the Ladder?

We often hear that it doesn’t matter what you look like, it’s what’s on the inside that counts. However, such conventional wisdom may not always apply in the workplace. Studies indicate that your physical appearance can have a significant impact on your choice of career and professional advancement.

People of all ages, from schoolchildren to office workers, are perceived based on their looks, notes researcher and author on physical attractiveness, Dr. Gordon L Patzer.1 “What you look like—or, more importantly, how your looks are perceived (by others and by yourself)—shapes your life in dozens of subtle and not so subtle ways from cradle to grave,” says Dr. Patzer. In his studies, he illustrates this with examples of cuter newborns, who will be embraced more, and fifth-graders who are treated more leniently by their teachers because they have more pleasing facial features.

Similar trends can be observed in the workplace. Unsurprisingly, women often feel stronger pressure than men to maintain an attractive appearance. A study conducted in 20052 by sociologists at NYU found that if a woman gains a noticeable amount of weight, she is likely to see a decrease in her earnings as well as in her professional status. This is less often the case for men, with whom society is much more forgiving.

According to this study, “body mass is also associated with a reduction in a woman’s likelihood of marriage, her spouse’s occupational prestige, and her spouse’s earnings. However, consistent with past research, men experience no negative effects of body mass on economic outcomes. Age splits show that it is among younger adults where BMI effects are most robust, lending support to the interpretation that it is BMI causing occupational outcomes and not the reverse.”

Inversely, women will sometimes find that being too attractive can hinder their professional advancement. The same study notes that women who are deemed “too attractive” are not taken seriously, and viewed with suspicion by both their male and female colleagues. There is no way to gauge the ideal level of attractiveness, but it is evident that from an early age and throughout their careers, women are held to much higher levels of scrutiny than men.

One challenge that both men and women share is aging – older workers in certain fields must compete with younger people whose naturally youthful appearances make them seem more qualified to keep up with current trends in technology and business. For more mature professionals, that can mean going under the knife. While cosmetic surgery has long been considered the sole preserve of Hollywood superstars, the popularity of surgical and minimally invasive procedures has risen significantly over the past years. Botox, for instance, has seen a 335% rise in popularity3 among men since the year 2000.

Cosmetic surgery is not a cheap endeavor, costing tens of thousands of dollars for certain procedures. However, if spending lots of money now could mean making more money in the future, then it’s not much of a surprise that people are willing to take that financial risk. “The competitive job market is often cited as the main motivating factor for men to get plastic surgery,” says Dr. Douglas Steinbrech,4 a New York plastic surgeon who caters to a predominantly male clientele. “Men are definitely paying more attention and investing more into their appearance than before. In order of popularity, they are lining up for nose jobs, eyelid surgery, breast reduction (gynecomastia), liposuction, and face-lifts. Men now account for more than 10 percent of plastic surgery patients.”

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but with proper grooming he can still win prizes.

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