Monday, July 28, 2008

Watch Out for That Wrinkle -- It May be a Career Killer

Recently, a friend told me about a party she attended called "Botox or Bangs." For those of you unaware of this trend (as I was), it means that when you get of a "certain age" you can either cut bangs to hide the wrinkles in your forehead, or you can get Botox to freeze your forehead so it doesn't move for months and it looks unlined.

My friend opted for the bangs -- and the Botox.

When I asked her why she would ever willingly let another person stick a needle in her face, her answer was this: "I just got a new boss -- and she's younger than me."

Yeah, so?

"Well," my friend says, "I know it may sound stupid, but I don't want to be the 'older employee' in my office. It's very competitive these days. I consider it to be an investment in my career."

OK. Well, silly me. I always considered an investment in a career to be attending a training session on PowerPoint presentations or taking a class at the university. But needles? Never crossed my mind.

My friend -- always very honest -- also confided that she was contemplating an eye lift, which I assume means even more needles and a couple of knives.


"Because," she explained slowly to me as if I were a 3-year-old wanting to know why I couldn't shave the family dog, "the people I work with are getting younger and younger. I don't want to have to look for another job at my age. I've got to hold onto this job, so I need to be as 'fresh' looking as possible."

I realize some of you are not going to be surprised by this in the least. After all, we see television programs that promote the young, the nubile and the unlined. We watch reality shows on everyday people becoming "swans" after undergoing plastic surgery, and books on how not to look old are bestsellers.

Still, it's disturbing to think that older workers believe they are no long viable unless their faces resemble something out of Madam Tussaud's wax museum. Back fat, jiggly arms and crow's feet are now career liabilities?

According to the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, about two thirds of its members say that men and women are requesting cosmetic surgery because they wanted to remain competitive in the workplace.

Earlier this year I interviewed Dr. Gordon Patzer, founder of the Appearance Research Institute, and he told me that employers consistently hire and promote the best-looking candidates in a pool of equally qualified people. At the same time, he talked about the ugly downside of a society obsessed with youth and good looks, noting the rise of unhealthy body obsessions.

My friend assures me that she knows what she's doing, and won't end up looking like Priscilla Presley. The Botox, bangs and impending eye lift are not just for career reasons, she says, but also because they will help her feel better.

"I just want to look as young as I feel," she says.

I understand, believe me. But I can't imagine where this country would be without people like Benjamin Franklin and John Adams and Eleanor Roosevelt and Mother Teresa, all people who didn't look that "fresh" during some of the most productive years of their lives. Would bangs have meant they had even more impact? Would Botox have meant they were smarter or could earn more money?

I don't mean to sound naive. I know in this world many people have "procedures" and feel great about it. But I can't help but wonder if a few lines on the face, a bit of gray in the hair, and perhaps wisdom and experience conveyed in the action of a worker wouldn't be of value to a younger manager.

If not, then maybe the newest employee benefit offering should be a payroll withdrawal option for "Botox or bangs."

Are older workers feeling more pressure about the way they look? What should they do about it, if anything?

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Anonymous said...

Hi Anita,

My quick two cents: I think it has *way* more to do with how vibrant you are than it does with old you look! There are lots of self-care things you can do to raise your confidence. Still, I’d go further and recommend investing time to get to know younger people outside for work; what you learn can help you relate more confidently to younger people at work.

Oh, and one other thing: do great work!

Great post!

Anita said...

I do think that while men are also going under the knife, there's even MORE pressure for a woman to look good. Sure, being vibrant is great and should count for a lot, but let's face it...some of these younger bosses have grown up with images of celebrities who look, at 60, just like they did at 30. That's tough to combat. I do agree wholeheartedly that it's critical for older workers to find ways to bond with younger workers, through common interests like sports or books or hobbies. That's a win-win for everyone.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Great points, Anita! I see your point – and it’s a good one. I think I missed the point about look as young as you feel! I do work with folks who get caught up with the fact that they look old – and then trap themselves into an old mindset.

Anonymous said...

I think this post goes under the "sad but true" category...Unfortunately, society (and individuals!) value youthful appearances, and your friend is probably correct in her perception that looking younger will help her keep her job.

Walter's point is also true - you also need to relate to younger workers and keep up with your skills. I recently wrote about how your digital footprint can help keep you looking young - no botox necessary!

Miriam Salpeter
Keppie Careers

Anonymous said...

I recently took a week's vacation and told everyone I was going to the beach, but instead I had a procedure done that took several years off my face. I did it because I wanted to look better, but also because I just found out that a new manager in our department was born the year I graduated from high school. It made me feel so old, and I just decided that I wanted to look better. Everyone says when I returned from vacation I look so rested. I think in this day and age, you've got to be ready to do anything you can to stayon top of your game, and if it makes you feel better, all the better.

Anita said...

I hope people will read your's excellent!
I do think that older workers are more nervous now -- not only because they fear being "too old", but because they know that in this uncertain economy, it is their higher salaries and benefit packages that are being targeted for cuts.
Still, Walter is correct in saying that no matter what age, we've got to keep our skills current and our impact vital.
Thanks again for providing that link!

Anita said...

This is sort of a chicken and the egg kind of deal. Which came first? Hearing that a new manager is so much younger, or wanting to look younger for yourself? That's the real question for me. I just don't like thinking that a worker can't show a wrinkle or age spot because they won't be as valued in the workplace. That just strikes me as really wrong, and sad.
Thanks for posting.

Anonymous said...

Want an instant cure for this kind of thinking? I found watching the old Hollywood classic "Sunset Boulevard" last night like a bucket of cold water thrown over my head, shocked at just how "old" this prejudice against the "aging woman" is in this culture. (Gloria Swanson going looney over turning fifty...) It's appalling. Of course it is important to keep up your looks. But looks often have a lot more to do with your ENERGY than your FACE. Yoga, running, dancing, massage, gardening and meditation (and good sex?) are probably just as legit avenues for showing up at work as lively as ever. :)

Anita said...

I think we often have this "stigma" attached to turning a certain age. But, we're in better shape than generations past. So, the way Gloria Swanson looked at 50 (kinda scary if you ask me), is not the way a 50-year-old woman looks today (look at Madonna!)We're healthier, so we just LOOK better overall, I think.
But you're absolutely right -- there are still a lot of things available to us that not only make us look good on the outside, but help us feel better on the inside and help us keep up the energy to be vital at any age in any workplace.
Thanks for your thoughts.