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.

Why?

"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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