by Vicki Larson
Amid the hundreds of thousands of people who lost their jobs in recent months, someone I know actually got hired — a 55-year-old sales exec.
“Wow, congratulations,” I said, not only truly happy for her but pretty amazed at her luck.
“Well, not too long ago I got some Botox,” she said nonchalantly. “You should, too. When you get to be our age, you have to in order to stay competitive.”
I was somewhat taken aback, and not only because she lumped me into the “our age” category even though I’m younger. It’s bad enough that cosmetic surgery seems to be the beauty standard for everyone nowadays — even women in their 20s and 30 — but I didn’t realize it’s become an employment standard, too.
Evidently, job anxiety is why boomers have turned anti-aging products and services into an estimated $50 billion business.
I have never given too much thought to how my looks may or may not have helped or hurt me in my career, although I am certainly aware of the studies out there — how “plain people” earn 5 percent to 10 percent less than “average” people, and how even “average” people earn 3 percent to 8 percent less than the good-looking ones; how good-looking people are seen as more talented, kind, honest and intelligent than less-attractive people; how being tall helps you rise to the top.
But I keep myself fit and have been told I look good “for my age.” I present well at interviews — I dress appropriately, apply makeup tastefully, spring for a manicure, polish my shoes, stand up straight, and am personable and prepared. I always thought it was my skills and experience, as well as my positive attitude and confidence that have helped me get hired throughout my 25-year career.
That’s not to say that I’m oblivious to the fact that I’m now a middle-aged woman. I am well aware of ageism, and so I have had to de-age my resume so it doesn’t “date” me; like so many other boomers, I have removed jobs and anything else from it that will make me appear “too” experienced (and too expensive). Still, I felt confident that once a company brought me in for an interview, I’d wow them.
Now I’m not so sure.
According to an article in last year’s U.S. News & World Report, two-thirds of the members of the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery say they’re seeing an increase in people getting cosmetic surgery because they wanted to remain competitive in the workplace — and it’s not just women. Men received 1 out of 10 procedures in 2006, the American Society of Plastic Surgeons reports.
Although the book "How Not to Look Old: Fast and Effortless Ways to Look 10 Years Younger, 10 Pounds Lighter, 10 Times Better" wasn’t written solely for middle-aged women looking to land a good job, author Charla Krupp, style expert for the “Today Show” and the former beauty director for Glamour, acknowledges, “One way to stay competitive in the workplace is to look young, hip and current.”
So as a woman just barely past 50, what should I do to keep myself looking “young, hip and current”? Get a face-lift, according to Denise Thomas, a New York cosmetic surgery consultant. “Women want face-lifts: face, eyes, and neck — it's all a package. They feel they need a second chance at continuing in the workplace because often (employers) will promote the prettier woman, the more attractive woman, the woman who's easier on the eye. And you know — that's true. Beauty is powerful,” she tells U.S. News & World Report.
I am all for beauty, but it depresses me to think that it’s expected that I pay for what nature didn’t give me naturally — or what I can help along by maintaining a healthy lifestyle. As a divorcee, I would never consider cosmetic surgery to “find a man” — why would I want to do that for an employer?
In the same way that I want nothing to do with a man who would focus solely on looks and not what else I have to offer, I could never be happy working for a company that was interested in my hottie factor and not the passion, creativity, smarts and experience I can bring it.
Which, of course, may mean I’ll end up alone and self-employed.