Monday, January 26, 2009

On beauty

It bothers me that beauty is so important, yet I'm so susceptible to its promises. I know of no female who has ever been fat who hasn't been told that some aspect of her life would be better if she were only thinner. You'll never get a boyfriend or have a good social life got replaced with you'll never get a good job looking that way. Despite that all of that was proved false, there were times it felt true. Right out of college, I lost a job to a friend I had helped with classes all throughout college. My GPA was over a full point higher than hers. I had more experience. Our grooming and attire were equally comparable and perfectly prescribed for the dress for success eighties. Back then, I saw her only real edge over me was that she was thin. I didn't recognize now that her natural extroversion and self-confidence made a huge difference.

Look on any job hunting web site and you'll find that pretty people do get jobs and higher incomes with more ease than we plainer people. The difference is even greater between fat and thin people. Read deep enough and you'll find that confidence is usually the determining factor in how one's appearance is perceived. It's a Catch-22 though. The more confident I feel, the better I look, and the better I look, the more confident I feel. Let the job rejections pile up, and confidence will wane, and my looks will show it, making it harder to fake seeming confident.

Recently Mary wrote on the dos and don'ts of job hunting, "1) Do not be over 50. If you are over fifty, try to not look it. Do remember botox or collagen treatments. Never underestimate the effect of teeth whitening and hair dying." Lisa wrote about a woman feeding her kids Cheerios so she could get Botox. Though still shy of the fifty mark, I've found a lot more truth in those comments than I do about confidence making the difference. Days after I started my last job I knew that it wasn't going to be the right fit, even though I was determined to make it work. All the training videos featured white women in their twenties, wearing no more than a size six, and over 90% of them had blonde hair. After a while, every one who worked in my shop joked that there was no way we would get ahead in this company, because none of us fit the mold. We were either too old, too big or the wrong color. Not a one of us is still employed by them.

For months, I sat along side younger women and men with less experience going after the same jobs I was. Doing my post interview analysis of every rejection, I'd look at all my questions and answers, but I couldn't also help noticing that my wrinkles show more now than before I lost weight. My hands are undeniably wrinkled and veined. They just don't look as appealing when I hold out a pen to sign a contract. I was limping at an interview one day after a bicycle crash, and I just knew they were thinking arthritis, not exercise related injury. How big a role did those play? I'll never know, but I can't stop wondering.

Where I work now, my co-workers range from their early 20s to their 60s, and a size 0 to a size 28. We're Caucasian, African-American, Asian-American and Hispanic. What we do is help women look and feel their most beautiful for a day many see as the most important in their life. When you see a girl or a woman who doesn't normally feel pretty look in a mirror and realize she's beautiful, that feels damn good.

The beauty industry is geared to make us always feel like we're lacking something. In a culture obsessed with not just beauty, but youth, there are days when even looking great for a woman my age or older doesn't feel like enough. But that's the way the beauty industry wants us to feel. A sense of inadequacy and need is what keeps people buying, especially during an economic turndown.

I'm really tired of it, but I'm still playing the game. The harder times are, the more important it seems to put on a good face. I've read about re-prioritizing your budget to make beauty more affordable, but that's just common sense. I've also read about a study showing that larger models in ads actually sell more than than thinner models. Women are more able to see themselves when looking at a size 12 model than a size 2. This ought to make sense to the fashion and beauty industry, but it won't until consumers make that happen.


Lisa :-] said...

Our culture has become so oriented towards prettiness and "pleasantness." What ever happened to the old adage about beauty being only skin deep. As women, we most often want to look our up our best sides and minimize the rest. But it shouldn't mean the difference between getting work and going hungry.

emmapeelDallas said...

What a terrific post! I work for a Fortune 500 company where the people in charge are, for the most part, a bunch of middle aged (and older) white guys. I'm 59 and although I'm happy with how I look for my age, I'm 59. My boss, who made the decision to hire me, is 52 and a woman. In the past year there were a number of new hires in our department, including a 20-something who spends every spare minute at the gym. She has a cute figure and dresses beautifully and at first I thought she'd be great. I was soon proven wrong. She's immature and highly neurotic. In her first 6 months with the company, she threatened to go to HR and file a complaint against her supervisor, a woman in her 60's, after being told that she'd have to work a minimum of 40 hours per week like all other salaried employees. She argued this was not fair, because she was able to do her work in less than 40 hours. We are chronically understaffed and everyone is overworked, but it didn't occur to her to simply ask for more work. When she doesn't get her way she weeps (I'm not kidding) and pouts and scowls and carries on, and generally acts like a 14 year old. But guess who was identified as a "rising star" within the company at our recent annual performance reviews by the middle aged white guys who supervise us...yep, you got it...not any of the actual workhorses, but this young woman in her pointy shoes and size 4 suits. Although we're all part of R&D, for the most part I don't have to work directly with her, and I'm grateful for that. But I wish we were rated strictly on our performance, and not on our looks. That is simply not the case.

alphawoman said...

This post hit home, Cyn! I am still unemployed and still over 50!!Today I was up (natch) at 4am watching some info commercial about Luminessair and wondering if I should...if I dare spend all that money to look "10 years younger"...ha!! Great entry.

Anonymous said...

I was sitting in a Doctor's waiting room recently for a consulting-related job and the Doctor I needed to speak with was way behind with patients, so I was able to absorb a couple of waiting room fashion mags. One was teen oriented and an actress in her 20s was telling her diet secrets. Her breakfast is 107 calories and her lunch & dinner are 200 calories each. OKKKKKKKKKKK.
Next mag explained that a certain actress had BLOWN UP to 150 pounds.
Next mag wants to know if I think Jessica Simpson is "thick" ?

We are the problem, women, we buy into all this so much. In a lousy economy everyone is still buying $6 fashion mags.


I've never understood beauty. Who am I to say what is beautiful? I've always been attracted to a person's personality and confidence. If someone is happy with themselves everyone around them can feel it and I think THAT is beautiful. (I found this interesting