Should Women Care About Their Looks?

08/19/2010 08:04 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

A man asked me to write a post on the pressure women have to look a certain way to succeed. He has a young daughter. He's worried she will never be happy with the way she looks.

I told him that battle was old and I didn't think my small voice could win it. Truth is, I'm not sure where I stand on the argument.

I believe the media presents women most of us will never look like no matter how much we spend on plastic surgery. Yet I don't agree with the philosophy that I should love my fat and wrinkles.

I'm not advocating surgery. I do advocate loving what I see in the mirror and presenting an attractive, updated, professional image that represents how I want the world to judge me (though I do get lazy on airplanes and in grocery stores). I know people judge me within seconds of seeing me. When I meet someone new, their brain calculates my value in terms of age, social standing and how approachable I am to determine if I am worth talking to. This is reality.

Just as I work hard to develop my speaking and writing skills, the visual impact I have is part of my brand. I experienced this after working with Janice Hurley-Trailor, a "perception consultant." After cleaning out my closet and redoing my hair, makeup and wardrobe, I realized who I thought I was out in the world--a global leadership expert--had to be represented in my look.

In fact, before working with Janet, I often heard people tell me they were surprised how wise I was once they heard me speak. Why were they surprised? When I look at my past pictures and videos, I realized I wasn't looking wise and successful in my appearance. I had gotten busy and lax about taking care of myself. Luckily, it just took one day to "transform me." Since then, I have realized a positive difference in how people relate to me when we first meet.

Does this mean we are enslaved by ludicrous beauty standards? Regardless, no matter how shallow and unfair it is, attractiveness factors into hiring and promotion decisions. Newsweek columnist Jessica Bennett says that in this economy looking good isn't just vanity, its economic survival.

What about surgery, injections or lasers? Does Botox increase your success? Some women believe it does. Gloria Steinem admitted to having her eyelids lifted. Bennett also writes "...making an effort to look good because we know it helps us out professionally and maintaining that look shouldn't necessarily be shunned, nor should we be plagued by personal guilt."

I don't think you should alter your appearance so your friends don't recognize you or you can't flash a full-toothed smile because of the fillers you've injected. I do think you should care about what you look like. That might include Botox or photofacials... it's your choice.

Short of expensive procedures, healthy skin expert Celeste Hilling, CEO of Skin Authority, says men and women can do a lot to maintain a vibrant look spending about the same as they do on their daily cups of coffee." As our skin loses its resilience so does our feeling of self worth," says Hilling. "Often, this vulnerability leads to spending thousands of dollars on plastic surgery and procedures. In reality, there are very simple and cost-effective steps you can take to feel comfortable in your skin at every age."

Hilling's five skin care strategies include:

  1. Practice sun safety -- every day, rain or shine
  2. Tackle the effects of stress by resurfacing skin to speed up turnover, introduce anti-inflammatory products to your regimen such as mango, shea butter and salicylic acid, and practice stress-reduction techniques including yoga, meditation and Pilates.
  3. Drink lots of water.
  4. Exercise regularly. Include weight-bearing exercise to build muscle mass and strengthen bones.
  5. Eat well. When it comes to food, there should be no boxes or bags. Instead, eat lots of lean proteins, fruits and vegetables.

Skip the Botox? It's your decision.

When I look good on the outside, I feel good on the inside. Should it be the other way around? It is. My emotions do affect my appearance and attractiveness. My confidence plays into my ability to influence others.

It's not an either or question. I work both on my inside and outside.

I still love the idea that aging is a gift. Cherry Woodburn writes that women who have died too early would love to have the "smile lines that crease my face from laughing with my sons, giggling with my granddaughter, and grinning ear-to-ear at what wonderful young men they've become."

And I live and work in this world where the brain forms a judgment on who I am in less than three seconds.

Is Botox feminism an oxymoron? It's based on a reality we all have to deal with. My request is that we don't judge each other for the choices we make, whether you love or hate your wrinkles. Better we respect each other for who we are and how we each cope with the realities we face. Then maybe someday, things will change.

Marcia Reynolds, Psy.D. is the author of Wander Woman: How High-Achieving Women Find Contentment and Direction. She is a professional coach and leadership trainer who works within a variety of industries and around the world.