03/30/2012 05:37 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Beauty Can Affect Your Pay -- But So Can You

In the last few days, the "disturbing" infographic below has appeared on a few different career and finance sites, although I'm not sure for what purpose. The data isn't new; countless studies have demonstrated the financial and career advantages physical beauty affords. Here those studies are simply distilled into a compact visual representations of all the ways you might be screwed salary-wise if you don't look like Angelina Jolie.

Maybe it's good to know what you're up against, statistically, but I'm not convinced. The valuable part of this is the question it raises about how women are supposed to balance the self-acceptance preached at them from many directions with the desire to excel at work and maintain financial independence.

We all know that appearance affects how we're perceived -- at work and in life -- and claiming that it doesn't is either dishonest or naive. As the infographic and other research helpfully point out, any of the following have been linked to achieving and earning less:

But what if you don't believe in wearing makeup -- or your skin doesn't like it? Should you wear it anyway for your job? Should you lose weight for your job? Where do you draw the line?

The most we can do with this data is use it as an incentive not to let statistics predict our lives. Why? First, there is almost always a contradicting or complicating statistic. Lots of the data the infographic pulled refers to corporate jobs, but according to the U.S. Small Business Administration's Office of Advocacy, in 2008 small businesses employed 59.7 million of the 120.9 million private sector workers in the U.S. The undesirables with their baby faces were all CEOs. (Read: You can wait until you're CEO to worry about it.) And while a study cited in the infographic showed that women who wear more makeup are more likely to get ahead, some bosses claim to think their employees wear too much makeup.

Second, there are certain aspects of yourself you can't change, like your height, and other physical attributes you can't change without enduring a lot of pain and spending a lot of money -- the symmetry and shape of your face, for instance. At some point, you have to let those things go. If you feel that succeeding at your job means reconfiguring major aspects of your appearance to look the part, it may not be the right gig for you.

Third, take a look at Fortune's list of the 25 highest paid women in business. Not all of them are conventionally pretty. I don't see any who look like they weigh 94 pounds. What they are is polished. They've figured out what they like that also looks good on them and is appropriate to their roles. Everyone can do that, and if you need some assistance in that area, there are hundreds of websites and books to help you.

To get you started, here are a few ways to beat the statistics without sacrificing your integrity:

  • Smile. A study out of Rice University found that people who smile more at work are considered more trustworthy.
  • The infographic shows that more attractive NFL players receive higher salaries, much higher than they deserve. How to get around this gross discrimination? Don't join the NFL. Done.
  • Skip the makeup, go for the shoes. I have a friend who's an extremely successful lawyer. She doesn't wear an ounce of makeup, and she always looks like a million bucks. The secret? Great hair, great heels and good suits.
  • Speaking of heels, these are a readily available -- if potentially hazardous -- way to make yourself three inches taller than average.
  • Maybe attractive people as a group do get more callbacks for interviews. You individually can come up with other ways of being an irresistible interviewee. Better yet, build such an incredible network that you never have another interview again.
  • So pretty people may make more as a group, without trying as hard. That's really unfair. You can brood about that, or you can ask for and negotiate a raise at appropriate intervals, citing the work you've done to deserve it. Then you will be the exception, the outlier. And you'll know you earned it.