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Attractiveness in the Workplace

Penelope Trunk recently wrote an article at BNET espousing the benefits that plastic surgery can have to your career. Naturally, like much of what she writes, this caused an uproar in the comments section.

Plastic surgery is obviously a very controversial topic, with one side shouting about the dangers or surgery and how it warps society's expectations for realistic bodies, and the other nonchalantly proclaiming that it's no different than someone getting braces or highlighting their hair and how we might as well get on board already. I'm not going to get in to my own opinions on the subject of plastic surgery, though I do find it interesting that Penelope's post came not long after the New York Times article about Hollywood's backlash against plastic surgery.

Regardless, I think that no matter what your opinion is about plastic surgery, her post deserves a second look. At the heart of her post - her premises - are that people who are perceived as nicer and more attractive do better at work. This, unfortunately, is not all that debatable. Numerous studies have been done to show that more attractive people earn more (she cites a few). The idea that nicer people do better shouldn't be too much of a surprise; managers would much rather hire a highly competent team player who fits the company culture than someone who is brilliant but completely socially inept, and people who network well go further.

The great news is, we don't need to get plastic surgery to come across as nicer and more attractive. Here are some great, healthy ways to this that everyone can agree on:

Be happy. Happiness is tricky, there's no doubt. There's a lot we don't know about what makes people happy. One thing we do know is that happiness comes easier to some people than to others. It is, however, something everyone can work on. Improving your own mental health is beneficial to your career in a lot of ways. When you're happier, you're more likely to be naturally nice to others. You are more likely to want to help people out, which will make networking easier. You will also smile more, and most people look more attractive when they smile! (Tip: smiling can also physically improve your mood, so if you're not feeling happy, fake it until you feel it. Also, 5 mins per day in a natural "green" environment can boost mood and self esteem)

Exercise and eat right. Exercising and eating right are the two main ingredients in being physically fit, no matter your pant size. Looking fit signals healthiness and discipline to potential employers. There are many non-physical benefits to your career as well. Healthier people miss work less and have the opportunity to be more productive. Exercise improves posture, which signals confidence. Exercise also has a big impact on mood and mental health.

Dress conscientiously. In terms of attractiveness, there is a world of difference between someone who understands how to dress their own body type and someone who doesn't. This is not about following trends: it is about understanding appropriate fit/color, keeping clothing neat and well-maintained and understanding how to create appropriate, professional outfits. This is not about price, either: you can find quality clothing at an expensive boutique or at a thrift store, if you understand what kinds of pieces to look for. Similarly, find hairstyles that work well for you. If you're female, find a good happy medium with makeup (a good rule of thumb is just enough to play up your best features but not enough to make someone notice you're wearing any), and find the right colors for your skin tone. If you don't know how or don't like these things, find a friend you trust to help you. Watch a few episodes of "What Not To Wear". If you have the money, you could hire a consultant to help, the way Penelope did.

The way we perceive attractiveness is different for every person, different across cultures, and changes with time. Despite this, happy, healthy, confident people who know how to dress themselves are almost always seen as more attractive than you might judge from physical characteristics alone.

But the point isn't that attractiveness makes you a better worker. The point is to remove attractiveness from the equation so that people will focus more on what's important: how good your work is.

Posted by on Wed, 12 May 2010
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