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Beauty Bias Can Blemish (or Boost) Your Career

Beauty Bias Can Blemish (or Boost) Your Career

Beauty Bias: The Ugly Truth

Right or wrong, the reality is that when you put your best face forward, it positively impacts your bottom line. While being “too pretty” backfires and results in the “bimbo effect,” research shows that 84% of managers operate under beauty bias. Taking care of your appearance and looking your best does not just affect how you feel about yourself; it also affects how others perceive you, and ultimately, how much money you make.

Studies have shown that individuals with above-average beauty tend to have a salary that is 10-15% higher than those with below-average average beauty. It may seem like an archaic, unenlightened mindset, but these studies demonstrate that, however unfair it may seem, beauty bias is a very real occurrence. There is a “sweet spot” for just how pretty you should be to obtain the jobs you want and the respect you deserve from your bosses and coworkers. The reference to “pretty” does not exclusively apply to women.

While the sweet spot for men is a bit more forgiving, according to a recent study by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a good-looking man will earn 5% more than the average salary for men, and those deemed less attractive earn about 9% less. Attractive women earn 4% above the female average salary while women deemed less attractive earn 4% less than average.

While no one wants to admit it, beauty bias is alive and well- looking good plays a role in everything from corporate politics to promotions. Focusing on your outward appearance is no longer something that in the business world is regarded as shallow or vain; it plays a large role in your financial future.

Being Beautiful isn’t as Easy as Many Assume

The relationship between beauty and employment is complex. While someone trying to gain an entry-level position must be viewed as attractive, in the more upper-level male-dominated positions, attractive women are viewed as less intelligent. Specifically in business, a conventionally attractive woman might be perceived as manipulative. According to The New York Times, “attractive businesswomen are in fact considered less trustworthy, less truthful and more worthy of being fired than other women.

This difference cannot be chalked up to sour men who are facing skilled female competition because those descriptions are given by both their male and female peers. Many attractive women in this situation will downplay their features to avoid the part of beauty bias known as the “bimbo effect.”

Physical Appearance Ranks in the Top 3 of Employee Attributes

Your entire life, you have been told that if you work hard and do your best, you will succeed. Well, what your parents left out was that some of that hard work should focus on a nutritious diet, exercise, proper rest, and beauty routines. While dated, a 2010 Newsweek survey, hiring managers were directed to rank the importance of employee attributes.

The results reflect what many already suspect:

  1. Experience
  2. Confidence
  3. Looks
  4. Education

The data clearly show what recruiters have been saying for a long time: “It is better to be average and good-looking than it is to be brilliant and unattractive.”

Heading out for a Nip/Tuck? Not So Fast!

What are employees to do? Quit school and get a breast augmentation or a nose job instead? Resign themselves to low-level positions because they just aren’t genetically blessed? No! We live in a time of double standards — where men can be gray and distinguished, while women are forced to strive to meet a ridiculously unattainable standard of beauty set by airbrushed models in magazines. It is unfortunate, but the existing and growing pressure of beauty bias is a reality of our time.

If your perceived level of attractiveness is affecting your confidence, there are simple steps you can and should take to build your self-esteem and to help your inner beauty be reflected in your outward appearance. Take care of yourself with proper nutrition and exercise. Three consistent and balanced meals a day goes a long way. Taking walks gets you moving and will positively impact your physical and mental health. Get a proper amount of sleep. Set notifications on your phone ahead of time to alert you when you should go to sleep based on the time you need to wake up the following day. Turning off your TV and phone 30 minutes before you go to bed will help you fall asleep sooner so you are well rested for the next day.

You may also be interested in “The Relationship Between Sleep and Finances is Stronger than You Thought”

Go to a hair salon (yes men, you, too) and get an image consultation with a stylist you respect and trust. The right cut and color can take years off your face, soften skin tones, and draw attention to your best features. Invest in proper skincare to improve skin texture and tone, reduce acne and irritation, and reverse signs of aging. Always wear sunscreen — I mean it, always! Not only will it help in preventing skin damage, but it plays a role in fending off skin diseases as well.

Invest in Yourself- Beauty is as Beauty Does

Head to your local department store and spend some time talking with a personal shopper. In most department stores that still offer the service, it is free and they are able to offer you guidance on how best to choose clothing that will fit your body type and personal style, and how to dress for the proper occasion. Avoid trendy, expensive pieces; instead, get a few classics and lots of information on how to make the best choices in the future.

This is not the time to be shy, ask for help. That is what beauty consultants are there for! If you are able to build a relationship with your personal shopper, they will call you when the store is having a sale. Remember, a proper-fitting, moderately-priced outfit looks infinitely better than an expensive, ill-fitting garment, so make sure it fits, or get it tailored. There are even clothing websites that offer virtual personal shoppers if you tend to shop online more.

Last but not least, ladies, even if you are a minimalist, the fact is that wearing some makeup looks polished and professional. Go to the makeup counter at your local department store or your favorite salon and look at the people working there. Look for someone that has a style similar to the one you are looking for and ask for help.

Beauty Bias May Be Real, but a Little Time and Effort Goes a Long Way

While the intellectual side of you may want to rebel against the relationship between beauty and income, the practical side of you should accept that you cannot change the beauty bias in the world on your own.  Making this moderate investment of time and resources into yourself, and your appearance, will open doors and pay dividends at your workplace.


[Editors’ Note: To learn more about this and related topics, you may want to attend the following on-demand webinars (which you can listen to at your leisure and each include a comprehensive customer PowerPoint about the topic):

This is an updated version of an article originally published on January 3, 2018]

©2022. DailyDACTM, LLC d/b/a/ Financial PoiseTM. This article is subject to the disclaimers found here.

About Mercedes Holmen

Mercedes is a business owner and Executive Consultant with Rodan + Fields. In addition, she works in the field of behavior analysis for children with autism and their families, specializing in preschool aged children. She also has her Masters in Science from University of California at Davis.

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