Beauty in the Workplace: How We Can Embrace, Not Fear, A Multi-Generational Workforce

Within minutes of me publishing last week’s post, The Role of Ugliness and the Need to Address the Topic Head On, I received a very interesting plea by one of the readers.  He urged me to address another appearance-related issue, ageism.  And he was quite passionate about it.  Within a few days of my post, he reached out again asking why I hadn’t yet written about it.

While one might be taken aback by such pushiness, I was actually pleased.  Selfishly, I was happy that he thinks I have something to say.  But more than that, I’m glad he cared, and that he was a “he.”  In case you didn’t see his comment on the post last week, here it is:

Great commentary, Abigail. This is an ‘old’ argument. Have we made progress?; probably. Have we went far enough?; Certainly not. I think the broader discussion has to do with ‘age’ – what is the underlying difference between ‘beauty’ & ‘age’ if it means one class is being treated as an outcast? Many older workers are now feeling the same level of discrimination that woman of all ages have felt for many, many years. Of course, certainly for vastly different reasons in many respects. But what about woman over 50? Now they’re judged on their looks and their abilities. Talk about shaming! We need to start raising the noise on this issue; isn’t 50 the new 30? If so, let’s be more inclusive for all races, genders & ages.

Needless to say, I agree with him.  And as a woman in the corporate world, especially in a very young industry, i.e., tech, I can relate to the fear of being “too old” in the not so distant future.  I may be able to speak in front of large crowds and have the confidence to put myself “out there” in social media but tell my age to may colleagues?  Now, that’s a different story :).  In all seriousness, I experienced a bit of a mid-life crisis last year about this very issue.  Would I lose my allure?  And what happens then?  Will people not want to work with me anymore?  As vain as it sounds, I recognize that we all bring a full package to our social and professional lives.  And that package includes youthfulness, style, attractiveness, in addition to all the other very important traits like intellect, integrity, a work ethic, EQ, and the list goes on.  So I totally understand what this reader was getting at.  There was a recent story by Carly Ledbetter in the Huffington Post all about this: Men are Getting Now More Than Ever.  These Plastic Surgeons Explain Why.

This topic reminds me of a story I wrote a few years back about how American woman and men fear looking older.   This fear is not just associated with sexual appeal but with a sense of currency in the office.  Here’s what I wrote back then:

According to an article by American Health and Beauty(“More Male Patients Seeking Cosmetic Procedures”), men are increasingly seeking facelifts, male breast reduction, Botox treatments and liposuction.  The reason given?  Major competition in the job market from younger, more energetic youths.

What’s even more depressing is the rise of eating disorders among the silver-haired set.  A recent New York Times article (“An Older Generation Falls Prey to Eating Disorders”) states that more and more women over the age of 50 are suffering from anorexia, bulimia and other eating disorders.

So what do we?  We can be more diverse age-wise in our hiring practices.  And we can support older entrepreneurs who decided to pivot a bit later in their lives.   And I’m sure there are even more actions we can take.  In fact, comment on this story if you have some ideas!

But I actually think the changes need to come from within ourselves first.  If we are in fear of aging, we will inevitably project that onto others.  We all have to maintain ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually.  If we are to lose our sense of energy and positivity then we should expect people to not want to work or play with us.

I mentioned above that it was a man who reached out to me.  While I don’t want women or men to ever feel ashamed or unattractive, I’m actually somewhat pleased it was a man who commented.  For one thing, if both genders are experiencing this issue, the more likely the problem will be addressed.  In addition, I’m a big proponent of men taking special care of their physical health and appearance.  Unlike women who see doctors regularly from a young age and are used to tuning into their bodies, whether for procreation or disease-prevention reasons, men don’t really have a need to think about their bodies until later in life.  They may not understand or feel connected to their bodies in the same way women do.  But when we all make conscious effort to maintain our physical health, and, yes, our appearance, we understand our bodies better.    We are clued into them.  And frankly we respect them more.  If more men were to have a stronger “connection” with their bodies, I am convinced, they will not only be healthier for longer, but also be more aware of when they aren’t healthy.

No doubt I want to ensure that we give everyone a chance, no matter their religion, gender, appearance or age.  And we should fight against any discrimination that we face.  But I also think it’s up to all of us, individually, to ensure we feel healthy, happy and energetic.  Not only will we have that much more confidence, but we will undoubtedly inspire others to see how being older could even be better!

The Role of Ugliness and the Need to Address the Topic Head On

A couple of weeks back I posted my point of view on the recent film, Beauty and the Beast. Honestly, I didn’t think many would read it too closely, let alone comment on it.

Well, I was wrong.  And I’m thrilled!

What’s even better is the conflicting point of view that I sparked. Certainly not everyone agreed with my argument, and that was fine by me.  The sheer number of views and comments reinforces the opening point I made in that post: the movie and the subject of beauty, which is clearly part of the story, generate a lot of interest.  My question was why?

Many of the commentators on my post explained that the story line around inner beauty touches us all and the fact that the Belle character is even more nuanced elevates the story even more.  I buy that.  But I was more interested in why the subject of beauty in fairly tales still resonates.  Period.  A few years back I wrote a post about the animated movie, Brave, and how I appreciated that fact that she was not regarded as beautiful or ugly, but rather stubborn, athletic, loving, etc.  In other words, beauty didn’t enter the equation.

I concluded that the subject of beauty has a key role.  It isn’t something to ignore, but a topic we should raise and discuss.

And this means we should also encourage the topic of ugliness.  This is the other side of beauty.  Can someone look or be ugly?  I notice that I dissuade my children from describing things or other people as ugly. But in doing so am I am I shutting them down entirely.  Is that right?  Shouldn’t we invite the discourse?  Doesn’t Beauty and the Beast do just that?

Here’s a reason to talk about it.  I recently read a fascinating article by Mindy Weisberger of LiveScience, Beauty and the Beast: Why We are Fascinated By Human-Animal Mates?  As you can tell from the title, the story delves into the role of half-human half-animal characters in fairy tales.  Interestingly the half-animal characters are mostly male.  I won’t summarize the whole article but share one reason.  In the times of fairy tales, young girls, say around 14 years old, would often be betrothed to much older men.  To these girls, older men were obviously bigger, harrier, more muscular, perhaps even animal-like in their eyes. To assuage their fear of their future husbands, stories would often depict the princes as part animal.  And as we all know, everything turns out all right and we live happily ever after.  What an interesting explanation to share with our children!  And you can imagine the profound discussion that this explanation would lead to around women’s rights, equality, strong partnerships with romantic partners, and the list goes.  But without the freedom to pursue the topic of beauty and ugliness, we may never get to broach those issues.

We are innately interested and appreciate beautiful things and beautiful people.  And in an effort to shield girls and boys from placing too much emphasis on beauty, of course we shouldn’t elevate it to the only, or the primary source of conversation.  As an aside, there’s a book that just came out this week by Renee Engeln about our attention on beauty as a form of sickness, aptly named, Beauty Sick, How the Cultural Obsession with beauty and Appearance Hurts Girls and Women.  The analysis shows the ramifications of too much thought around beauty.  Obviously I don’t endorse that.  But I also believe that we shouldn’t ignore the subject all together or even downplay it.  Let’s embrace beauty, the uniqueness of it, and the bad and the good that come with it.

“Beauty and the Beast”: A Blow to Feminism or Something Powerful For Us All?

This week we are changing things up!  While the last number of posts have been about the future, i.e., upcoming fashion tech, this week I’m going to talk about something that’s been around for centuries: Fairly Tales.  Well, more specifically, Beauty and the Beast.

The reason?  You can’t ignore it.  Every time I open my news feed I see story after story about the movie.  Of course there’s lots to say about this version: there’s some hot actors in and controversies surrounding it, and box-office numbers are through the roof.  But it seems the focus on it is excessive.

Should I be surprised?  I mean how many versions of Beauty and the Beast, whether in film or written form, have there been?  A ton.  What gives?  Fairy Tales intrigue us because they are a reflection of fundamental human struggles, highs and lows, and desires etc.   But in this day and age why are we so enamored by a simple story about a beautiful woman and her ability to attract a prince?

Beauty, or the lack/loss of it, is so central to so many of these stories, because, well, it does matter to us.  But I can’t help but wonder if the blatant concern with outer beauty is something we want our kids to be listening to or watching in this day and age.  Haven’t we progressed beyond girls being noticed and valued for their beauty alone?

For those of you who follow Beautyskew, you know that I’m anything but adverse to our celebration of beauty.  But I am alarmed when we view beauty as our only asset.   I too have a daughter who is beautiful AND intelligent, gregarious, athletic, friendly, artistic, and the list goes on.  I try to celebrate all these traits.  So when a movie all about beauty gets so much attention I have to pause.

But, maybe this film is actually a gift.  Maybe the smack-you-in-the-face focus on beauty — it’s in the very title — will force a necessary debate.  No matter how successful we are at helping our daughters, sisters, girlfriends or mothers see their worth beyond their appearance, our culture still reflects how critical our looks are.  Often culture has a way of doing it in subtle ways, e.g., only cast young, svelte women for TV roles, churn out only singers that look pretty or put the spotlight only on female politicians’ attire.  When it’s subtle, it’s that much harder to recognize the issue, especially for kids.  On the flip side, the obvious title of the film and the role of beauty in the film can’t be ignored.  It’s there to enjoy, agree with or confront.  And that’s a good thing.

The fact remains:  we are judged by how we look.  I  suffered from this just last week when I was harshly judged by a particular audience for how I looked.  I’m not placing all the blame of my less-than-stellar success at bonding with the audience on my looks, but from what I heard, how I appeared was met with criticism and sexism.  This reaction tainted the whole presentation and had a ripple effect on others I work with.

I don’t like it, but it happens.  We can’t shield our kids, friends, relatives from that.  But we can help them come to terms with it.  If we deny the reality, we don’t help anyone.  We just leave our loved ones unprepared for others’ reactions.

The reason fairly tales still touch us is that they are so obvious.  They speak to the classic issues of beauty vs ugliness, evil vs goodness, strength vs weakness, without apologizing for it or masking it. Of course we are more subtle creatures and don’t need everything so blatant.   But sometimes you got to put the thinking out there so people are forced to respond.  We need to talk about the role of beauty in our lives, we must deal with issues of jealousy and fear.   We may not like that our outer appearances gets so much hype.  But they do.  Let’s address the issue, and learn how to love ourselves no matter how we appear to others or how others react to us.