Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Why Women Have to Care About Their Looks

Appearance is critical to happiness and success.

A man asked me to write a post on the excessive pressure on women 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 can't write a post on how to love your self from the inside out.

I do feel we are under too much pressure to look like the images of perfect women the media bombards us with every day.

But I don't agree with the philosophy that I should love what I see in the mirror especially when I am a bit on the heavy side and the skin around my eyes is computer-screen dry.

I think every woman should care about how she looks if she wants to realize a comfortable level of success and self-sufficiency. Quite a bit of research has tried to determine how many seconds it takes before a person forms a judgment of someone they meet. Their brains calculate your value in terms of age, social standing and how approachable you are within thirty seconds or less. Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov say first impressions are formed in less than a tenth of a second.

I'm not advocating for plastic surgery and extreme diets. I do advocate for presenting an attractive, updated, professional image that represents how you want the world to judge you (though I do get lazy on airplanes and in grocery stores).

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--was not represented in how I looked.

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. 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.

I changed my hairstyle, my clothes and my make-up. Then, after seeing myself in the mirror, the pride I felt changed my posture and my stride.

Does this mean we are enslaved by ludicrous beauty standards? No matter how shallow and unfair it is, attractiveness factors into most parts of our lives, including hiring and promotion decisions. Newsweek columnist Jessica Bennett said, "In this economy looking good isn't just vanity, its economic survival."

What about surgery, fillers 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 around your mouth. I don't think you should put yourself in financial or physical jeapardy to stay looking young. I do think you should care about what you look like. That might include Botox or not... it's your choice.

Is Botox feminism an oxymoron? Only to those who judge women who get Botox.¹

Of course, keeping your face out of the sun, drinking water, reducing stress through yoga and exercise and eating more fresh foods will help. So will spending at least five minutes a day noticing what you are grateful and making sure you have at least one good belly laugh before you go to sleep.

But face it, when you look good on the outside, you feel good on the inside. Should it be the other way around? It can be. Your emotions affect your appearance and attractiveness. Your confidence plays into your ability to influence others.

It's not an "either or" question. You have to work both on staying attractive inside and outside. I'd love to wave a magic wand and make wrinkles a sign of special beauty and a little layer of fat a sign of abundance. I don't see that happening in the world I work in during my lifetime.

We live and work in a world where people judge your value in seconds or less.

At best, let's quit judging each other for what we feel we need to do to get ahead, whether you think wrinkles are a beautiful part of life or not. Better we respect each other for who we are and how we each choose to cope with the realities we face. Then maybe someday, these standards and judgments will change.

¹ This post does not address whether teens should have plastic surgery or injections. That question raises other issues.

More from Marcia Reynolds Psy.D.
More from Psychology Today