A nip and tuck to get ahead

Once upon a time it was the domain of the greying generation trying to hang on to its youth. But a survey released this week has revealed one-fifth of working women admit they’d consider getting cosmetic surgery to further their career.

The poll of almost 500 female employees by The Heat Group also reported that 30 per cent of women have experienced discrimination at work based on their looks, highlighting a concern many feel to be true: good-looking people are more likely to get ahead.

In a study conducted by the University of California a few years ago, attractive staff members were found to earn more than their less attractive counterparts. The cause of this disparity was that beautiful people were perceived as being more helpful and cooperative than their peers, and less selfish, too. The scientists discovered this was true across various industries and societies.

Backing that research is another statistic from this week’s survey: 40 per cent of women know a female co-worker who has been hired or promoted due to physical attractiveness rather than job performance. Perhaps some of that result reflects a tendency for people to find something superficial to explain a rival’s success, but still, even if it’s only half right, it shows that meritocracy is somewhat absent.

One of the most prolific researchers on physical attractiveness is Dr Gordon Patzer. In his book, Looks: Why they matter more than you ever imagined, he cites studies showing that cuter babies are more likely to be held affectionately than those that aren’t so cute, and that teachers have higher expectations of the more attractive kids as they progress through school. So it’s not unusual to see the favourable treatment of attractive people spreading into the workplace, too.

Gillian Franklin, the managing director of Heat, told me the pressure on women to resort to cosmetic surgery as a career advancement strategy has been getting worse. “There is a heightened awareness today of cosmetic surgery which didn’t exist 20 years ago or even five years ago,” she said, adding that various procedures have become more accessible. “The general community is much more accepting of cosmetic surgery today and it’s more affordable now.”

In August, the International Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery released for the first time a compilation of worldwide comparisons. The United States came out on top as the country in which surgical and non-surgical procedures are conducted the most. This was followed by Brazil in second place, China in third, India in fourth, and Mexico in fifth. Australia is sitting at number 22.

The five most popular surgical procedures in Australia from highest to lowest are: blepharoplasty (removal of excess skin from the eyelids), rhinoplasty (nose job), breast augmentation (implants), breast lift (tightening up), and liposuction (removal of fat). And the most common non-surgical procedure was, unsurprisingly, botox.

Often it’s not just about the external gratification patients get from knowing people find them attractive. It also has a lot to do with how they personally feel about themselves. From a career perspective, if their self-esteem is up, they sound more assured in job interviews. When their confidence is stronger, they’re bolder during negotiations and salary reviews.

Official figures for work-inspired cosmetic surgery doesn’t exist here, but the American Academy of Facial Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery surveyed their members a couple of years ago. Two thirds of surgeons reported seeing an increase in cosmetic surgery among those who want to be more competitive in the workplace.

This isn’t just about women, either. Increasingly, blokes are going under the knife, too. But I wonder how many people are resorting to cosmetic surgery before exploring other avenues like their hairstyle, the clothes they wear, the food they eat, their skincare products, and their level of exercise. A surgically improved face might not compensate for deficiencies in those areas.

Regardless, a dud employee is a dud employee. Just because the packaging’s great doesn’t mean the product will deliver. It’s a shame there isn’t a surgical procedure to enhance the brain.


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