What’s Looks Got To Do With It?

Posted on May 24, 2012


Two weeks ago, I wrote a post on the flap over Hillary Clinton’s appearing at an international dinner with minimal make up and casually styled hair.  The response was overwhelming.  Between Life in the Boomer Lane and Vibrant Nation posts, I received over 150 comments. Most women (but not all) applauded Hillary for her stand on substance over style. Several pointed out that she wasn’t exactly “au naturale,” but was instead beautifully made up to appear natural. Others pointed out that had she been a man, we wouldn’t be having this dialog at all. Several others indicated a desire to perform their own surgery on Dr 90210 for his comment about all women needing cosmetic surgery after a certain age.

First, an apology to Dr  90210:  Dear Dr  90210, I exercised artistic license with that statement.  I have never heard you say any of those things.  I have watched your show and I find you odious in many ways, but I can’t hang those particular statements on you.

Next, I think the volume of responses is indicative of a couple of issues that run deep within our culture. As females in our society, we are rewarded in many ways by looking good. Good-looking girls are generally (but not always) more popular with both boys and girls.  Good-looking women are generally (but not always) more successful professionally.  Good-looking women are generally (but not always) more successful in life.  According to Newsweek, “it’s no secret we are a culture consumed by image. Economists have long recognized what’s been dubbed the ‘beauty premium’—the idea that pretty people, whatever their aspirations, tend to do better in, well, almost everything.”

As women over 50 in our society, we are rewarded by looking good AND by looking youthful. It is difficult to bypass either of these realities. Even if we don’t think about it on our own, the media is constantly reminding us. While the media occasionally pays homage to “natural beauty,” they bleat even more about celebs “never aging” and write endless articles about “How to look younger than your age!”

You’d be hard-pressed to find many people, even those who disagree with her politically, who don’t view Hillary as one of the most powerful women on the planet.  So, if someone like Hillary falls prey to societal expectations, what hope is there for the rest of us?  Again, from Newsweek,

“Deborah Rhode, a Stanford law professor and author of The Beauty Bias, is herself an interesting case study. During her term as chair of the American Bar Association’s commission on working women, she was struck by how often the nation’s most powerful females were stranded in cab lines and late for meetings because, in heels, walking any distance was out of the question. These were working, powerful, leading women, she writes. Why did they insist on wearing heels? Sure, some women just like heels (and still others probably know their bosses like them).”

It’s not often that I take a break from writing humor, but I’m going to write a couple posts about our conflicted relationship with the double-whammy of aging and the notion of “beauty.” Stay tuned.