Business, Beauty or Sexy Head-shots

What is the Right Balance for Women in Business?

There are two issues I think about and ask my female colleagues and friends about with some frequency – aging and standards for female beauty as an entrepreneur whose brand is really myself.

Personal Brand and Beauty Standard

I notice the amount of attention young women pay to looking polished or pretty in their photos for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I am over 50 and self-described average looking. I have this thing about being too critical of my professional pictures. Seeing how other women create a personal brand through their social media head shot photos is interesting.  I often wish I had felt as good about myself in my 20s as these confident young business women clearly feel. Here are some of my observations.

Four head shot types:

  1. The very beautiful, “glamour shot” kind of picture.  If you are naturally pretty, this one can look almost like a beauty pageant photo.  It looks like a head shot an actress might have in a portfolio for auditions or maybe a modeling contract. The funny thing is that the other photos on their site look more natural and a lot less threatening, more normal to us older women or maybe those of us (myself included) that are less naturally beauty-queen pretty.
  2. The “glamour shot” with an overt sexual aspect.  This typically includes visible cleavage and a suggestive expression. When you are “followed” by someone with this picture the first reaction is to think you’ve been spammed.
  3. A posed more business-like professional kind of picture. This picture looks more like what the person would look like if you ran into them at a business meeting.  Neat, put together in great business clothes.
  4. A candid, no makeup kind of picture. This might represent a more natural style – what the person looks like when they grocery shop.  Maybe they are kind of granolary (sp – is that a word?).  Maybe they are really secure and comfortable allowing people to see who they really are?  Maybe they reject the more beauty queen ideal.  It’s hard to know.

I find myself curious about whether these different kinds of photos reflect a deeper overt decision or whether it is just differing regional or generational standards for polish.  My mother was raised in Maine and was naturally beautiful.  She might have used lipstick when she left the house but unless she was going out to dinner or entertaining she wore no make up. She had dark auburn hair, brown eyes and her olive skin was deeply tanned in the summer. I am more fair with lighter red hair and blue eyes.  My make up regimen is pretty simple: I use eye-brow pencil since my fair eye brows are naturally invisible and a little foundation.  I use a lip gloss or Vaseline on my lips.  I have never used a red lip color.  If I try it, the person looking back at me in the mirror seems like a weird stranger. My eyelashes are blond.  I use a little light-colored mascara for a wedding or special occasion, but generally, nothing else.

As a young business women I worked for a national company in the 70s and 80s and traveled to every US region.  The pace of work and standards for relating to business colleagues differed by region.  This manifested in the work pace of the day, whether people stopped to have lunch and how late they scheduled client meetings each day.  I loved going to Atlanta because the gentile sales reps would schedule the last meeting of the day around 2:00 PM so I could go back to the Ritz Carleton, put my feet up and presumably re-apply my “face.”  I had extra feet-up time because I didn’t really re-apply make up in the afternoon. To my social scientist eye of the time, standards for female beauty in the business context varied as well.

I spent many days in the American southeast.  These women knew things about grooming, makeup and fashion that I had never considered at the time.  Southern women seemed very beautiful to me.  I remember feeling frumpy amongst them.  A note might be in order here that my family was in the clothing business.  This may be why I notice this stuff.  In Boston, the high-powered business women dressed in more classic, expensive Brooks Brothers type wear and less make up.  In New York, standards were influenced by high fashion and entertainment industry standards – clothes and make up. At a recent HR convention there was a 60-ish southern woman presenting and she looked fabulous.  She had on a Chanel suit and wore a color-coordinated diamond watch.  I’m pretty sure she colored her hair.  I also noticed that her book’s head shot seemed like it might have been taken a while back.  More importantly, she had a lot of smart things to say – innovative, progressive. I took a lot of notes and looked her up online later.

I am curious about why women make the decisions they do.  If I had unlimited income I would conduct a study and write a book.  I might buy such a book if it contained a sociological or anthropological analysis.

Standards of beauty and aging

I have recently decided to grow my hair out.  It is thick and sort of strawberry blond.  I get compliments on it.  The more I age, the more I think about emphasizing my positive physical assets is on my mind.  I make a living speaking to business groups.  I have managed to stay fit- keep my weight down; I pay attention to looking a bit more polished; and though my hair has very little grey, I am increasingly aware of the condition of my facial skin.  In the past, I would never have considered facial surgery.  At this point the price tag makes this a non-issue.  I don’t know if I could ever go through with it.  There is something creepy about the “housewives” shows where the women all look the same.  It’s kind of a “fish face” look as the skin is pulled back and the corners of the mouth get pulled.  I think looking natural and well-cared-for is much better than a fish face.  (I am aware that some plastic surgery is better, with a lighter touch.) When I have this mental discussion in my head, I consistently come down on the side of advancing my consulting and speaking skills thinking that if I provide enough content, people won’t mind that I am aging.  With age, comes experience and skill, I think.

I have a 40-ish friend with long, very curly salt and pepper hair.  She is thin and beautiful. All clothes look great on her. She recently decided to color the grey and when I asked about it she shared some of the feelings I’ve had about it too.  I was glad to know she was wrestling with the same thoughts I had.  This made me feel less neurotic. She feels pressure to look young and seem fit and vibrant.  Some of her friends and colleagues  thought that “fit and vibrant” did not include grey hair.  This is an incredibly smart and talented women.  I don’t know any man who does what she does with more intelligence or talent. When I listen to the last business deal she made I am amazed about how she solves thorny, complicated business problems and gets parties to agree.  I suspect that her clients feel quite well served but I understand the self-doubt she feels.

While I notice how people present themselves physically, I tend to judge women in a business context by whether they have skill and how they treat others and not by how they look.  I hope they judge me the same way. There is room for everyone and varied styles.  I sometimes worry a little about the more sexually overt style some women take on in the workplace because of my work in the HR world.  Overt sexuality usually causes problems for everyone including the woman, her coworkers and the company.  But still every woman needs to decide for herself what to do, how to dress and how to relate to others.

Maybe I will age into looking like those pretty older women with shiny silver/white hair, scarves and soft colorful clothes who wear earrings and lovely make up.  Not sure.  Just thinking about life today.  What got me thinking was a recent 20-something female Twitter follower whose formal head shot was a beauty picture and more natural candid shots appeared on her website. She is obviously smart and talented.  I was wondering about her thought process and whether I needed a better head-shot. Maybe I’ll buy an expensive cream to put on my wrinkles. Cindy Crawford does look pretty good.

PS. Word press spell check flagged the word mascara but it is spelled correctly – I have never used it in a sentence before and looked it up.  Why do you think WordPress doesn’t recognize it?

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