It’s no secret that working women can pay a tremendous price for motherhood, from lost wages while on maternity leave to being passed over for promotions. But a recent conversation with a working mom colleague triggered a question about another possible hidden penalty this group gets hit with – if we accept that having kids can take a toll on a woman’s physical appearance, what’s the financial impact of attractiveness in the workplace?
The conversation was simple and familiar. My colleague was frustrated by her feeling that she had lost some of her physical attractiveness since having kids. She had gained weight and people regularly noted that she looked exhausted.
I have never believed that a woman should leverage her looks to advance her career, but research does indicate that attractiveness is a contributing factor to workplace success. According to a 2010 Newsweek survey, attractive people earn about 5 percent more in hourly pay than their average-looking colleagues, who in turn earn 9 percent more per hour than the plainest-looking workers. And in addition to success within the workplace, there is documentation to support the claim that being good-looking positively impacts the hiring decisions of employers. Height, weight, clothing and make-up all play a role in contributing to perceived female attractiveness in the workplace.
So I asked myself, what happens to a woman’s physical attractiveness after the arrival of a baby? I would love to say that a woman becomes more attractive because of the inner beauty that emerges. But the facts tell us something different. Let’s start with weight. In 2010, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine published a study of 6,458 Australian women. The study indicates that the 10-year weight gain for an average 140-lb. woman is 9 pounds more for a woman with a husband and child than for a single, childless woman. And research from Learnvest cites that women who are thin earn meaningfully more than female colleagues of normal weight.
Why do women with children gain weight? The study indicates a decline among working moms in the amount of time spent exercising. Ah, time – let’s talk about time and the impact of limited time on appearance. Exercise requires time. Wardrobe requires time. Make-up requires time. I know that in my own life, the thought of devoting 15 minutes a day to a blowdryer seems like too big a luxury, so my hair is wash-n-wear. I would bet that my hair does not always look as good as it did before I had kids.
Another one of the most important “beauty aids” that necessitates time is SLEEP. Many working mothers of young babies are managing their life on 3 to 4 hours of sleep. Not enough to be thinking clearly, let alone to look well-rested. In a study from March 2011, co-authored by Mehmet Oz, working moms with young kids are 2.5 times more likely than working dads to get up at night and care for the kids. And working moms stay up later than their male partners, even if they are the primary wage earner. Finally, money. Although I couldn’t find any clear data that showed a loss in disposable income for the working mother, let’s make the logical leap that most working mothers are not able to spend the same amount of money on their appearance as they could before having children or as their childless work colleagues.
Whether or not you agree that appearance should be a factor in career success, it does seem to have an impact. So if you’re a working mom, here are a few simple commitments you can make that will help you look your best.
1. Exercise. Make it happen in any way you can! Even 15 minutes of something is better than nothing at all. Make it a habit and reward yourself for following through.
2. Sleep. Get it! At least 8 hours, two nights of the work week and more on the weekends.
3. Clothing. Have three pre-planned “Go-To” outfits for days when you’re too tired to pull something together. Dresses are especially helpful – no matching required!
4. Make-up. Wear some. And this is coming from someone who hates to wear makeup. But for major meetings at work, I ALWAYS take the time to put on a swipe of mascara and lipstick. Make-up does not make you look more beautiful. But it does make you look like you have the discipline to care about your appearance.
It’s tough enough to be a working mom, without getting penalized for how we look!