Cover charge

Whether you like it or not your appearance matters in the workplace.

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Everyone has heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” But when you’re strolling through your local bookstore and don’t have a specific title in mind, how do you decide what book to pick up? The cover.

It may not be a popular truth but the same situation applies to your physical appearance when it comes to success. Everything from physical characteristics to wardrobe choices and nonverbal body language can have a strong positive or negative effect on people’s first impression of you and even play a role in your long-term success.

Unfortunately, many studies have shown physical appearance bias influences a woman’s opportunity to be hired and advance at a higher rate than our male counterparts. A recent study from Cornell University found that if a woman put on an additional 64 pounds, her wages went down by a whopping 9%. This has become such a common finding that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics coined the term “wage penalty” for the statistically significant difference in earnings for overweight or obese women.

Men, especially short men, aren’t exempt from these possibly unconscious judgments either. Several studies, including one from the Journal of Applied Psychology, have found that people who are taller have higher earning potential, $789 for every inch above the average height to be exact!

Dr. Nestor Rodriguez, a board-certified physician and owner of Carbon World Health, a medical spa in Madison, sheds some light on this. “I believe symmetry of features, healthy weight, dental hygiene, appropriate makeup, and wardrobe to pull off your intended look all contribute to how attractive someone is perceived as,” he states. “It is not about being perfect. In fact, perfect to me loses folks because you become unreal and people lose interest.”

The competitive job market and pressure to look your best are some of the reasons Rodriguez chose to create a unique business model that helps clients take a holistic approach to their cosmetic appearance and physical health. Carbon World Health calls it “lifestyle medicine.”



While you probably won’t have much luck making yourself taller (unless you add a couple inches with your shoe collection), there are steps you can take to ensure your appearance is helping — not hindering — your opportunities for advancement and the higher earnings that come with it.

  1. Work out on a consistent basis to stay physically fit. This doesn’t mean everyone needs to be a size zero, but strive to be at a weight that is healthy for your age, height, and body type. Not only will this improve your appearance, it will increase your energy, focus, and productivity, as well.
  2. Give your wardrobe a touch up. Although many workplaces are going for a more casual feel, those who dress to impress will stand out. If you aren’t a natural fashionista, check out Stitch Fix (a personal favorite) or Trunk Club to help get some affordable and fashionable items shipped right to your front door.
  3. If you are concerned that other aesthetic issues affect your performance or confidence, consider speaking with a professional. There are many cost effective and safe options that can drastically improve your appearance.

Before you flood my email inbox with angry notes, I understand that everyone is unique, has his or her own style, and has the right to express it however he or she sees fit. I also understand that much more goes into success than just physical appearance. However, these aren’t my opinions, they are findings from numerous studies by accredited institutions. My job is to help you reach higher levels of success, and if that means telling you that you might need to revamp your “cover” to improve your chances of getting picked off of the shelf, so be it!

Have you had an experience where appearance has had either a positive or negative impact on your success? I’d be interested to hear more about it! Shoot me an email at

Jenna Atkinson is the president of CONNECT Madison, a young professionals group offering development, community engagement, and relationship-building opportunities to local business leaders.

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