by Genie James

Forty-four year old Deb looked across the table at Jana. Feeling her stomach clench, Deb realized she was not just envious, she was pissed. How could it be that Jana, at fifty-three, looked so good? Contrasting Deb’s apple shape, Jana’s still trim body was two-piece worthy. Worse, Deb whole face sagged long and tired while her friend’s face looked fresh and line-free. Worst, Jana had just confided news about her raise.

“I was stunned when Phil gave me a 15 percent base raise and then sweetened my new client commission structure by another 5 percent. He gave you the same, right?”

Jana had good reason to believe she and Dana would receive the same raise and compensation package. They were both Marketing Account Executives and had joined the firm at the same time, eight years prior. Deb had been snaked away from a competitive company. A committed career gal, senior management expected Deb’s star to continue to rise fast. Jana, on the other hand, had taken almost ten years off to raise three boys as a single mom. Many at the C-suite level doubted Jana would have the talent, resilience and – quite frankly the balls - to not only re-enter but to shine. Jana proved them wrong. Deb and she had risen in lockstep through the ranks.

Or so Deb had thought. How was it possible that Jana’s base salary was now $12,000 more? Their work performance indicators were par. With Jana being an older female, Dana certainly couldn’t cry age or gender discrimination. Dana paused. Jana’s higher salary couldn’t be because she was prettier and fitter. Could it?

Yes.

A study funded by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis found that good-looking, fit women tend to make more than their smart, plain-Jane counterparts…up to 9 percent more.* More data: Daniel Hamermesh, professor of economics at the University of Texas at Austin, and author of the new book “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful” research showed that a good-looking person will earn, on average, $230,000 more over the course of a lifetime than someone who is perceived as less attractive.*

Add on the pounds and the earnings gap becomes even wider. Economists have found that overweight women are paid on average $9,000 less than their fit female peers and obese women a whopping $17,000 less than women within their recommended body mass index (BMI) range.*

Back at lunch, Dana fumed while Jana continued to prattle.

“Girlfriend, what are we going to do with all this new money? Let’s plan a girls-only get-away-trip to celebrate. Or I’ve got a better idea. Let’s take a week off and get our necks and eyes done.”

Dana started. “You mean you do that cosmetic stuff? Really? I’ve always thought women who start doing procedures are doomed to become age hysterics with over-plumped faces resembling spoiled Persian cats”

“Honey, get serious. I had my first tune up nine years ago, right before I re-entered the job market. I had to compete, you know?”

Cosmetic procedures to better compete in the workplace? Dana’s forehead furrowed.

Seeing Dana’s angst, Jana put a hand on her arm. “My friend, the idea that beauty is career booster sounds shallow, vain and most certainly unfair. But the data is there. When all my boys were finally in school, I knew I had to go back to work. We needed the money. So I did my homework as to how best to compete. Having a solid, current professional skill set is a non-negotiable must, of course. How your looks matter is more subtle.”

“Multiple studies show that women over forty who dress in style, have a hip haircut, are fit and have a firm, smooth facial countenance are perceived to be more on the cutting edge; also, more creative and productive. I invested in my looks then, and continue to invest now, because I am determined to be always be highly competitive, relevant and be paid well for what I do.”

“At fifty-three and counting,” Jana continued, “I am the poster-woman for a three optimal aging truisms. First, there is nothing more beautiful than a rested, calm woman. Turn off your phone, computer and TV and get a good night’s sleep. Second, food is fuel and exercise is medicine. In other words, eat less crap and move your bum more. Finally, if a woman my age looks as good as I do, there is only one question you should ask.”

Greedy for ‘the secret,’ Dana leaned in. “What question is that?”

Jana laughed. “Who is your doctor?”