by Genie James



Genie James, MMSc, President & Founder, GJ Enterprises, Inc.

In business, perception is a strategic communication tool impacting short and long-term success. To find out if your personal appearance may be perceived as an asset or liability, honestly answer these five questions:

  1. My employees/staff would describe my everyday demeanor as:
    1. Worried and tired
    2. Preoccupied
    3. Upbeat and energetic
  2. My colleagues would describe my dress-for-work style as:
    1. Sloppy
    2. Casual
    3. Stylish
  3. I last updated my hair style:
    1. Ten years ago
    2. Three to five years ago
    3. Within the last year
  4. To take care of my nails, I
    1. Bite them
    2. Trim and file when they break
    3. Get, or self-give, regular manicures and pedicures
  5. I am:
    1. 30+ lbs overweight
    2. 10 to 30 lbs overweight
    3. At, or < 10 lbs over, my preferred healthy weight

Scoring: Give yourself 1 point for every question you answered a; 2 points for ever b; and 3 points for every c. If your total is:

  • 12-15: You appearance is likely working in your favor.
  • 8-11: You are in pretty good shape but a little fine tuning is recommended.
  • 5-7:   You should update your look for a more polished version of the incredible you.

Think the link between appearance and perceived performance is bogus or discriminatory? Consider the example of Jana vs. Deb:

Sitting in their monthly Women Presidents Organization (WPO) meeting, Deb looked across the table at Jana. Feeling her stomach clench, Deb realized she was not just envious, she was annoyed. Jana had just confided news of a multi-million dollar capital infusion into LongevityWell, her Alzheimer’s, dementia and memory services healthcare business.

“I was thrilled when Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe (WCAS) said they were in only two months after our original presentation. Our decade-plus of data indisputably proving how hands-on care significantly improves quality of life, helps slow disease progression and reduces unnecessary prescription drug use was pivotal to closing the deal. Also the fact that I have been highly visible as an industry spokesperson impressed them. Raising this capital is game-changing. Plans are for us to ramp up quickly. WCAS’s goal is for LongevityWell to be a national industry leader in no more than three years.”

Jana’s fellow WPO members exploded with cheers and applause. Deb clapped along, though inside she seethed. Her feelings were not directed at Jana. Jana was a dear friend.

For over a year, Deb had been working to raise capital for her company, Clear Flight, which provides mission-critical data, information services and workflow solutions to the private airplane and small jet service and repair industry. Shifts in the commercial airline industry had primed the private-sector aeronautical niche market to explode. WCAS and several other venture capital firms had been at the table, then walked away. Deb’s gut told her that the investors’ walked away because of lack of confidence in her as a leader…or perhaps it had been her inability to exude that confidence in herself.  

Though only forty-nine, when Deb looked in the mirror she saw a woman forty pounds too heavy, with an always-weary expression and ever-furrowed brow. Elastic waist black pants, sensible shoes and an over-sized white shirt were her chosen uniform. In contrast, fifty-three year old Jana was fit, stylishly dressed, always radiating energy and can-do enthusiasm with a ready smile. Dana paused and considered: Could her personal appearance be a silent variable negatively impacting investors’ perception of the future performance and value of her company?


A 2013 Wall Street Journal survey found that overweight female C-suite executives are perceived as less effective. The same is not true for men who are overweight; male CEOs carrying extra girth were found to be perceived as stronger, more seasoned and powerful. Weight discrimination is not only an issue for C-suite executive women, it affects their pocketbook: Economists have found that overweight women in middle-management are paid on average $9,000 less than their fit female peers; obese women a whopping $17,000 less than women within their recommended body mass index (BMI) range.

More data: 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 nine percent more. Finally, 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” does the math to show 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.

But you don’t have to be born with a model’s cheek bones, height and slim figure; anyone can appear more polished and attractive with a few small changes. But if you feel you are too busy to take the time to enhance how you look, these seven tips will kick up your appearance and perception the notch you may need.

  1. Smile: Smiling makes your entire face look brighter and imbues a sense of calm authority. Worried about old crooked or stained teeth, start with an at-home bleaching kit or visit your dentist for professional whitening and – possibly – some porcelain veneers.
  2. Move your fanny: You’ve heard it before. Get up from your desk, park far away from the door, take the stairs, take a walk or jog, sign up for an exercise class. Exercise produces endorphins that give you a confidence boost. Exercise also has a positive impact on food choices and converts fatty, sugary food cravings into new motivation to choose food for fuel.
  3. Watch your posture: Studies show that women who stand up and sit straighter are perceived as more powerful and in control.
  4. Update your hair cut. Seriously.
  5. Work with a stylist to update your wardrobe. Most department stores have personal shoppers available at no charge.
  6. Wear heels: Even a small, one-inch heel will instantly make your silhouette look slimmer and force you to stand a little straighter.
  7. Get a manicure: Your hands are your second voice as well as an extension of your brain, intentions and actions. Scraggly, unkempt cuticle beds or unsightly hangnails do not reflect well on you capabilities as a leader.

Any tips for others? Let me know how you updated your look and how that has impacted your professional standing, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Nothing succeeds like the appearance of success.”
– Christopher Lasch