Appearance-Obsession in the Workplace

When you are deliberately thinking ‘Dress for Success’ and keep up with updates in fashion and styles, you are not obsessed with appearance, at least not yet.

Particular women and men that are appearance-obsessed are preoccupied daily with their looks in their private lives as well as in their workplace. Enormous amounts of resources are devoted to achieve conformity with the changing fashion, beauty and cosmetics innovations.

What are the signs of appearance obsession in the workplace?

Here is a list of questions given to me by a Holly, a young female executive who admits that a great deal of her working day is spent in questioning and obsessing over her appearance and the others’ reaction to her looks.

How do I look in the clothes that I am wearing now?

How do I look from the back? From the side?

Do these clothes make me look fat?

How do other women look today?

What are they wearing to work?

Who looks ‘hot’ in the meeting today?

How many in the office have noticed me today?

Should I go home and change during lunch?

What cosmetic procedure can fix some blemishes?

Who are the cosmetic surgeons to the stars?

These questions and many more take away from Holly’s ability to focus on her projects and deal with her subordinates, not to mention meeting dead lines…

When Holly looks back at her last year’s job performance she feels ashamed, lack of self respect and pride. Holly was fired from a prestigious position. She could not focused, deliver, nor couls she meet dead lines. Holly became one of my executive coaching clients just after her recent job lose.

What is happening here?

Obsession with perfection, beauty and appearance has been growing fast in this culture. This obsession is fed by TV shows like Extreme Makeover and other programs that ‘educate’ the public about how easy it is to construct a perfect look. Some women who were more sensitive than others to their appearance become more obsessed as our culture is exposed to mega dosages of cosmetics and plastic surgery possibilities.

The New Workplace Issue

Considering the pervasiveness of this new obsession; what is the chance that a young female worker will feel comfortable with her own appearance at a new workplace? Or even veteran woman who is now in a new role? Growing in our culture, women today are trapped, thinking their presence is about attractiveness, beauty and the size of their body parts.

Co-workers and workplace culture play a major role in how women react to their own bodies, and specifically their appearance in spite of themselves. Some women in this culture easily fall into a “man-made” trap. The need for perfection in body size and shape coupled with changing fashions and looks that are ‘in’ or ‘out’ creates pressures on women in the workplace that need to be addressed.

There are health and psychological consequences to the new phenomenon; using our bodies to express fashion/beauty trends seems to induce a new emotion in the general population: shame. That is not shame about behaviors or acts but shame about our natural and healthy bodies and the normal process of aging. Obsessions may develop as an attempt to deal with shame and/or through the effort to cover up that disturbing feeling. Making one’s appearance the center of one’s being is exceeding the boundaries of what is beneficial to the workplace and for the mental health of its members.

In my experience, poor body-image and appearance-obsession are issues that will respond well and be helped by coaching and if necessary, psychotherapy.