How Do You Know When It's Time to Change Your Looks?

There comes a moment in life when many of us realize our outside no longer matches what’s inside. But what we may not expect is that improving how we look—our hair, our fitness, even our smile—can reverberate in profound ways

by Susan Gregory Thomas
woman looking in mirror image
Photograph: Geof Kern

Russell’s life stage most likely helped her make the transition from grooming herself for male attention to doing it primarily to please herself. “Younger women are more than twice as likely as older counterparts to shop for beauty products ‘to make me feel sexy,’ ” reports Karen Grant, global beauty-industry analyst at the NPD Group, an international market-research company. “But at a certain point, ‘being liked by men’ stops being a top priority for women, and by the time they’re in their midfifties, it drops way down the list. As they age, women are much more likely to be motivated by the desire to feel confident.”

Grant suggests that one key to a woman’s confidence is finding her personal “I look good” style. Whether we come off as Goth-y and avant-garde (Tilda Swinton, Helena Bonham Carter) or more like a Bratz mom (Jennifer Lopez), once we find ways to match our insides with our outsides, we are unimpeachably ourselves—and that’s our invitation to walk out into the world boldly. Because let’s be real: Our public face is important. Studies show that attractive, well-groomed people are treated more courteously and considered smarter than their less-well-put-together counterparts. Even our facial expressions matter. “If you have a chronically downturned mouth, people may avoid you, assuming you’re angry or depressed even if you aren’t,” says Eric Finzi, MD, author of The Face of Emotion: How Botox Affects Our Moods and Relationships. Moreover, just knowing that your crow’s-feet are smooth, your legs are stubble free and your biceps are defined may make you feel prepared, well cared for and generally ready to tackle life. Conversely, if you neglect a specific aspect of your looks that you consider important, you risk inviting low self-esteem, negative judgment from others, even feelings of hopelessness.

The confidence continuum
What bothered 43-year-old Roslyn Pilla was her teeth. A childhood accident had left them chipped in front, a problem she tried—and failed—to solve with bonding, which eroded and became so discolored that it had to be redone. As a hardworking CEO in the marketing business, where image is everything, Pilla felt her smile was directly related to her ability to engage clients, impart confidence and sell. After a particularly intense stretch at work, during which Pilla put in 12- to 14-hour days, she decided: It was time for a permanent, fully satisfactory smile fix.

“I finally forked over the money for veneers,” she says. The results were astonishing, mostly to her. “Until I did it, I didn’t realize how much anxiety my teeth had caused me, how insecure I’d felt and how much that had affected my sense of myself and my work in sales.” Indeed, she attributes some of the boom in her company’s success to her investment in cosmetic dentistry. “I didn’t tell longtime clients, coworkers or most of my friends about the -veneers, but so many of them have said I look happy and rested,” she says. “I’m projecting a kind of confidence that keeps the positive feedback at a whole other level. I feel as though I’m working better, smarter.”

When she embarked on her own appearance-improvement plan, women’s-clothing designer Kathy Rego, 52, didn’t see it as a professional move—but she is now convinced that weight lifting contributed to her business’s success. Five years ago, Rego, a single mom, worked punishing hours overseeing the international technical-design division that serves Anthropologie, Urban Outfitters and Free People (all owned by parent company Urban Outfitters Inc.). She felt, she says, “as if my life was completely out of balance, out of control.” Deciding she had to do something, she thought she could at least get into better physical shape. But she hated aerobic exercise, so she chose to lift weights—and found that her training delivered results far beyond the physical.

First published in the October 2013 issue

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