Tag Archives: opinion pieces

Have You Measured Your Face Lately?

I always figured that the way people look has something to do with their success. Let’s face it. We’re all constantly being judged by others, and some of those judgments are based on how we look.

How important is appearance? The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted Sylvia Ann Hewlett’s book, Executive Presence. Hewlett asserts that three elements make up one’s “personal presence”—how you behave, how you speak, and how you look. (She also notes that “showing teeth”—being decisive when faced with hard choices—plays an important role.)

Are we short? Tall? In between? Are we slim? Pudgy? Somewhere in the middle? Are we conventionally good-looking? Or would our faces stop a clock (to use a phrase favored by my brother-in-law)?

All these factors come into play when others take a look at us and evaluate our merits. I myself come up short (literally) on at least one of them.

One factor I never took into account is the width of my face. But a recent study has come up with some astounding results, leading researchers to conclude that a wide face is worth more in the business world than a narrow one.

The overall study was run by researchers at the business school at the University of California, Riverside, along with London Business School and Columbia University. The research team, led by a UC management professor named Michael Hasehuhn, conducted a series of studies on business students with different facial-width to facial-height ratios.

According to a July report on this research in the Wall Street Journal, the earliest studies revealed that business students with wide faces were more aggressive, self-interested, and unethical. They were even more likely to lie. The researchers found, for example, that these students were more likely to resort to outright deception to close a sale. They also cheated more in games.

The more recent research focused on how these students fared in negotiations. The researchers found that men with wide faces tend to take a more competitive approach to negotiations than men with narrower faces. When the students engaged in simulated salary negotiations, the men with wider faces entered the negotiations with a more competitive mind-set and wound up negotiating a signing bonus of nearly $2,200 more than the bonus won by men with narrow faces. In simulated real-estate negotiations, a property went for a higher price to a wide-faced seller but a lower price when that same wide-faced guy was the buyer.

According to Hasehuhn, these findings are consistent with earlier research on attributes associated with wide-faced males and may have implications for all men who enter into negotiations. For example, a narrow-faced man can anticipate a more contentious exchange if he knows he will confront someone with a wider face. At the same time, wide-faced guys can “tweak” their own approach to negotiations if they expect to be perceived as more aggressive.

Because these findings struck me as somewhat sketchy, I sought the opinion of a nationally-recognized negotiator, Ron Shapiro. In his over-forty-year career as a negotiator in the worlds of law, sports, business, and politics, Shapiro has conducted successful negotiations on behalf of high-profile clients like Cal Ripken Jr., negotiating more than $1 billion in contracts, even resolving a symphony orchestra strike. He’s also cofounded the Shapiro Negotiations Institute, where he trains people in a variety of professions how to negotiate successfully. His best-selling books include Dare to Prepare and Perfecting Your Pitch.

Shapiro reviewed the findings of the business school researchers. Although he doesn’t question the findings, he has a totally different take on things. He believes that even if physical characteristics are assumed to have an impact on the outcomes of negotiations, “the real difference maker … on outcomes is how systematically the negotiator goes about his or her negotiation efforts.” In other words, negotiators’ skills outweigh a superficial trait like the width of their faces. He’s seen outcomes “shift markedly” after a negotiator has been “empowered” by learning the right kind of skills. He “will take that over these wide/narrow research findings any day.”

If you’ve noticed that the research findings focus entirely on men, you may be wondering: What about women? The Bloomberg Businessweek review of the research noted that women didn’t benefit from “the perks of a wide mug.” Apparently, when men see their faces in the mirror, a wide-faced man gets a rush of power but a wide-faced woman doesn’t. Hasehuhn told Businessweek he thinks biology plays a role. “Men with wider faces tend to have higher circulating rates of testosterone,” and he claims that this higher level has been linked to feeling powerful.

Where is the support for Hesehuhn’s biological theory? I’m not sure. Maybe he’ll reveal it when his paper is published in an upcoming issue of Leadership Weekly.

In the meantime, as a woman, I’m apparently immune to the wide-faced/narrow-faced dichotomy. But if you’re a man, maybe you should think about measuring your face sometime.

On second thought, you’d be wise (if not wide) to take Ron Shapiro’s advice and focus instead on sharpening your negotiating skills. Women should do the same.

And maybe, when appropriate, you should show your teeth—no matter what kind of face they’re in.

But Is It Reunion-Worthy?

“Belt-tightening” is the word on everyone’s lips these days.  We’ve all become uber-cautious purchasers of everything from laundry detergent to pancake syrup.

This new ethos fits in perfectly with my lifelong approach to shopping.  I’ve never been a big spender. Au contraire. My chief indulgence has always been to hunt for earth-shattering bargains.

But now I have another reason to watch my pennies when I consider buying something new. With a class reunion looming, the prospect of seeing my former classmates has led me to rethink how I shop for clothes.

After scrutinizing a closetful of things I wouldn’t dream of wearing to my reunion, I’m launching a whole new wardrobe strategy.

The new standard for my purchases? Are they reunion-worthy?

I’m a bargain-hunter from way back, and one of my favorite pursuits has always been scouring the reduced racks at stores ranging from Loehmann’s and Macy’s to Nordstrom and my neighborhood boutiques.  Not to mention bopping into stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls now and then.  The result?  Although some of my choices have served me well, my closet is crammed with bargains that I never wear.

OK, I’ll admit that some of them don’t fit.  They were impulse purchases during those giddy moments when I actually thought I was going to wear a size 4 again.

But even those that fit me perfectly well often hang there along with the others.  Yes, they looked good in the dressing room.  Was it the soft lighting that sucked me in?  Or was it the “skinny mirrors”?  (Remember how Elaine on “Seinfeld” accused Barney’s of having skinny mirrors?)

I happily toted my bargains home.  But by the time I appraised them in my bedroom mirror and realized that they didn’t look so great on me after all, the deadline for returning them had too often expired.  I was permanently and unalterably stuck with them.

Fast forward to now.  Before I hand over my cash for another purchase, I’m going to ask myself:  “Is it reunion-worthy?”

We all understand what that means.  We want to look absolutely smashing at a class reunion.  Everything we wear has to be fabulous.  Now translate that to your everyday wardrobe.

Here’s how the new approach will work.  Remember those classmates who were slim and sleek when you were kind of puffy?  Thanks to your fitness regime and a healthier diet, you’ve pared down your poundage and tightened up your tummy.  If you were going to a class reunion, you’d want everyone to know it, wouldn’t you?  So view every dress with that in mind.  Ask yourself, “Do I look as slender in this dress as I really am?”  If not, don’t buy it!  It’s not reunion-worthy.

Or suppose that you’ve slowly, painfully, come to realize that you look awful in pale pink and that navy blue suits you much better.  You wouldn’t buy a pale pink pantsuit to wear to your reunion, would you?  So…don’t buy it for any other occasion, no matter how gigantic a bargain it may be.

I’m frequently tempted to buy jackets in bold bright patterns with large colorful designs.  But after I bought one the other day, I took another look at it in my bedroom mirror.  It overpowered my petite size and shape.  Would I wear it to my reunion?  Not on your life!  Back to the store it went.

Thanks to my awakening, we can all begin to view everything we buy through this new lens.   So what if an outfit’s been reduced from $200 to a rock-bottom 39 bucks.  Don’t buy it unless it’s reunion-worthy.  That designer dress may be terribly chic, but let’s face it:  it’s styled for someone with a totally different shape.  Forget it.  It’s not reunion-worthy.

As you hunt for clothes in your favorite stores, keep thinking this way, and spend your hard-earned dollars on only those duds that make you look terrific.  You’ll save money, and your closets will no longer be clogged with unwearable clothes.

Happy shopping!  You can thank me (and my class reunion) for a splendid result.

[A version of this commentary previously appeared as an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle.]

The Lip-Kick Effect

Despite what some pundits may say, much of our economy is still mired in a recession.  Efforts to budge the numbers upward have had some success, with thousands more private jobs created in recent months.

But many Americans still feel stuck in neutral or worse.  How do we cope?

Researchers at several universities recently concluded that the more insecure the economy, the more women spend on beauty products, especially lipstick.  They’ve dubbed this phenomenon the “lipstick effect.”

I prefer to call it the “lip-kick effect.”  When one of my daughters was quite small, she pronounced “lipstick” as “lip-kick,” and her mispronunciation became family legend.  It now strikes me as an even better moniker for the “lipstick effect.”

Five separate studies confirmed this hypothesis.  They found that during recessions over the past 20 years, women have reallocated their spending from other items to beauty products.

Why do women confronted with economic hardship seek out new beauty products?  The researchers came up with a host of reasons.  Most significant is a rational desire to attract men, especially men with money.

Another reason?  It’s simple:  Lipstick can boost a woman’s morale.

I cheerfully admit that I’m a (credit) card-carrying member of this particular group.  Like most women, I get a kick out of lipstick.  And while uncertainty reigns, we women get our kicks where we can.

A brand-new lipstick can be a mood-changer.  How many times have we witnessed women in the movies or on TV applying lipstick in front of a mirror, then smiling at their reflection?  That scene rings true.  Lipstick can make women feel better.  And lipstick is a pretty cheap thrill.

Leonard Lauder, chairman of the Estée Lauder Companies, reportedly announced that lipstick sales went way up after 9/11.  I’m not surprised.  Estée Lauder lipsticks, at 18 or 20 bucks each, are a bargain compared to a $300 pair of shoes or a $900 designer handbag.

But some lip-kicks are even cheaper.  When women need a quick pick-me-up, we can saunter down to our neighborhood drugstore and head for the cosmetics section.  The dizzying array of available lipsticks can put a smile on almost any woman’s face.  There’s the usual overabundance:  lipstick, lip gloss, lip stain, lip liners, all in countless colors and textures that are constantly changing.

For $8 or $10, we can choose from scores of glittering options.  Many purport to last longer than ever before.  And now there are the plumpers, lipsticks that claim to have the improbable ability to puff up one’s lips.  In the past, puffy lips were sometimes viewed as less than glamorous, but fashions change, and today it’s chic to have plump lips, leading some pouty stars of movies and TV to obtain them via collagen injections. (Ouch!)  A plumper-lipstick sounds like a much better idea.

Women feel even more triumphant when they enter the drugstore armed with its weekly ad, featuring a sale price on a new lipstick.  Two-for-the-price-of-one sales have disappeared, but most of us will settle for buy-one-get-one-50%-off, especially if a manufacturer coupon deducts another dollar or two off the price.  Sometimes these smart-shopper techniques enable us to walk out of the drugstore with two lipsticks for $4 or $5 each.

Aside from sugary candy bars or high-fat French fries, where can you buy another indulgence for so little?

Sure, like most Americans, I’m concerned about our fragile economy, the war in Afghanistan, turmoil in the Mideast, and all of the other pressing issues of our time.  But drugstore cosmetics clearly provide a happy (albeit temporary) distraction.

There’s a popular saying:  “Slap on a little lipstick…you’ll be fine.”  Women like me heartily agree.  I’m smiling just thinking about the one I’ll buy tomorrow.