Looking the Part

By Sandy Burgham

looking the part

By the time this is published I will have been on a tour of digital organisations in San Francisco. As someone who specialises in mid-life reinvention, it is particularly appropriate to consider the adapt-or-die context we live and work in. And what I will be quietly looking out for in the appropriately named Silicon Valley, is telltale signs of the much talked about new trend of male plastic surgery.


Think “plastic surgery” and you conjure up an image of an ageing dolly bird who after years of trading on her looks, realises she is a depreciating asset. But cosmetic enhancement is one area where the gender gap is closing. The American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports that male plastic surgery has increased 121 per cent in 15 years. And much of it is due to guys trying to stay competitive in an increasingly youth-obsessed job market undergoing radical transformation in the digital age.


In 2007, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made the declaration, “Young people are just smarter”. As irritating as this may be, it may be useful to know that a recent survey discovered that out of the 32 most successful US tech companies, only six had a median age workforce over 35. In the digital age ‘years in the game’ means nothing. It’s ideas, insights about the contemporary world and digital competence that are increasingly valued. Young people have this in spades. Older executives may have these qualities, but often they simply don’t look as though they do.


Silicon Valley entrepreneur Randy Adams, 62, is a case in point. Despite a stellar career, when he was undergoing his midlife reinvention he struggled to find an appropriate senior role that would allow him to play in the hotbed of tech innovation – his age was getting in the way of his talent. So he had a makeover. Out went the button-down shirts and in came t-shirts and Converse trainers. He shaved his head, carried the latest gadgets (presumably he knew how to use them) and, wait for it, confessed to getting an eyelid lift. He may have had all the smarts in the world but he needed to look the part too (he has gone on to do some amazing things). Tragic? Won’t catch on here? Who are you kidding?


We already know that men have increasingly been attending to their moobs (man boobs) through surgery and dabbling in Botox. Cosmetic surgery is just one step further. I talk a lot about “authentic leadership” in my work and thus a penchant for surgical enhancement seems to be a contradiction. One of the joys of maturing is that we care less about what others think – we literally grow into being more comfortable in our slightly baggier skin. So does it really matter what we look like? In the era of the social platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and selfies, the answer is yes. What one looks like from the neck up is under scrutiny.


Even LinkedIn – the more serious social media platform for the commercial world — demands a professional photo. And a little retouching is all part of the deal. Don’t I know it — my shot on the contributor’s page is a kind version of myself courtesy of Photoshop. Caring about what you look like is not about being inauthentic. It’s about putting your best foot forward, or so I say to myself as I write this while getting my ‘natural’ hair colour reapplied at Stephen Marr in Newmarket.


So I have decided to share for male readers considering a little bit of work for the sake of work, what women already know. First up it’s about ‘tiny tucks’ (we don’t want you looking like Mickey Rourke). Secondly, make sure you still look like you (this is where Michael Jackson went wrong). And thirdly, don’t lie about it (‘fess up like Randy Adams). Women shudder at actress Renee Zellweger, 42, who recently allowed her surgeon to slice away her distinctive hooded eyelids in favour of looking like everyone else. She responded by saying the startling changes were due to a “healthy lifestyle”.


Really, honesty will get you everywhere. Joan Rivers looked like a ventriloquist dummy but her career thrived at 80. She was comfortable in her skin — she just chose to stretch it. And it is why women delight at Helen Mirren, who in her 70th year, was recently named a face of cosmetics giant, L’Oreal. Mirren has said she doesn’t mind the idea of little cosmetic surgery if you play by the rules above, and it makes you feel good. Why invest in what you look like? Because you are worth it.


— Sandy Burgham


This post first appeared in The Hobson December, 2014