Currently, one of BNET's most popular posts complains about age discrimination. In that post, blogger Suzanne Lucas offers some excellent ideas for monitoring your speech patterns and editing your resume so that you don't seem so old. Unfortunately, she leaves out the most important factor: your physical appearance.
Age discrimination, although illegal, is very much a part of the U.S. business culture. If you're over 40, it is absolutely in your best interest to look younger than your chronological age. Unfortunately, most middle aged and elderly people often look older than than their chronological age, for no good reason.
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Extra weight not only makes you look older but it puts stress on the rest of your body, increasing the aging process. So if you don't want to be pigeonholed as an oldster, your first order of business is to achieve your ideal weight and remain there permanently.
For a variety of reasons, many people are highly invested in the myth that weight loss and weight maintenance are difficult. They're not. Achieving and maintaining an ideal weight is simply a matter of bookkeeping. If your intake of energy (food) is less than your outgo of energy, you will lose weight. If you reach an equilibrium, you will stay at the weight.
I know from personal experience that, when followed precisely, the Weight Watchers program (which is essentially a form of bookkeeping) works. My only complaint is that it uses the concept of a "goal weight", which encourages people to think about achieving an ideal weight as the end of the process rather than the beginning.
Of course, everyone who is overweight has an excuse why they can't get to their ideal weight and stay there. But if you don't want to personally bear the brunt of of age discrimination, you'll learn to do the bookkeeping, integrate it into your daily routine, and permanently lose the extra poundage.
Even people who are at their ideal weight look older than their age if they move like an old person. As people age in a society like ours where work and play tends to be sedentary, their muscles tighten and lose flexibility. Various areas of the body (like the area between the shoulder blades) get locked and, as a result, every movement tends to become blocky and brittle.
I see this a lot in Baby Boomer men. Their entire torso becomes like a block of wood, with their legs and arms hanging like attachments. Women seem to suffer less from this, but it takes its toll there, too. Middle aged women tend to slump and slouch or walk with a tight-jointed waddle.
Your body is either getting less flexible or more flexible. If you're not taking action to make it MORE flexible, you're hastening the degeneration of your body, and becoming more rigid. A rigid body suggests a rigid mind, which is one of the reasons that employers avoid oldsters.
With all that in mind, here are some ways to increase flexibility:
- Regular, daily stretching, in addition to whatever exercise you might be doing as part of your weight maintenance process.
- An exercise regimen, like Tai Chi or Pilates, which encourages stretching and smooth movement of the limbs.
- Deep tissue massage that loosens up and stretches out the muscles and tendons, preferably on a weekly basis.
- Regular back adjustments. Yeah, there's BS around the edges of chiropractic (e.g. "subluxations"), but it does loosen you up.
As a general rule, you should update your clothes, your hair and (if you're a woman) your makeup at least every five years. If you haven't done so, you're making yourself look older, unnecessarily.
For example, there is no reason whatsoever that any man in the business world should be wearing a Saddam Hussein-style mustache, or a little pony-tail on the back of his head. Ditto with a comb-over, a mullet, or late 90s spiky hair (like in my publicity photo, which is mercifully clipped off the frame on my blog page.)
Similarly, women should avoid the "Hilary Clinton" pantsuit look, and indeed anything made out of polyester. Ditto with any hairdo that made you look good 10 years ago. A good way to avoid a dated look is to become a regular watcher of the TV show "What Not To Wear." It's full of good advice about age-appropriate clothing.
Another easy way to update your appearance is pick a role model who's in your business, has a similar body type, and known to be fashionable. Notice how he or she is dressing and grooming and adjust your look accordingly.
If this proves too difficult, find somebody who understands fashion (but isn't faddish) and ask for his or her help in finding you a look that works for you. Worse comes to worse, bite the bullet and hire a fashion consultant.
Does all of the above cost time and money? Absolutely. But you're talking about your career here, and your ability to get hired and continue to be hired. This is one of those cases (like education and transportation) where you have to spend first into order to earn later.