I recently posted on social media that I’d been advised by a recruiter to “get some work done”. This was not, as far as I know, meant as a criticism of my work ethic or performance. No. They were advising me that, if I wanted to be considered for a particular role, I would need to invest in Botox, fillers or even facial cosmetic surgery.
To be clear, I’m not looking for a job, but I am open to non-exec directorships, and this recruiter had messaged me wanting to have an initial conversation about such a role. When we took the step from message to video, they were clearly rather surprised, nay, shocked to see my face.
(*I know how they felt. Whenever I look in the mirror on the morning after one too many glasses of red wine, I wince and reach, without delay, for the tequila.)
I reacted to their suggestion with my customary aggressive politeness, and informed them that, whatever the role, I wasn’t interested in continuing the conversation. Wishing them “a very nice day”, I clicked emphatically on “leave this meeting”. To paraphrase Groucho Marx, I knew immediately that I didn’t want to be a member of a club that will have me only if I conformed to their warped aesthetic.
I found it hard to put words to my reaction, so simply posted this image which summed up how I felt, and stepped back to see if the response from my friends and associates would help me to match that feeling with some kind of logic or reason.
I grouped the responses into 3 categories (of COURSE I did – after all, I was a researcher for about a hundred years, as is evident by my brain wrinkles) and then drew my conclusions.
Response type 1. “REALLY?!?!? Are you fucking kidding me!!??”
Those who made their responses public tended to share my rage, disappointment and exhaustion that older women still have to play male or play young to be seen. It’s acceptable to be angry about this, hence these replies tended to feed the conversation, rather than popping into my private inbox.
Many of you wanted me to out the recruiter. But I won’t. I won’t because I don’t believe that removing the symptom will change the system. The ageism and sexism may be pushed a little further underground if we silence one or 2 culprits, but the problem won’t be solved that way. The cosmetic surgery and filler industry (much of which is not regulated) is worth an estimated £6bn a year in the UK alone, so I’m pretty confident that there are people out there able to pay whatever it takes to persuade our legislators to protect this expression of ageism.
Response type 2: “Get real, girlfriend!”
Several private messages were from well-meaning friends who agreed that this shouldn’t be a thing, but nonetheless told me that the recruiter was right; if I ever want to be seen in public again, and taken seriously in the business world, said work has to be done. Some of these friends are themselves filler addicts or have had some kind of cosmetic surgery (in case you don’t know, once you start down the filler route you can expect to need top-up injections every 6 months or so – it’s a very profitable business model). I should also add that most of them have had such subtle work done that you might not even notice until they start to cry when you thought they were smiling. Some of them had already told me that I should join the movement (or lack of movement). They find some interesting ways to express their support for me, “You have such lovely, expressive eyes. It’s a shame to have them hidden by all those wrinkles.”
Response type 3: “U OK hun?”
The response that surprised me the most, and that really made me think, was the pity response. Variations on; “You poor thing”, “That must be so hurtful”, “Are you OK?”.
You see, it never crossed my mind to be hurt or offended by this. In my (wrinkle shrouded) eyes, this is not about me. It’s about a sexist, ageist society that doesn’t want to know about your skills, talents and ideas unless you pass the looks test. It’s about a world where some people can’t concentrate on what I have to say because they are too distracted by my lines and wrinkles. (In the same way that, when I was a young woman, some people couldn’t be expected to concentrate on what I had to say because I have breasts – even though those were, and still are, barely noticeable.) That’s not my problem, it’s theirs.
In closing, I have a confession to make. I’m a hypocrite. I too am sometimes guilty of allowing someone’s appearance to affect my opinion of them, or to undermine my faith in their expertise. For example, when a privileged, obese, white male looks to camera and tells me how to look after my finances and my health, I admit that I find it hard to take him seriously. So maybe I should get that work done after all.
(*For those of you who don’t know me, I’m kidding. Those of you who do know me know I’m not kidding)