Looking Healthy Apparently Gets You Ahead at Work

There's definitely no shortage of advice on how women should present themselves in the workplace, and another recommendation might be enough to make you scream. In addition to looking attractive (but not slutty) and dressy (without trying too hard), new research suggests that looking healthy can help you get ahead at work. In fact, looking healthy may play an even bigger role in your professional life than looking smart, so it's time to think beyond the glasses.

Researchers directed by Brian Spisak of the VU University of Amsterdam conducted an experiment to determine how facial appearance affects perceptions of leadership ability. They digitally compiled faces from photos of several real humans and then manipulated the digital images to have different kinds of features and showed the images to participants for them to rate.

The researchers' conclusion, as published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, is that people prefer a look of health in prospective workplace leaders without qualification and across all contexts, whereas a look of intelligence is valued only when people think that heightened intelligence matters directly to the leadership task at hand. Additionally, healthy-looking features boost assessments of that person's masculinity, but intelligent-looking features curiously make subjects seem less masculine to observers.

While we're on the subject of gendered faces, as much as you might not like to hear it, stereotypically feminine and masculine features (respectively) also correlate positively with lifelong health, but don't look too young — a baby face will make you more trusted, but not feared (which could threaten that promotion to a management position).

Findings like this usually provide a field day for evolutionary theorists, who like to draw grand conclusions about humanity's past from the way things are now — but the science of faces has a long ways to go yet. For instance, you'll often hear the claim that people prefer facial symmetry in potential reproductive partners, because it's an indicator of a healthy upbringing (upping the likelihood of healthy children from the couple in the future). However, recent research suggests that something other than childhood health must be the cause of facial symmetry, because even sick kids grow up to have symmetrical faces. Plus, there are limits to the beauty of symmetry — a perfectly symmetrical face is actually pretty creepy.

The complexities of faces run even deeper than symmetry: strangely enough, research shows that untrained observers can tell when a person will die judging by their face (and a few other factors) even better than actual medical professionals. As much as we might prefer to judge people on their characters or life journeys instead, appearance remains the basis of our first impressions, and a picture (or a face) says a thousand words. What story does your face tell?