Saturday, March 6, 2010

Are You the Devil in Prada?

Are You the Devil in Prada?
By Vivian Diller Ph.D. with Jill Muir-Sukenick Ph.D., edited by Michele Willens,
Authors of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change

Miranda Priestly, the imperious and dismissive boss in The Devil Wears Prada, is what some researchers call a "Queen Bee," a woman who takes pleasure in making other women, particularly younger women, feel inferior, stupid and lacking what it takes to make it to the top. Threatened by her younger, sexier staff, she is the contemporary version of the spiteful, envious queen in Snow White, imploring the mirror to confirm that she's the fairest of them all.

If by your own definition you're an older woman, you have to ask yourself: Am I in any way related to Miranda Priestly? Do I secretly harbor feelings of jealousy and maybe even resentment toward younger colleagues who seem to be trying to advance their careers by being flirtatious and even exhibitionistic? Understandably, this can make you feel unattractive and sexless, irrelevant and unimportant. In a word, old. You may not have been able to confide these sentiments to anyone, but if you did, you'd discover that you're certainly not alone. What's wrong with holding onto these feelings is that eventually they may actually "Mirandize" you. Their very acknowledgment is the first step in dealing with them. The next is determining how objective and legitimate they are and how many come from your own misperceptions.

What those of us at midlife and beyond sometimes fail to realize is that there has been a tremendous shift in how young people -- and perhaps especially women -- see themselves in the world of work. To them, the boundaries between casual and business attire, and behavior, are not as absolute. What may seem provocative and inappropriate to an older generation is inconsequential to the younger one. The latter are not as docile as their predecessors, and their expectations are greater. If your path to success was steeper and longer than the one they have to climb, you may feel resentful and angry at the unfairness of it all.  

It would be nice to say "get over it" and move on. Unfortunately, it is a fact that your marketability diminishes as you age because you cost more, you pose a bigger risk in terms of health issues, you have family restrictions, and so on. What's more, businesses may believe they stay "hip" by replenishing their work force with younger staffers. 

To add to this, as we explain in Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change (Hay House), there is a bias toward attractiveness called the "halo" effect, which says that the quality of one trait is automatically applied to every trait: that is, an attractive person is also assumed to be responsible, intelligent, adaptable, and so on. And, superficially, younger equals more attractive.

Clearly, looking good is important in all jobs, even if it's not overtly stated. (Something we know very well, having been professional models before becoming psychotherapists.) It's understood that you are expected and even required to project a certain image. If the prevailing standards align with yours, that's great. As we say in Face It, "Beauty is in the way you feel about yourself. It's how you walk and talk and connect to others."  

But once you equate beauty with youth, (and both with professional value) you're fighting a losing battle. At some point, you'll feel anxious, marginalized, and dispensable. Every new employee can represent a threat, and you may become the obsessed victim of your own thoughts or fears. Trying too hard to look younger, you may feel compelled to have excessive surgeries or dress in a way that invites ridicule. That's a pity, because you risk losing your credibility at a time in your life when you've fully earned it.      

When you got your job, it was because you were an attractive candidate in all respects. You may be older, but you're also more valuable because of your work experience and accumulated wisdom. If you're convinced that each new employee is a potential usurper of your position, it's unlikely you'll work well with that person. When you unwittingly regress to such adolescent behavior, you lose perspective on all you are and all that you have achieved. 

Recognize that what keeps you vital in any organization is your enthusiasm, flexibility, and receptivity to change. In those ways, you become a role model for the next generation of women, rather than that gal in Prada.

© 2010 Vivian Diller Ph.D. with Jill Muir-Sukenick Ph.D., edited by Michele Willens
, authors of Face It: What Women Really Feel as Their Looks Change

Author Bios

FACE IT: What Women Really Feel As Their Looks Change by Vivian Diller, Ph.D, with Jill Muir-Sukenick, Ph.D. and edited by Michele Willens is a psychological guide to help women deal with the emotions brought on by their changing appearances. As models turned psychotherapists, Diller and Sukenick have had the opportunity to examine the world of beauty from two very different vantage points. This unique perspective helped them develop a six-step program that begins with recognizing "uh-oh" moments that reveal the reality of changing looks, goes on to identify the masks used to cover deeper issues, defines the role beauty plays in a woman's life, and ends with bidding adieu to old definitions of beauty so women can enjoy their appearance -- at any age!

For more information on the book, authors, and events, please visit or visit their fan page on Facebook.

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