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The Career Lift

The latest résumé boost? Cosmetic surgery. In an increasingly rough job market, Judith Newman finds that it pays to look good.

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Indeed, the most common reason cited for career-related nips and tucks is tied to aging. "First, people will come to me and couch it in different terms: 'I'm under a lot of stress, I want to look a little fresher.' But then, I'll hear about age discrimination at work," says Dr. Ellen Marmur, chief of dermatologic and cosmetic surgery at The Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan. "People who were on the fence about big-ticket procedures are essentially buying time with less expensive ones. I have a top ad exec who still gets fillers and Botox despite sweeping layoffs. It's a vicious cycle for those whose appearance is part of their success: Look bad, perform badly, lose income, lose confidence, look worse."

Randy B., a blue-eyed blonde who works in television sales in West Palm Beach, FL, agrees. "I was 40, working in this highly competitive environment where I was making lots of cold calls - and most of the clients were men," she says. "I did OK, but then I came to New York City - to Dr. Lawrence Reed - for a mini face-lift, a brow-lift, and my eyes [upper and lower blepharoplasty]. People were like, 'You're crazy; you're beautiful.' But you know what? I don't know if it was the work or how I felt about myself afterward, but my business took off. I've done better since the procedures than ever before - and that's in a very tough business climate."

The patients who are "freshening up" for work are by no means limited to the AARP set. "I'm seeing a lot of women in their 40s, even 30s, who aren't ready for face-lifts but want something in addition to antiwrinkle injectables," says New York plastic surgeon Dr. Gerald Pitman. He's been performing a lot of neck-lifts on younger clients, where tiny incisions are made under the chin and behind the ears, and neck fat is suctioned (or cut) out to create a more angular chin.

But plastic surgery in the workplace can backfire. At 30, Trisha S., a television-development executive, was already concerned about not looking young enough - "I didn't have the body I did in college," she says - and got liposuction everywhere: on her stomach, thighs, knees, back, waist. She was perhaps a size 8 beforehand; now, with the surgery plus diet and exercise, the 5'6" pale-blonde beauty is a size 4. She also had her lips surgically plumped and got some Restylane to fill wrinkles - the ones nobody but her really saw.

Brush Up on Beauty

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