Law professors won’t tell their female students this, but one method some women use to get ahead in the corporate world has nothing to do with grades, professionalism, or hard work. Just fake boobs.
In a recent Bitter Lawyer poll, 58 percent of those asked said that implants could only help a woman’s career, the remainder of respondents were split on the matter. Just over 23 percent of those polled said such cosmetic changes were “irrelevant;” nearly 20 percent thought it was “career suicide.”
In this cramped job market, women boosting their looks to compete is now a trend. Looks play a role. According to the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery, there were about 355,000 breast augmentations performed in the United States last year. A significant percentage of these patients were, in fact, female lawyers—or at least that’s what the plastic surgeons we consulted told us. While no doctor would identify their patients by name, they all confirmed “a decent percentage” of their clients were lawyers.
While the idealist in all of us would like to believe that law firm life is a meritocracy, anyone who has ever worked a day as a lawyer knows that the word “fair” seldom enters into the conversation when it comes to assessing the skills and attributes of an associate.
Not that there’s a BigLaw swimsuit competition. There isn’t.
Professor Laura Triplett, who teaches courses on the social implications of appearance at California State University, Fullerton, says an attorney with implants will see a reaction from their employers, and that reaction is likely to be positive, though not necessarily overt.
According to Triplett, a variety of factors come into play when measuring the impact of a woman’s appearance on her workplace success, but the most prominent variable is the gender of the supervisor. (Big surprise.)
“Women who have male employers are going to experience a far more positive impact from having breast implants in comparison to women who have female employers,” Triplett explains.
But if BigLaw’s male-dominated culture makes for a more positive reception of women with breast implants, many plastic surgeons who perform the surgery on female lawyers say the sight of surgically enhanced breasts has little to do with their positive reactions.
“The majority of professional women, including lawyers, who get breast augmentation surgery, really don’t want anyone at work to be able to notice,” says New York-based plastic surgeon Doctor Matthew Schulman. “For professional women, it’s much more about their own satisfaction and the satisfaction of their partner.”
And by partner, Schulman doesn’t mean the managing partner. In fact, he says, if done properly, coworkers aren’t likely to notice a woman’s breast augmentation at all.
Female attorneys who get breast augmentation tend to be older women who are keen to recapture their former figure. Doing that right, Schulman says, is often about working with smaller sizes. To further conceal the surgery, women typically hide behind workplace attire, which tends to leave nearly everything to the imagination.
So if nobody notices, why do it? And more importantly, how does it help?
It all comes down to improved self-esteem, according to plastic surgeon Dr. Sharon Giese, who says that professional women tend to go up only by a single cup size, compared to non-professional women, who can be counted on to enhance by two sizes or more. The reason, Giese says, is that one size is enough for most women to achieve an improved sense of self, and that is often what drives their workplace success.
In other words, if she feels sexy, she’ll be more confident (in the bedroom and at work), and success will likely follow.
In a study conducted by the University of Florida, researchers found that there is a positive link between a woman’s self-esteem and how she feels about her breasts. So does that translate into workplace success?
The answer is yes, according to “Denise,” who spoke to Bitter Lawyer on the condition of anonymity.
“As I got older, I grew less confident,” Denise says. “When I got breast implants, I just felt better about myself, and I think that had a positive impact on all aspects of my life—especially work.”
“Everything in life—both inside the workplace and out—comes down to aesthetics and appearances,” Law Firm 10 comments. “Women lawyers don’t pay enough attention to making themselves look aesthetically pleasing. So if a subtle breast enhancement would make a woman feel better about herself, she should go for it. If it’s done tastefully, and therefore isn’t obvious, then it doesn’t matter whether the woman is a Supreme Court justice, a fourth-year associate or a soccer mom—go for it. It will positively affect their overall appearance.”
When the line between an “improved sense of self” and “too much of a good thing” is crossed, it can be a disaster.
According to a staffer at a major Los Angeles-based law firm, one female lawyer who “went too big” with her implants attracted unwanted attention from the entire office. “It was the talk of the firm for a month,” the staffer told Bitter Lawyer, and neither the silicone nor the gossip really helped that woman’s career.
Or consider the case of “Donna,” a high-powered auto executive who made the mistake of getting noticeable implants.
“I went from being the boss lady to the busty lady,” Donna says. “My male employees no longer took me seriously. I never thought that changing my appearance would have such an effect. I told no one at work about my surgical decision. I did this on my vacation time. I came back to work wearing the same clothes as before—nothing revealing—and you would have thought I showed up in a g-string and changed my name to Bambi. I got whistles, leering stares, and asked out on dates by both the single and married men that I worked with. In an age of no tolerance for sexual harassment in the workplace, you would think that these guys would have kept their comments to themselves. WRONG!”
And if men can’t resist bold gestures, reactions from female colleagues can be just as judgmental.
“Anything that looks good on Kendra Wilkinson doesn’t belong on the chest of a woman who regularly appears in a courtroom,” says Law Firm 10. “The key is judgment. Lawyers are expected to have impeccable judgment. A woman lawyer with noticeably fake breasts is just as bad a male lawyer with stains on his shirt—neither is exhibiting good enough judgment about something as simple as their appearance, so why should they be trusted with sophisticated legal work?”
But Donna doesn’t regret her decision. In fact, she says her new breasts have given her increased confidence. Of course, she’s also moved on to another job where nobody knows about her surgery. That confidence is now of indeterminate origins, as far as her new coworkers are concerned.
So do fake boobs really help a woman’s career? The answer looks to be yes, but as is so often the case, it’s not what you think.
With the exception of those courting sexual harassment suits, male lawyers aren’t likely to assign interesting work, give credit or pay large bonuses to a woman just because she has a great rack. But all of those rewards do go to people who exhibit confidence, and men and women build that quality in different ways.
Which means that a lawyer considering implants shouldn’t ask how they would help her career; she should ask to what extent her perception of her own sex appeal drives her confidence. And if any of her male colleagues ask her about her breasts, she should paraphrase Seinfeld and reply, “They’re spectacular.”