I sat in the uncomfortably small chair tucked in the corner of the dimly lit facial room. After introducing himself, the aesthetician asked me why I had requested the consult.

“I don’t want to end up looking like my mother!” I blurted out.

I showed him several photos from my phone to make my point. He laughed and told me that he hears the same thing from nearly every woman client.

In fact, I’d scheduled this appointment just after spending the weekend with my 81-year-old mother. Her neck had gone missing about a decade ago, maybe longer. I couldn’t remember the last time I saw her jawline. I just knew that it was a fate that had to be avoided. So here I sat, learning about all the new medical cosmetic procedures available to me.

He handed me a small purple mirror and gently touched my neck and chin as he shared with me the options to pull up the skin on my neck with something he called “Silhouette Instalift.” He told me not to look it up on YouTube.

Suddenly, I felt small and tender. Tears sprang at the corners of my eyes. He noticed and paused.

I told him that I had fought for women reclaiming their power and confidence all of my life. As an advocate for women leaders, I’d come to loathe the attention and emphasis placed on a woman’s looks — a standard that most men were not held to.  

I’d read “The Beauty Myth” by Naomi Wolfe as a 30-something in graduate school. She wrote about the obsession with physical perfection that traps women in a spiral of hope, self-consciousness and self-hatred as they try to fulfill society’s impossible definition of flawless beauty. I was determined back then to try to stay out of this trap, and to support other women from falling into the trap. I became a feminist.

And yet, here I was having a consultation for a neck lift.

The lump in my throat reminded me of the truths that I’d been working so hard at articulating over the past 30 or so years: that women are beautiful just the way they are. That our value is not connected to the way we look. That true leadership has nothing to do with external appearance.

A surge of clarity rushed through me. Rather than a neck lift, what I needed was a self-acceptance lift, offering more kindness towards my beautiful self, and more compassion for my mother. I needed to love the skin I’m in: chin or no chin, jawline or none, neck defined or not. This is what I look like at 61.

All at once I felt liberated, free, beautiful, young. Beauty is an internal experience that can be reflected on the outside, but always first internally. You are beautiful if you feel beautiful. Don’t compare yourself to others, to cultural standards of beauty or age, if you can resist that particular tide.

I thanked him for his time. We both knew that I would not be having any procedure done, that day or any other.


  • Dede Henley


    Henley Leadership Group

    I founded Henley Leadership Group 22 years ago to help leaders and organizations create more equitable and productive workplaces and ignite the nascent leadership potential of employees at all levels. Through individual coaching and programs designed to generate positive business results, Henley Leadership Group has served thousands of corporate leaders in a variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, energy and finance. Away from work, I live with my husband, and try not to meddle too much in the lives of my half-dozen kids.