More than perhaps most American adult males, I give much deference to Tina Fey's cult classic, high school comedy "Mean Girls." In what was Lindsey Lohan's breakout role (back before her many problems), she played a teenage girl discovering the pitfalls of the sometimes vicious clique-filled atmosphere of high school.

Unfortunately, the mean girls (and boys) are just as prevalent in the business world today as they might have been in high school. As Lohan's character learned, what you look like matters quite a bit. It plays a part in investor pitches, hiring, as well as office dynamics. Sometimes racial discrimination, ageism and sexism enter into it. In many cases there's not much you can do about it, except present as professional an image as possible. This includes how you communicate, (your writing skills, for example), how you pitch your company as well as your body language, dress, and grooming when meeting in person or when a video chat is called for.

Whether you think looks should matter or not, they do. Numerous studies will tell you people with white, straight teeth are seen as more successful, more employable, more capable, wealthier, more attractive, and more educated. Does this mean you should invest in Invisalign or a whitening treatment? Maybe. It may sound vain, but it might make a difference in the success of your small business. Here are just a few ways your looks matter, for better or worse, and what to do about it.

Your dress dictates your experience

Mark Zuckerberg is still a relatively young (and young-looking) billionaire with undeniable success and genius when it comes to technology, social media, and giving people what they want. He notoriously schleps around in hoodies. He's the exception to the rule. He's Mark Zuckerberg. Therefore, as an entrepreneur, you can't get by with jeans and hoodies most of the time. Too many people will see you as too young, too inexperienced, too laid back, and simply not business management material.

Fit people are seen as more capable

Are fat people lazy and indulgent? People seem to pose that question a lot, (even when the average American woman is a size 14). Whether it's true or not, fit people are often seen as more capable, more driven, more in control, and more likely to run a successful business. Are there out-of-shape or overweight successful entrepreneurs? Of course--but they are often perceived as having a handicap by others in many of the thousands of professional and casual interactions they experience throughout their career. You can make a case that this dynamic makes the entrepreneurial path more of a struggle for them.

Who belongs in the "old boys club?

People of color, women, and entrepreneurs who are much older or younger than "average" often face a systemic disadvantage. Although it is true that there appears to be an influx of new entrepreneurs and startups from around the world, ones with female founders, and those with leaders who aren't the middle-aged (or younger) white male--they're still the exception. The "old boys club still exists, and it's often easier to succeed if you fit their mold, (like it or not).

Cut your hair, you hippy!

Does hair that's "too long," untrimmed nails, or poor skin make a difference when you're an entrepreneur? Of course. "Proper grooming" might be a subjective thing, but in the business world, it's probably best in most cases to err on the side of being a bit conservative in appearance. Anyone can clean themselves up a bit more than their usual appearance, and it might be worth it when meeting with potential investors, partners or leaders in the industry. Your looks are your first in-person impression, from your posture to your makeup. Use it to your advantage.

It's a sad thing to point out, but attractive people or those who play up their good looks in an appropriate manner appear to have a more easy time finding success in our appearance-obsessed world. Getting ahead is extremely hard in today's entrepreneurial landscape, so it's probably advisable to make the best of what you got as far as appearances go. Also, remember that sometimes when you look your best, you feel your best--and confidence is a key to becoming successful.

Published on: Feb 16, 2015