Saturday, March 21, 2009

A response to a response...

Elisa Doucette at Ophelia’s Web posted a response to an article that appeared on Brazen Careerist. Here is the response I wrote to her post:

I, too, read the original post but chose not to comment there. My first thought on reading it was that another guy with man-boobs and a flabby gut wants US to look pretty for him. And I didn’t want to say that, since of course I have no idea what the author looks like – perhaps he is a ripped hunk! But…somehow I doubt it.

Your remarks, however, take the topic somewhere more interesting. The bottom line, of course, is that appearance does mean something, and expectations are often generated by appearance, whether we like it or not or think it is fair or not. My personal experiences have shown me this and I have altered my appearance because of it.

I have naturally blonde curly hair, big boobs, and am a software engineer who works in large office settings dealing with a multitude of people. I am generally a happy person and I tend to smile a lot. I also have a strong, decisive personality and don’t suffer fools gladly. I have no hesitation in speaking up, speaking out, and taking charge. If I am in a group that is trying to accomplish something and there is not already an obvious leader in place, I automatically take over and lead the group.

When I first started in my profession I wore skirt suits for a professional appearance, yes, but chose soft feminine suits, blouses, and accessories in my favorite pinks, mauves, blues, etc. And I had quite a problem with people. When I first met someone they seemed to like me and like working with me, but that would quickly change. Suddenly there would be discord and they would be unhappy with me, and there would be tension, stress, and so forth. My technical expertise was never in question (this wasn’t a “dumb blonde” issue), so it took several years for me to figure out why the change of attitude – it was because my appearance did not match my personality.

I believe that, in my case, our culture had set up a basic expectation that a smiling perky blonde dressed in soft feminine colors and clothing is someone who would be always pleasant and obliging and amiable and who would defer to whatever the other person wanted. Based on my appearance they were expecting this type of girl. When my strong personality made itself known they would be thrown for a loop, as the saying goes. Like petting a cute little kitten only to find out that it was really a tiger that just ate your arm.

So I changed my appearance. I bought suits in grey and camel and navy instead of pink and cream and mint green. Still skirt suits, yes, but more tailored in appearance and color. I bought silk tees and shells instead of blouses with ruffles and bows. And I kicked my makeup up a notch. Yes, I always wear a full face of makeup – I love being a woman - but a bright coral lipstick has a lot more punch than a pale pink lipstick.

I generally buy my clothes during one or two shopping trips, once in the spring and once in the fall, so I was able to make this change very quickly during my fall shopping trip that year. I immediately noticed an improvement in my dealings with people, and when meeting and working with someone new the relationship stayed on an even keel – no sudden changes because I no longer clashed with their perceived expectations of me.

So now I project an image more in keeping with my personality. I always feel very feminine but now I feel even more powerful. And frankly, I don’t care if someone with whom I am doing business thinks I am feminine or not. I don’t care if they think I am nurturing or not. I do care if they think I can do my job or not.

As for my personal life, I found that when I dressed “stronger”, I attracted men with stronger personalities. No more tiptoeing around some man trying not to crush his poor little ego, no more trying to hang back so he could maybe, hopefully, please show some assertiveness for once. I am happy to say that my husband has as strong a personality as I do and loves me for it. He is happy to have someone that HE doesn’t have to tiptoe around. We sometimes bump heads figuring out who is going to take charge in a particular situation but have so far resolved it without blood shed.

So, no, I don’t think a skirt is a sign of weakness, providing it is the right skirt for the job.

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