When asked about the worst piece of career advice she’d ever received, Bozoma Saint John (Endeavor, Uber and PepsiCo), answered with the following:
Early in her career, a senior female executive advised her to never wear red nail polish or red lipstick in the workplace. “It would be a bold message, and you don’t want to do that,” she says the executive told her. “You want to be sort of understated and let people take you seriously.” The marketeer found this advice damaging and confusing. Those touches were an expression of her that she didn’t want to lose.
She wasn’t the first woman to be told to pair back her glamour in order to be taken seriously, and she certainly won’t be the last.
In a time where there is so much positive momentum in feminism and energy behind empowering women in the workplace, there is simultaneously a strange confusion around being a feminist and being feminine.
“Like you should feel ashamed for wanting to go under the knife. You should feel ashamed for getting fillers. If I want to look more beautiful, why am I all of a sudden categorised as a certain woman?” – Huda Kattan
It raises its head in many different scenarios and affects women on all career paths. The party line is that if you want to be taken seriously for whats inside, you shouldn’t be focusing too much on whats outside.
Last year, actress Emma Watson was caught up in controversy surrounding this photo published in Vanity Fair:
Because people felt like she couldn’t be a voice for female equality whilst also being shown provocatively ie. with boobs. She quite rightly ridiculed this suggestion arguing: “Feminism is about giving women choice. Feminism is not a stick with which to beat other women with. It’s about freedom, it’s about liberation, it’s about equality. I really don’t know what my tits have to do with it. It’s very confusing.”
But, yet people feel the need to hammer home an argument that by ‘sexualising’ yourself in any way you are playing into a societal expectation for women that confines us into a box.
Looking good, wearing make-up spending money on hair products. There are many people who see these as vanity pursuits. And are very prepared to be vocal about them. A frustration at the value placed on women’s external appearance vs. mens has led to a feeling that by making an effort with your looks your conforming to a world that puts far too pressure on that and overlooks your other qualities.
Caring about how good you look however, doesn’t need to be about vanity or a desperate ambition to create an illusion. Your appearance can be much more powerful than that.
For many people the process of getting ready is a statement of intent. Part of a daily ritual that coaxes your mind into being ready for whatever the day throws at you. To Anna Wintour this looks like a 6:45am blow-dry. To Mindy Kaling, it’s a hydration sheet mask.
Whilst your ability to do a job well shouldn’t rely on an interest in fashion, if you feel more powerful and able to assert opinion in high heels a la Marissa Mayer, then you should be able to wear the heels without risk of being put in a ‘glamorous conformist’ box.
For a long time, I didn’t wear make-up everyday. I actually wanted the distinction between day to day me and occasion me. But as I spent more time actively thinking in depth about the people I really admired, it was the day to day them that I found the most impressive. Then when I went through the exercise of physically writing out my dream day, I realised the vision of myself throughout that day was as someone polished and prepared for anything.
“I came to the conclusion that spending fifteen to twenty minutes preparing for each new day is worth every second.” – Trish Jett
This doesn’t look like a full set of lashes to everyone, it can be as simple as using your favourite perfume, but if it makes you feel good, I think you owe it to yourself to put time into that preparation, without fear of being chastised for wasting time on something shallow or trivial. To Bozoma Saint John, it was bold touches:
“I’m bold in personality, I’m hella tall and I’m hella black… It’s not natural to me. It would make me unproductive in what I do because I would be so focused on being quiet that I can’t really show up.” – Bozoma Saint John
Ultimately, it’s authenticity that’s important. Knowing what makes you feel and act your best. Believing that you are worth investing time in and that being your whole self requires investment and energy.
“A feminist is any woman who tells the truth about her life.” – Virginia Woolf
Like everything in life, the grass grows when you water it, and spending time on your appearance is the only sure-fire way to develop it. The reward you get for this time spent is often confidence and confidence is absolutely critical when it comes to success. Yes, confidence starts from within but I love the honesty of this quote from Mindy Kaling on building confidence:
Lexy is a writer, DJ and marketing professional living in London. She is a gemini and a feminist who loves coffee and leather trousers.