What is the Right Balance for Women in Business?
There are two issues I think about and ask my female colleagues and friends about with some frequency – aging and standards for female beauty as an entrepreneur whose brand is really myself.
Personal Brand and Beauty Standard
I notice the amount of attention young women pay to looking polished or pretty in their photos for Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. I am over 50 and self-described average looking. I’m overly critical of my professional photos. Seeing how other women create a personal brand through their social media head shot photos is interesting. Here are some of my observations.
Four head shot types:
- The very beautiful, “glamour shot” kind of picture. If you are naturally pretty, this one can look almost like a beauty pageant photo. It looks like a head shot an actress might have in a portfolio for auditions or maybe a modeling contract. The funny thing is that the other photos on their site look more natural and a lot less threatening, more normal to us older women or maybe those of us (myself included) that are less naturally beauty-queen pretty.
- The “glamour shot” with an overt sexual aspect. This typically includes visible cleavage and a suggestive expression. When you are “followed” by someone with this picture the first reaction is to think you’ve been spammed.
- A posed more business-like professional kind of picture. This picture looks more like what the person would look like if you ran into them at a business meeting. Neat, put together in great business clothes.
- A candid, no makeup, how I live my life, kind of picture. This might represent a more natural style – what the person looks like when they grocery shop. Maybe they are kind of granolary (sp – is that a word?). Maybe they are really secure and comfortable allowing people to see who they really are? Maybe they reject the more beauty queen ideal. Who knows.
I find myself curious about whether these different kinds of photos reflect a deeper overt decision or whether it is just differing regional or generational standards for polish. My mother was raised in Maine and was naturally beautiful. She might have used lipstick when she left the house but unless she was going out to dinner or entertaining she wore no make up. She had dark auburn hair, brown eyes and her olive skin was deeply tanned in the summer. I am more fair with lighter red hair and blue eyes. My make up regimen is pretty simple: I use eye-brow pencil since my fair eye brows are naturally invisible and a little foundation. I use a lip gloss or Vaseline on my lips. I have never used a red lip color. If I try it, the person looking back at me in the mirror seems like a weird stranger. My eyelashes are blond. I use a little light-colored mascara for a wedding or special occasion, but generally, nothing else.
In my thirties I worked for a large insurance company and traveled to every US region. The pace of work and standards for relating to business colleagues differed significantly by region. This manifested in the work pace of the day, whether people stopped to have lunch and how late they scheduled client meetings each day. I loved Atlanta because the genteel sales reps would schedule the last meeting of the day around 2:00 PM so I could go back to the Ritz Carleton, put my feet up and presumably re-apply my “face.” I had extra feet-up time because I didn’t re-apply make up in the afternoon.
I traveled throughout the American southeast. These women knew things about grooming, makeup and fashion that I had never considered at the time. Southern women seemed very beautiful to me. I remember feeling frumpy next to them. In Boston, the high-powered business women dressed in more classic, Brooks Brothers type wear and less make up. In New York, standards were influenced by high fashion and the entertainment industry. At a recent HR convention there was a 60-ish southern woman presenting and she looked fabulous. She had on a Chanel suit and wore a color-coordinated diamond watch. I also noticed that her book’s head shot seemed like it might have been taken a while back. More importantly, she had a lot of smart things to say – innovative, progressive. I took a lot of notes and looked her up online later.
I am curious about why women make the decisions they do. If I had a resarch team, I’d conduct a study and write a book.
Standards of beauty and aging
I have recently decided to grow my hair out. It is thick and sort of strawberry blond. I get compliments on it. The more I age, the more I think about emphasizing my positive physical assets is on my mind. I make a living speaking to business groups. I have managed to stay fit- keep my weight down; I pay attention to looking a bit more polished; and though my hair has very little grey, I am increasingly aware of the condition of my facial skin. In the past, I would never have considered facial surgery. At this point the price tag makes this a non-issue. I don’t know if I could ever go through with it. There is something creepy about the “housewives” shows where the women all look the same. It’s kind of a “fish face” look as the skin is pulled back and the corners of the mouth get pulled. I think looking natural and well-cared-for is much better than a fish face. (I am aware that some plastic surgery is better, with a lighter touch.) When I have this mental discussion in my head, I consistently come down on the side of advancing my consulting and speaking skills thinking that if I provide enough content, people won’t mind that I am aging. With age, comes experience and competnecy, I think.
I have a 40-ish friend with long, very curly salt and pepper hair. She is thin and beautiful. All clothes look great on her. She recently decided to color the grey and when I asked about it she shared some of the feelings I’ve had about it too. I was glad to know she was wrestling with the same thoughts I had. This made me feel less neurotic. She feels pressure to look young and seem fit and vibrant. Some of her friends and colleagues thought that “fit and vibrant” did not include grey hair. This is an incredibly smart and talented women. I don’t know any man who does what she does with more intelligence or talent. When I listen to the last business deal she made I am amazed about how she solves thorny, complicated business problems and gets parties to agree. I suspect that her clients feel quite well served but I understand the self-doubt she feels.
While I notice how people present themselves physically, I judge women in a business context by whether they have skill and how they treat others and not by how they look. I hope they judge me the same way. There is room for everyone and varied styles. I sometimes think about the more sexually overt style some women take on in the workplace. Overt sexuality in the workplace can have negative consequences, not the least of which is male misunderstanding. But if she’s prepared to set clear boundaries and the team is reasonably well informed on harassment behaviors, that would eventually resolve itself. But every woman can decide for herself what to do, how to dress and how to relate to others.
Maybe I will age into looking like those pretty older women with shiny silver/white hair, scarves and soft colorful clothes who wear earrings and lovely make up. Not sure. Just thinking about life today. What got me thinking was a recent 20-something female Twitter follower whose formal head shot was a beauty picture and more natural candid shots appeared on her website. She is obviously smart and talented. I was wondering about her thought process and whether I needed a better head-shot. Maybe I’ll buy an expensive cream to put on my wrinkles. Cindy Crawford does look pretty good.
PS. Word press spell check flagged the word mascara but it is spelled correctly – I have never used it in a sentence before and looked it up. Why do you think WordPress doesn’t recognize it?