I have always had an interest in fashion. While working on my undergraduate degree I work part-time in retail stores selling women’s clothing. I still remember over hearing my boss talk about me one of my fist few shifts. She commented to the assistant manager that she was hesitant about how well I will do in retail because I seemed very self-conscious. She was right. That was the first time i spent 8 hours in a place surrounded with mirrors. It was terrifying.
Luckily, hearing my boss express concern made me really think about what i could do to make myself more comfortable. When i reflected on what was making me feel so uncomfortable it was the clothes that i was wearing to work. Everyone else at the store looked great and stylish and i looked frumpy and messy. Fortunately, the benefit of working in retail is an amazing discount. I went into work and tried on a ton of clothes and bought some outfits that made me look like i belonged. It worked. From then on, when i was confronted with that darn mirror for 8 hours I concentrated on looking at my clothes and whether they worked on my body or not instead of criticizing myself. Eventually i even became an assistant manager of a retail store.
The lesson to take from this is that the problem is never you, it is how you are presenting yourself. The most rewarding part about working in fashion is all the women that come in feeling horrible about themselves and leave feeling like a million bucks. Fashion is about emphasizing the features that make you awesome (we all have some) and hiding those that we don’t like.
As academics we like to think that we are above appearances. It is our thoughts and ideas that matter. But that is not really true. There have been a multitude of studies that have found that more attractive people are rated higher in intelligence and trustworthiness than less attractive people. Academics are not exempt from this reality. For example, Riniolo et al. found that professors that were flagged as being hot on the website rate my professor received higher scores than less attractive professors.
As the academic job market has become more and more competitive, candidates have to work harder to stand out in a crowded room. We need to have an excellent publication record, a large social network, active online presence, and amazing teaching reviews. Every little thing that we can do can help. If spending that extra 20 minutes putting on make-up before presenting at a conference will subtilely improve my reception, then i am willing to make that effort.
I am not suggesting that you should run out and buy a push-up bra, substance still counts, just don’t underestimate the importance of your presentation. And don’t underestimate the how much looking good can change how you feel about yourself and change how you present yourself. Going back to my retail experience, when i helped a customer find clothes that they felt good in, it changed how they held themselves. They would come in shoulders slumped in, low voice, basically trying to hide. Once I got them in clothes that really showcased their beauty they held their shoulder back, stood up tall, and smiled.
My hope for this blog is to inspire you to have fun with fashion, feel beautiful, and encourage you to present your best self.
Todd C. Riniolo , Katherine C. Johnson , Tracy R. Sherman & Julie A. Misso (2006) Hot or Not: Do Professors Perceived as Physically Attractive Receive Higher Student Evaluations?, The Journal of General Psychology, 133:1, 19-35, DOI: 10.3200/GENP.133.1.19-35
K. David Roach (1997) Effects of graduate teaching assistant attire on student learning, misbehaviors, and ratings of instruction, Communication Quarterly, 45:3, 125-141, DOI:10.1080/01463379709370056