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Charlie’s Angels and a business block buster

The years of formatting and conditioning that happens to women leads them to lay great emphasis on the way they look and much lesser on the way they deliver.

Tuesday January 31, 2017,

4 min Read

I carry a magnifying glass in my purse to wear my mascara and to look more closely at the very real invisible barriers that hold women back including me.

It starts very early. Girls are told that they need to be nice and pretty and clean and boys are told to be brave and go out there and get dirty. No wonder when it comes to business and boardroom battles women often struggle to lean in.

Sheryl Sandberg in her book Lean In says women are burdened with stereotypes and unspoken rules, lacking self confidence and unable to speak up.

The years of formatting and conditioning that happens leads us to lay great emphasis on the way we look and much lesser on the way we deliver.

If we thought this was the problem of angsty teenagers, think again. Women in mid-senior and leadership positions are not body confident. This suggests how women place great emphasis on how they look and how they dress.

One of the studies conducted by Finance website Mint.com indicates that women spend around $15,000 during their lifetime on beauty shopping. Between the ages of 16 and 65, a typical women shops for cosmetics at least five times each year, spending around $43 on a usual trip, according to the Beauty Company. A 2014 survey ‘Ideal to Real’ by TODAY/AOL suggests that women spend an average of 55 minutes every day working on their appearance. That amounts to 335 hours every year (almost 2 weeks).

The survey also reveals that 67% of women worry about their appearance regularly more often than finances, health, relationships or professional success. Psychologists call it ‘ruminating’— turning an idea over and over in your mind. Another study reveals that, obsessing over the things that are wrong with your body has been linked to anxiety.

It is interesting on how many women think of whether they are exposing their legs, if the skirt is too short, if the blouse too flimsy. We measure our self-confidence by the inches of our clothes and by the inches of our bodies. This constant moderation is also a restraint on our spirits.

Men just come and men just go, damn, the mismatched tie and suit!

It is indeed not surprising to see various research studies implying that looks are more important for a women’s advancement than a man’s. And instead of trying to work towards fighting the challenges that we are already facing in an uneven paying field, we burden ourselves with satisfying the beauty brigade.

A study funded by Procter & Gamble, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute show that not only do people judge women based on how much makeup they are wearing but it also drives decision on their competence and trustworthiness. A study in the American Economic Review said women who wear make-up can earn more than 30 percent more in pay than non makeup wearing workers. If men are judged by the measure of their merit, why can’t we be judged by our competence?!!

It is frustrating enough that we are expected to behave like superwomen; managing home and office and suffering from fatigue and burnout, trying to make ourselves noticed for our talent. We fight for the fact that we earn less and we are incessantly exhausted trying to climb up the ladder in the corporate world. However, the solutions commonly offered include demanding more of our partners, bosses and the policy makers fight gender biases and societal stereotypes, and this does not factor in the burden of looking good.

The crux of the problem is not that we should not focus on how we look, of course we should. The real issue should not become that we are anxious about how we dress and look and let it be another obstacle in our way to becoming successful.

The insistence on valuing and judging women’s bodies first and their intelligence or personalities second is insidious. In a world where ‘ideal’ is absolutely unrealistic and ridiculous, women are doomed to fall short, not only of the standards, but self confidence.

If we are going to be the Charlie’s Angels in a business blockbuster in a set designed by men and for men, we need to rewrite the script.

Wear that fuschia lipstick or not, bring out the lace shoes or boots, but please kick some a**!