Tuesday, 12 November 2013

What do I Look Like?

I was thinking the other day about image. 

I rarely look like this. Ever.

Now that I'm self employed, I don't have an employer with a dress code looking over my shoulder every morning (not that my old boss ever did that; he was probably the most laid-back person I've ever worked for). Instead, I have this constant fear that I don't look "professional."

The fact is that my work involves spending large amounts of time on my laptop - either on Facebook or Twitter, or writing. I can do that in a pair of grubby tracksuit bottoms if I want, but since I have to go out of the house every day to take S to nursery (and to do shopping etc) I tend to dress with a style I think of as "passable." You know, the mum look: no visible snot; not too creased; it'll do.

I have a client who insists that I should wear bright lipstick when working on her premises, which makes me feel like a clown. I tried it for a while; it got on my teeth and into my hair, and I felt horribly self conscious. I have never been the sort of woman who wore lipstick; even for a fancy night out, I rarely bother with such things.

I met a potential client the other day, who didn't recognise me at first because I don't look like the photo I use for my Facebook promotion etc (above). That hadn't occurred to me; in reality though, that photo was taken when I was all dressed up for a party; not on a wet Friday morning in Costa. So the poor bloke didn't really stand a chance on that front!

I'm torn on the issue of "image" really. On the one hand, I sit at a desk (or on the sofa) in my living room and work my magic from behind a screen. In much the same way as my previous jobs in pensions were done from a closed office without actually seeing any clients/customers, I really don't see the point in having to dress smartly. I'm not someone who does that sort of thing easily; I feel uncomfortable in suits; I have the sort of boobs that make most shirts gape in a very unprofessional fashion. I can't walk more than 5 feet in heels. I forget my eye make-up and rub my eyes. One or both of my ear rings usually falls out before lunch; necklaces get caught in my piercings. I never succeed in looking polished and professional, so I rarely bother.

On the other hand though, I'm self employed now, and need to go out there into the big bad world and find myself work. I need to look presentable in order to do that. People need to look at me and think I have my shit together. Even if I don't have a meeting with a client, I want to look reasonably well put together, "just in case." I've managed (just about) to train myself not to rub my mascara all over my face. I sometimes manage to brush my hair. But the clothes and shoes are still a complete mystery to me. As I sit here typing this, I have white marks all over my faded black leggings - because I keep fiddling with my hair, which I couldn't be bothered to wash so it's full of dry shampoo.

The other day a friend who doesn't live locally was passing through town on the way to somewhere else. He said if he had time, he'd pop in on his way home. I immediately panicked; not only was the house a complete tip, but I was not wearing any make up. None. Despite the fact I would have liked to see this friend, I have to say I was relieved when he couldn't make it.

The problem is, I know I look crappy most of the time. I mostly feel inferior next to these women who can walk in heels, whose outfits look all stylish and pristine, whose nail varnish isn't chipped, whose hair is perfectly styled. They look very much the part, whatever that part might be. 

But after 32 years of trying, I think I just admit defeat and know I'll never compete with it.

I suppose I'll just have to wow people with my immense knowledge of crap you don't really need to know. And the boobs, obviously.


  1. Personally, I think it's a case of finding where to draw the line between what looks professional and what you feel comfortable wearing. For a woman I think it's a more difficult conclusion to come to. Generally speaking, I think it's safe to say women are more conscious of fashion than men and I also think it's safe for me to say that women tend to be judged more (one being a knock-on effect of the other). Men can thrown on a blazer, smart jeans and a half decent pair of shoes and can some how pull something off. For women there's always the play on the mind; are the heels too high, does the lippy clash with the shoes...you know, rubbish like that. But that in my mind is fashion, not business.

    Should you feel obliged to wear heels? No, not if you can't walk in them without breaking your neck. They'll only kill your knees in the long-term anyway and if you have ever had surgery on your knees, likelihoods are you'll be in too much pain wearing them.

    Don't bother with the suits and blouses. The shape, size or position of your cleavage doesn't make a difference, the damn thing will always gape in the wrong place and divert the attention away from the real subject.

    I would aim for something that is smart, but not over the top. Dress in a way that does not make you feel overly conscious of how you look, it'll only divert your attention from the real reason of you being there.

    Image has it's place and has a degree of importance, but the most important thing is how you put things into motion. It's all very well looking the part, but it's not what will distinguish you from your competitors. If you can deliver on your promises, on time and on budget you will be recognised for your efforts and that opens the door for repeat business and word getting around that you're good at what you do.

    You won't be remembered for the heels, expensive suits or colour-coordinated make-up; if someone told me that "she looks the part" I would dismiss the comment just as fast as I'd heard it. If on the other hand, someone said "that person is good at what they do and can deliver", I'd ask for your details.

    1. Thank you John!
      I do often worry that if I don't look "professional" then people will think I'm not serious about working with them. But on the other hand, if I was meeting someone with the idea of hiring them, you're right - i'd want to see an example of their work, not shiny shoes and a designer shirt!


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