Walking the Fine Line of Appearance

puzzlingWalking the Fine Line of Appearance: The Gender Politics of Getting Dressed

What does it mean to be a professional woman? You would hope it meant being good at your job; but, apparently, this is only part of the puzzle.

We have all been told that there are rules and regulations for your appearance if you ever want to succeed. Wear enough makeup and clothing to look competent, but not enough to look sexy. Good luck figuring out where that fine line lays….

This isn’t some kind of phenomenon that stays in the pages of Cosmo and the minds of women. There are real-world consequences for daring to (or accidentally) breaking out of the narrow confines of the appearance line.

A friend on the police force can’t look the least bit feminine without getting unwelcome attention and comments from arrestees and coworkers alike. My friend with big breasts gets ogled by customers in even the most modest of tee-shirts — never mind the cute dresses that she really wants to wear.

Beware of not wearing enough makeup because, according to a recent study, “makeup earns you respect, trust and affection from coworkers.” Huh?

Hmmm. Does this fierce red lipstick make me better or worse at my job? I’m confused.

I recently attended a professional life-coaching conference and was told “You were just such a pleasure to look at all weekend.” She paused and added, “I mean, I’m sure the intellect is there too. But you were very stylish.” This was the last thing she said to me and I left that weekend wondering if anyone had taken me seriously in my sensibly high-heeled boots. Why did she even feel the need to add the comment about my intellect?

Men need a $30 haircut, basic hygiene and to not wear sandals with socks in order to get respect in the workplace. It’s not that men have zero pressure on them to look a certain way; it’s just that the stakes don’t seem quite as high, and the investment of time and money is significantly less.

Women make less money than men — even in the same careers. Right now the figure is 77¢ for each dollar a man earns. What you might not realize is there is a significant additional cost for females. Beyond health costs specific to women, there is the cost of participating in the appearance game: makeup, clothing, beauty products, Frye boots (I can dream). Not only are we are making less money, we are expected to spend more of it just to keep up with a standard of beauty that we have little control over!

Consider this: Women’s products and services cost more than men’s. For the same products. Things like deodorant, razors and dry cleaning cost more for women than for men — and often come in smaller sizes, too.

So to worry and fret about our appearance and to believe that the way we look are somehow linked to our worth as professionals…. Well, these are the burdens that women inherit.

I really do mean “inherit.”

My 4-year-old daughter already loves to play with my makeup and high heels. I won’t try and pretend she didn’t learn that from watching me. With her blonde curls and big blue eyes, she is constantly being told she is pretty, even (almost especially) by total strangers.

My daughter might be beautiful but she is also curious, brave, funny and obsessed with superheroes. Even at the tender age of 4, I’m already fighting for her not to learn what the world is teaching her.


We don’t need your uselessly narrow beauty standards!

What I hope she learns from me is to wear that red lipstick. Wear it because it makes you feel fierce. Wear it because it makes you feel beautiful. Just don’t wear it because someone tells you to.


CharlotteTaylorCharlotte Taylor is a life coach, bellydancer, graduate student (in Mental Health Counseling) and “Mommy” to a wonderful little girl.

She is also an avid reader and pen-pal-er, adventure seeker and bad pop music aficionado.

She resides is Asheville, North Carolina with her daughter and four fish named Itcha, Mitcha, Fitcha and Beyonce.

For more, you can follow Charlotte’s regular blog posts at AFGO Coaching with Charlotte Louise. You can also “like” her on Facebook at AFGO Coaching, where she regularly posts cute and feminist memes.


  1. Jennifer says

    Some very interesting points, Charlotte.

    I often wonder how much of “being a girl” is learned and modeled, and how much is already programmed into the DNA (we all seem to love to play with the same things).

    As far as beauty goes, it truly IS in the eye of the beholder. Women should remember THAT when they look in the mirror!

  2. Kelli says

    Love this!

  3. Gabrielle says

    There are many of us out there working hard to teach our daughters and other young girls to rely on their own sense of well being and beauty instead of what media images and societal norms dictate. Hopefully some day soon these differences will fade away.

  4. Cat says

    This is an awesome post!

    **applies fuchsia lipstick**

    **gets back to reading deposition testimony**

a peep out of you