Lipstick and Gloss

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Stereotypes exist for a reason. There’s a recognizable pattern, a kernel of truth to the general impressions that form stereotypes.

Many successful PR professionals and TV reporters (especially on FOX) are blonde.  When I named my blog, I purposefully played on my hair color and the wisdom invoked by my favorite accessory — Blonde Pearls PR Blog.

Ten, even five years ago, I would not have been so comfortable doing so. I’m pleased that constraints of rigid expectations have been loosen so that women can be more feminine in the workplace and in our expression.

Yet, we still have hurdles to overcome. Reading Howard Kurtz’s profile on Diane Sawyer, an anchor with an edge (and a role model I have long admired, along with Peggy Noonan who also is blonde), however, made me pause.

There it was. In the third paragraph. A reference to her looks. “This is the non-glamorous side of Sawyer, who at the moment — with her untamed hair, pale skin, black-rimmed glasses and plain white shirt — looks like a 64-year-old housewife in need of a cup of coffee.” Would he write that about NBC’s Brian Williams? CNN’s Anderson Cooper?

Thankfully, the rest of the article gave Sawyer the props she is due — an accomplished journalist bringing critical thought and improvement to her craft for the benefit of the viewers.

Yet, after decades of advancement for women in the workplace, why isn’t there more parity in reporting on the lives and professional accomplishments of men and women? Because stereotypes play a powerful role in how we think about women. Sans makeup, we are housewives or homebodies. Once we paint on the mask we are business women, soccer moms or teachers. Or in the case of female politicians once perceived as homely because of the wrong shade of lipstick, an “image” made over.

I long for the day when stories about women — executives, politicians, anchors, First Ladies — forget to mention designers, makeup and such. Better yet. How about covering men in the same fashion?

Unfortunately, that day is likely far away. The blogosphere is aggressively critiquing Elena Kagan’s makeover for her Senate confirmation hearings to become the next Justice on the Supreme Court. Female presidential appointees and candidates in an electronic age should care about their appearance, just as men should. The challenge is managing the unjustified scrutiny that accompanies women wherever they go.

Wendy Kaminer in The Atlantic recently posed the question: “Would Elena Kagan’s sexuality be a subject of so much speculation if she looked like Sarah Palin, or Kim Cattrall?”  Yes.  However, the commentary would be more flattering, but none-the-less denigrating and distracting from the discussion of her qualifications.

I met with a colleague awhile back to seek advice on job interview strategies. One of her cardinal rules, based on research, was to wear my hair in a bun or french twist so that it was off my face. While I often sport a pony tail on weekends or sultry summer days, I couldn’t bring myself to heed her advice. It just wasn’t me.

My advice in media training to women who appear on TV:  Befriend and trust the make up artist. But decline the lip gloss if you wouldn’t normally wear it.

You have to look comfortable in and with the accoutrements you choose — be it for a televised appearance, job interview or business meeting.

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