Pretty Girl Problems
Part 2 to the 6-Part Series: Beauty from the Inside Out
Featuring Becky Lauren and Leslie Friedman
Beauty from the Inside Out is a 6-part series exploring the struggle women have every day, from looking nice and staying healthy to taking jobs and choosing friends, because we want to or because society expects it from us. Each week we’ll discuss a new topic, culminating in how we can break the mold as strong, confident, beautiful women.
Part 2: Pretty Girl Problems
Prepare yourself for this one, ladies, it’s going to be a long one. It’s something that really affects me in every way every single day and it’s very important to me…
In today’s age we’re still living in a world where most career women struggle working in ‘a man’s world’.
I still laugh every time I watch Kristen Bell’s video ‘Pinksourcing’ . In the video she makes fun of everything that is unfair about being a women in the workforce.
I’ve known what I wanted to be since I was 8 years old. I was going to be “in the special forces”. I of course didn’t really know what that meant other than wearing a uniform and carrying a gun and beating up bad guys. At 8 years old I had no idea this dream wasn’t actually a possibility for me.
It wasn’t until I started growing up that there limitations on what I could dream and achieve. Some of these limitations were real and some were conditioned. “Oh a pretty little girl like you can’t be a Soldier, that’s for boys!”
Can women be in the special forces? At the time – no. In today’s age – kinda. But were there really cool jobs similar to that women could do? Absolutely!
As I started to grow into my professional career in the corporate world sitting at the large mahogany conference room tables of ‘old white men’ the reality of working in a man’s world began to sink in.
If you were an attractive woman, you obviously got the job because of your looks. If you were unattractive you obviously got the job because nobody wanted you so you had nothing to do but to work. (This is actually something that’s been told to me by numerous people over the years)
As a woman working in a field dominated by men, I am confronted by the double standard every single day. The struggle for me has always been where the line is, when to give into it, and when to fight it.
Where does ‘Pretty Girl Problems” come from? It’s from years of being told that my problems weren’t important. When I would give a presentation to someone much higher up in the company than I and they couldn’t stop staring at my legs (I’m 5’10) I was told it’s a ‘pretty girl problem’. When I had people from the company texting me slightly questionable things when they were drinking it was a ‘pretty girl problem’. When people assume I got my job because I’m a woman and they needed to make a ‘quota’, that’s a ‘pretty girl problem’.
“Oh it must be SO HARD getting all that attention from men all the time.” My male co-workers would joke. Yes. It is, and no, I don’t like it.
I once had a mentor, she was mid 50s, sit me down when I was an intern and give me some of the best advice I still look at today. She took me for coffee and as we sat down said “You, my dear, are going to have some trouble in this world.” The piece of advice she gave me which I still use is this: “There is a double standard that you aren’t going to get rid of in your lifetime, so you might as well take advantage. Your looks will open doors to you that it won’t for men. Don’t be afraid to use that, but you better make sure that when you open your mouth you are smarter than anyone else in the room. You better floor them!”
Leslie and I talked a lot about how to dress as a woman in the workplace. I’ve always joked that I have a pendulum that swings from ‘I don’t give a fuck to lesbian pant suit’. I’ve been told that if I don’t want men to stare at me I shouldn’t wear dresses and skirts, form fitting clothing, or low tops. I don’t disagree that if I avoided wearing those things I might not get as many looks. My issue lies in who’s side society is taking.
By saying “she’s asking for it. She’s wearing a pencil skirt with a shirt tucked in, you can see her shape” what we’re really saying is that we’re choosing men. We are choosing that their opinions and actions mean more than a woman’s. THEY can’t handle themselves so we need to change how we exist in the world. No. I just won’t.
Except I do. I think we all do. I’ll have an inappropriate comment made to me or someone stare just too much and the next day I’m practically wearing a mumu with my hair in a bun and no makeup. And I’ll do that for a few days so I don’t get the attention. And in that moment, in that decision, I’ve let them win.
The crazy thing is, that these same problems happen to women regardless of what industry they’re in. As an image consultant, Leslie works with women across all different fields look their best especially when they are going to work. She’s noticed that a ‘pretty girl’ double standard is present in almost all workplaces, but does vary from industry to industry. For example, a woman who wears heels in a more casual teaching environment is judged as being sexy and trying too hard while a woman who wears flats in a high power ad agency might be seen as lazy and unprofessional. Likewise, it is deemed equally inappropriate (by the men who have always set the standards, of course!) for a woman engineer to wear a skirt at a manufacturing conference as it is for a woman lawyer to wear a pant suit in the courtroom.
So, what’s Leslie advice to these women? Dress in a way that makes you feel comfortable, reflects the way you want to be perceived to your client (ex. Professional, capable, etc.), and is appropriate for your workplace (I don’t want to see tight pants, short shorts, or unbuttoned tops on men either). If you feel comfortable in a skirt, wear an office appropriate skirt. If you feel incredible in a power suit, wear your power suit. Your appearance certainly has an affect on others, but it also affects YOU! The way you look should empower you, while setting the stage for your actions- which is the real secret to breaking barriers.
Pretty Girl Problems affect all of us. I have a million stories of this and I’m sure each and every one of you do as well. We know women who exacerbate the issue and we know women who hide from it. I’ve always tried to live my professional life and professional friendships with integrity – in a way where I had fun, I dressed fashionably but appropriately, and acted in a way that nobody would question my intentions. “Live your life in a way that if someone spoke bad about you, nobody would believe it”
Becky and Leslie
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