In sixth grade, Seth H called me “ugly” on the back of the school bus. Before that, I had no idea. With my thick, developing body, my frizzy, brushed out curls, and my silver studded buck-tooth smile, I actually thought I was kinda pretty.
In high school I was a wingman before the term existed. I was every boy’s “buddy”, the one they’d call to ask me how to win the affection of my pretty, blonde best friend. I had no sense of style, my eyebrows needed a major waxing, and my frizz had turned to tight ringlets if I used the right product to tame them.
Things came together in college, but I’ve never been rail thin, and I will never be drop dead gorgeous. Luckily for me, that is actually an advantage for women in my business.
Yes, that’s right. Being average looking is a skill set that has worked for me in my career. That sexy creature you find when you google image search business woman? She’s not real!
When I started my first job, there were a handful of young women with me. They were all smart, but a few of them were real bombshells. They certainly got a lot more attention early on, and admittedly a lot more opportunities in the beginning, but their flames floundered quickly and they didn’t stay in the industry long. Trouble seemed to find them, they were magnets for inappropriate comments, and as unthinkable as this sounds, unwanted advances often ended their employment.
But I’m still around. Instead of being distracted by my beauty and looking at me in “that way”, my co-workers are able to focus on what I say and actually listen to my ideas and suggestions. Sadly, I am not sure I’d have been taken seriously all these years had I been a knockout.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a frumpy mess. Nor are the women I work with. A little makeup, a beefed up wardrobe, and a great hair stylist all go a long way! But I find in order to have the gravitas necessary to truly flourish in this male dominated world, working with what your mamma gave ya is the key to success. I look at the women I’d consider role models, and they’re all like me- not supermodels, but pretty put together on the whole.
What happens to the “pretty girls”? You still see them from time to time, but they tend to play a certain role. They are often present in the office as the third party sales person, the one who helps you with your systems, or gives you a free trial of whatever the new technology is. I hate to report it, but this stereotype is true. There is still the rare gorgeous woman here and there, but her reputation for beauty always seems to precede and dilute her value to the bottom line. Somehow not being an object of desire- but rather being the “buddy” role- is a good way to survive and thrive in an aggressive business environment.
To be fair, some of this dialogue also applies to the men in my world. There are a ton of athletes on Wall St, sure. But as an objective member of the opposite sex, most of my colleagues over the years are just kinda average, with personality and ego being a bigger contribution to the whole than their facade. There’s a much bigger sea of very similar faces, and hence looks are less of an issue- in fact blending in is ideal.
Many moons later, there are a lot less working moms by my side, very few women hold on given the long hours, the off-color comments, and the general pull many have to their families over time. Had I been a hottie throughout my life, I’m not sure I’d still be in my seat either. Average looks have worked out pretty well for me, and some may even say the confidence that emanates from beating the odds is actually somewhat beautiful in its own right.