Janet Walkow Christine Jacobs

Does Appearance Matter?

On any given day, what I wear and how compelled I feel to primp and make myself presentable depends on a number of factors, including what role I am playing: friend, boss, mom or runner. A quick look in my closet reveals the variety of costume changes that go along with these roles – clothes specific to running, work, going out, travel, formal events, hiking and lazy days, hanging out.  What I’m doing and the final look I am trying to achieve is factored into whether I feel the need or desire to wear much make up or spend time on my hair.

First Impressions

Over the years I’ve figured out what works for me; clothes that both reflect my personal style and stay in synch with my myriad activities and persona. This is important, because how you present yourself can influence how others view you—this has proven. It may not seem fair, but it is a reality. If you show up for a job interview in clothes that don’t match the company culture, it’s a cue to the hiring company that you may not fit in. Wearing a conservative, formal suit when you’re applying for a job at a startup internet company where everyone is wearing jeans may not send the right message, but this outfit would be appropriate a high end marketing company that has a dress code. As an independent consultant, I typically work in my office in jeans, hair pulled back and no makeup. But when I meet with a new client I dress to match their culture and take the time to ensure my appearance is impeccable. I want to convey that I am in tune with their culture.

Some people contend that appearance shouldn’t matter; but it does, whether it’s fitting into a peer group or a company.  People quickly form first impressions and draw conclusions about your knowledge and skills, correct or not. It is naïve to think that the image you convey won’t influence how people first perceive you and your abilities.

Mirror, Mirror

Most importantly, no matter the role you’re playing, what really matters is feeling comfortable with yourself, being confident and making your outer appearance mirror your inner self. For women, one topic that comes up is makeup. I’m always weighing whether and how much I should wear. To a certain extent, I feel a bit naked without at least a little mascara and something to conceal those dark circles that can appear with too little sleep. There are numerous blogs/articles that talk about appearance and self confidence: everything from knowing what’s enough makeup, being ok with feeling ugly some days,  and sending photos of your morning face, to trying the new trend of mirror fasting – giving yourself a break from focusing on your looks. I tried avoiding the mirror as a way to reduce self-criticism. I admit, there’s some relief in allowing yourself to make your appearance something you want, not what others expect.

Personal Choice

If you don’t want to compromise how you dress and present yourself, that’s okay. Bare skinned, make up, tattoos, piercing, fashion plate or medical enhancements – it’s all about personal choice. You may need to adjust your expectations and understand how your appearance may influence how others view you. You can make that choice and decide what’s worth compromising and how to balance your various roles to reflect your personal style. See yourself for who you are and who you want to be. Reflect your values and self confidence – that’s you and that’s what matters.

Janet Walkow is the Executive Director and Chief Technology Officer of the Drug Dynamics Institute at The University of Texas and a co-founder of Leading Women. Read her full bio.

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