At a recent professional conference we broke the ice with a rousing game of “two truths and a lie.” My shocking truth that fooled them all? I can get ready for work in less than four minutes. I should have guessed by the gasps that this wasn’t something to be proud of.
I’m a working mom with one son in grade school and another in preschool. On a typical morning during the school year I wake up, do dishes, rouse the kids, feed them breakfast, get them dressed, make their lunches, pack their backpacks and only then, in the few last minutes before we make a mad dash for the bus, figure out what I’m wearing that day. If it’s clean, matches, and basically fits, it’s a win.
It’s not just about the kids, though it’s certainly exacerbated the situation. The truth is, I’ve always been low maintenance. It was a point of pride–shopping and fashion were vanity, style without substance, right?
I just never considered that putting everyone and everything before my appearance could actually hurt my career.
“Women have it harder,” a female boss told me. “A man can just throw on a good suit and project authority. For us it’s more complicated.” She should know–she’s got the unenviable task of projecting power at just shy of five feet.
It comes down to this: we communicate our knowledge and authority to others in many different ways: our words, our actions, and yes, even our wardrobe (whether I like it or not). I have a very public job and am often in front of the community. What do I want to project: that I am a smart interesting, creative professional bringing important art to the stage? Or that I’m a replaceable non-profit middle manager?
And what story do I want to tell myself (and my family) about myself? That I’m a slightly overweight woman slouching towards middle age? Or that I’m a beautiful, confident powerhouse?
And so the make-over begins. It’s taken a bit of hand-holding but slowly, surely my personal style is emerging. I’m learning, for the first time, to accessorize. To appreciate–and even walk in–pointy high-heeled shoes. To embrace color. To wear a dress on a weekday–just because.
And it helps me kick ass.
Sure, it takes a few extra minutes in the morning. But it’s time spent on me, for once, and I’m worth it. Maybe, just maybe, it’s Mama’s turn to shine.