Do professional women wear elasticated pants?

Do professional women wear elasticated pants? – GUEST BLOGGER SARAH

I was recently asked to appear in a TV programme.   It’s been a bit of a shock.  The actual TV part was fine – it was the knickers that were the problem. 

I was required to meet a standard of personal grooming whichmade me feel like the bride at a huge society wedding.  More makeup than I’ve ever worn, and all my jewellery at once. My feeble wrists trembled under pounds of bangles and bracelets.  My clothes were all lycra and my underwear was huge, tight, and figure-controlling, the like of which my surprised nether regions had never seen before.  I wished I could just look like my normal self.

Of course, people usually wear makeup and bright colours on TV. There are bright lights and stuff. So why did I mind? Maybe I’m more low-maintenance than average. Lots of other women enjoy makeup, after all, and are no strangers to the cruel digestive upsets of the Control Pant. 

But for me, it was all a bit much.  I wasn’t presenting ‘Take Me Out’.  I’m a commentator on social research, poverty and policy.  Balancing on my high heels took so much brain power, it was hard to concentrate on the stuff I was hired to talk about.

I thought about Caitlin Moran’s idea -“Are the boys worrying about this?” I think if they go on TV, they’re probably not worried about their underwear.  As a female commentator, you need to achieve a base level of elegance and style which is much higher than the one a man must achieve, just to be considered normal-looking.  Just so people can ignore your funny, asymmetric face, and pay a tiny bit of attention to what you’ve got to say.

I asked some other professional women how they felt their appearance impacted on their work. Georgina, a senior civil servant, pointed out that some industries are more visual than others.  She tries to look unglamorous. “Flaunting your femininity isn’t a good way to gain credibility. In the civil service you don’t want to look even vaguely sexy”.

Claire and Rhiannon, who are mental health professionals, said their main aim is to avoid signalling status by what they wear. You can get a better rapport with patients if you don’t look too groomed, and that applies to men and women.  “In healthcare it’s about being neat. Like you won’t give people a disease if you shake hands.”

But there were also some stories of how women in professions are viewed as women first, professionals second. I think it must be harder to be a low-maintenance woman under those circumstances. 

Lucy, a barrister, went to a legal dinner recently where each of the speakers was introduced by jaunty theme music.  When three senior female lawyers took their places, they were accompanied by “Here Come The Girls”.  And Sally, a journalist, said she’d turned down speaking engagements, because she felt self-conscious about her appearance. 

So I do worry about the future.  We are still focused on how women look at work, while the most visual industries like journalism and entertainment keep raising the stakes by requiring higher levels of grooming.  It’s a beauty arms race, where today’s ‘natural look’ is tomorrow’s ‘unacceptably weird-looking’.

I can say now I’ll never have Botox, for example.  But if the culture changes and Botox becomes the norm, I’ll look unusually wrinkly.  Would this peculiar appearance get in the way of being taken seriously at work?

Maybe I’ll just look weird, and enjoy it.  As long as my theme tune at work isn’t “Here Come the Girls” I don’t really mind.