When I was playing professional beach volleyball, running around in a bathing suit every day, you’d think I would have been more conscious than ever about my image. But at the start, I was generally oblivious.
In fact, when I was in my first Bud Light commercial, we were told to bring three bathing suits to the set. So the volleyball players stood in line while the costume person – or whatever her title was – picked out her favorite bathing suit for each of us.
When she got to me, I was sitting in the sand reading a book, and she said my not standing up was slowing everything down. If you have ever done a commercial, you know that things move insanely slowly, and the idea that I could slow down something that already moving at the speed of molasses made me laugh incredulously. She also did not like that.
Then I handed over my three suits and she said, “One-piece suits??!!?? Are you kidding me? You brought one-piece suits for a Bud Light commercial?!?!? Do you ever pick you head out of that book? !!? Do you know what this commercial is about?!??! It is not about your one-piece suits!!!
That moment drove home to me how important it is to think about image: what people are expecting me to look like. I always wore bikinis after that. I understood that that was part of my job.
When I started working in corporate America, I had to learn about image all over again. At first, I had no money for clothes, and I bought stuff at thrift shops. One day, at my Fortune 100 company, I wore a sweatshirt inside out, trying to make it look like a sort of dress-up sweatshirt, and my boss sent me home to change. I’m not kidding. I told her I thought it was absurd. She said, “Trust me. You don’t want to have this debate with human resources. Just go home.” So I did. And since I lived two hours from work, I took the day off. But I threw the sweatshirt out.
As my career progressed, I spent a lot of time on image, mostly because there were so few women doing what I was doing that I had no role models for how to dress. I hired a consultant to overhaul my whole look, and then when I was getting ready for my first meetings with venture capitalists, my partner (fifteen years older than I was) sent me to a coach to give me “polish”.
Image must be an issue for a lot of people because in my post about bed bugs, the most popular outbound link is actually ” great work clothes ” . And the post that has generated the most offers to me for free stuff was one about my shoes.
So it will surprise none of you that when CNN invited me to do an interview last week, I thought a lot about what to wear.
The last time I linked to a TV interview I did, a few of you wrote to me to say that I need to be more dressed up. “People who have authority usually wear a suit on TV,” one person wrote to me.
I’m not into the suit. I see it’s a sign of authority but I think it’s outdated to rely on something besides your ideas to get authority. If authority comes from something besides ideas, then the world becomes rankist. That is, discriminating against people in low rank, not because of what they have to offer, but because of where they are in the pecking order.
One thing blogging has really driven home for me is that today, real authority comes from what you say, not your credentials. I am fascinated by this. It’s the grand democracy in the blogosphere that some of my favorite bloggers are in their early twenties. And some of the worst blogs are from people who are actually in positions of huge authority.
The Economist notes that for CNN-type moments, Mark Zuckerberg wears a signature fleece and sandals, and Steve Jobs wears a black turtleneck and jeans. I like those outfits. They’re authentic to those guys. But I’m sensitive to the fact that women need to follow different guidelines than men do. If I dress like the guys, for example, the guys won’t like me.
So, I brought six shirts to the studio for the CNN interview. At the last minute, I decided that the important thing to me is authenticity so I should wear something I love. I chose my favorite black shirt that is sort of an expensive-flirty-dress-up version of a t-shirt. I think it looked good, though I confess to being unable to find the CNN interview online to link to it.
And yes, I know, you are not supposed to wear black on TV. They even tell this rule to all the volleyball players. But that’s for another post.