Does this Business Make Me Look Fat?

I just had a moment of forehead-slapping disgust. As I was shuffling through the mail on my desk, I happened upon the flyer for an annual conference for a regional women’s organization. The second item on the agenda? Macy’s Fashion Presentation and Mini-Makeovers!

Gag.

Honestly, at that point, no matter what else was on the agenda, I was totally turned off. I find it so off-putting to think that the organizers of this event (who are presumably women) thought that the first thing I’d like to do after the opening remarks was watch a fashion show and get my makeup done. No thanks. This perpetuation of the idea that women are superficial pamper-junkies is offensive at best and detrimental at worst. I go to conferences to learn, to make connections and to build my business, not to work on my smoky eye or pick out the perfect accessory for this season’s little black dress.

The most ironic part was that, not five minutes earlier, I had a conversation with one of my employees about how the image standard for women in business is so prevalent and soul-crushing. We are expected to not only be great at our business, but we have to look amazing while we do it. We have to have the right power suit and four-inch stilettos to match our perfectly coiffed hair and expertly-applied makeup.

And heaven forbid we aren’t a perfect size six. When you carry extra weight, you are admonished to “take time for yourself” and that “you can’t pour from an empty cup.” You know what else you can’t do? Survive without sleep, which is exactly what I’d have to do to have the perfect body, hair, makeup, clothes, business, relationship and child. Something’s gotta give. And for me, it’s the ability to be the thinnest, most stylish woman in the room.

I’m a single mom, I run a $26 million business, I teach at a university. I travel, I speak, I mentor. I donate time and money to worthy causes. I have a social life and a significant other. And when I look in the mirror, I see none of that. I see a woman who can’t possibly live up to the standards set for me by the world of successful celebrity businesswomen. My logical brain says, “You are crazy successful and awesome. People admire you.” And then my reflection says, “Yeah, but you are fat. And that means you are a failure.”

We live in a society that posts glamour shots of Marissa Mayer under headlines about her two-week maternity leave. Implication: women should look fabulous post-partum and having babies shouldn’t slow down your career trajectory.

A society where Donald Trump can make cutting comments about Carly Fiorina’s physical appearance during a PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE and somehow not get booed off stage. Implication: Only pretty women can be successful and Carly, you aren’t pretty enough to be President.

A society where Sheryl Sandberg is often described as having a fondness for Prada ankle boots and Calvin Klein sheath dresses. Implication: Better figure out that fashion, because that’s what is important, even when the (male) founder of the company you work for shows up in hoodies every day.

So I spend valuable brainpower worrying about what I’m wearing, or how my makeup looks, or if everyone thinks I’m a lazy slob because I’m a size 14. Brain power that I should be using to grow my businesses, or raise my daughter, or just be freaking happy with everything I do have.

This is the part of the blog where I’d usually give you some insight or offer a solution, but I’ve got nothing. I have no idea to make the country (or myself) care more about the content of my character than the color of my Louboutins, to paraphrase. I’m certainly open to suggestions. Until then, I’ll be on the treadmill desperately trying to “take time for myself.”

by Lacy Starling, President & Fearless Leader