Last week, prior to my Toastmaster’s meeting, as I was deciding what to wear, I noticed that I was conscious to something I do unconsciously daily, and that is, I thought about my appearance. I wondered about my choice of hairstyle, my decision to wear or not wear makeup that day. I thought even harder about what clothes (well, top) to wear for the call. I was very present to the fact that I am the only Black person in the club right now. And while my fellow “Toasties” are wonderful people, I was mindful that none of them are Black and I wanted to be sure to represent myself, and my culture well. I actually shared this in my talk with them and said, “This is in no way about any of you. This is about the unconscious mental gymnastics professional Black women, particularly, have to go through every time they prepare to present themselves.
Women of all shapes, sizes, and colors fuss in the mirror each morning, deciding what kind of impression they want to make. But for Black and other women of color, the consideration is magnified. Again, this isn’t a conscious thought every morning – at least not for me it is. This is an automatic act based on lessons we’ve learned ourselves and/or have been taught by others.
When I just starting out in the workforce, I remember a family member and mentor used to tell me about how to dress and present myself professionally. And, she warned, that how people will perceive me based on my appearance is different than how they will perceive a colleague who is not black and female. While I don’t think any one Black person wants to shoulder the responsibility of representing the entire race, the reality is, we often do.
As a Black woman, I must be even more mindful than others.
Here’s how a typical morning for me while getting dressed, all in the name of wanting to have a strong professional presence.
I think of the people I’m going to talk with and meet throughout the day. Then I start with my hair: Should I wear it in a ponytail, or should I wear it down on my shoulders?
Then I move on to my face. How much makeup do I need to wear? Should I wear my glasses or contacts? What about my earrings and other accessories?
Then my clothes, Should I wear this blouse, the one I would wear if I were meeting with someone in person, or can I dress down a little since no one I talk to dresses up for the Zoom call anyway? No, I need to wear the blouse, I can’t relax my standards even for a moment.
And for now, that’s where it stops. But when not meeting via Zoom, I also have to think about my lower half: slacks, skirt, or dress? And then, which slacks, skirt, etc. Of course, I don’t want anything too tight. At the same time, it needs to fit well and convey the right message about my brand and who I am. Next are the shoes. I’m 5’ 4” and like wearing higher heels. I have “sensible” shoes that I can wear but I like to switch it up. So the heels that I want to wear but normally won’t because they look like I’m ready to go out to the club (just keeping it real). So now I think, “Ugh! Now I gotta go shopping for some shoes!” (I’m not a big shopper so this doesn’t excite me).
Exhausting, right? By the time I walk into my own office, I have already spent some of my precious mental energy.
I’m sure everyone can relate to this story on some levels and I know for some, I’m preaching to the choir as this is your reality too. So be kind, gracious, and compassionate to yourself. Take time to breathe before you start your day. And take a moment when you’re in the mirror and smile at yourself. At the end of the day, smile at yourself again. You’re a beautiful, powerful, and capable woman and bring much with you to the table.
To your success!