Like many other young women in their late teens and early twenties, I would often wear tank tops and shorts in the past.
I did this not because I was interested in sexual attention. Rather, my mentality was that I would only be in my best physical form once in my life. So, I should enjoy having this body shape while I still can.
Earlier this year, I made a deliberate effort to change my appearances. I started to wear skirts and dresses that were below my knee length.
I started to wear pants regularly even though I didn’t like them in the past. I opted for darker and more professional colours like black; khaki; navy blue; white and grey.
Besides a physical change, I also started to carry myself differently. I came across some scientific research about how people with lower voices are taken more seriously and learnt about how female leaders such as Margaret Thatcher found success from improving the way she spoke. This inspired me to try to adopt a lower tone of voice when I speak too.
The objective of doing these things was to ditch the “Xiao Mei Mei” image for a more mature looking one to dress for the job or career which I want.
1. People would perceive you as more competent
I’ve learnt over time and perhaps in a hard way that the way a person presents him or herself determines the way they are treated.
As totally superficial this idea is, it is true. Every single one of us is constantly being judged on our appearance whether it’s on purpose or not. Hence, it’s crucial that we present ourselves in the best way possible.
Several studies have found that professionally dressed women are viewed as more intelligent and capable.
This is especially the case for high-status jobs. In an experiment conducted by psychologists from the Southwest Minnesota State University, 102 university students (48 men, 54 women) were shown two photographs. One photo depicted a professionally dressed woman wearing a business jacket and slacks. The other photo emphasized sex appeal, showing a woman wearing a low-buttoned blouse and no jacket.
Half the participants were told that the woman in the picture was an office assistant, whereas the other half were told that she was the CEO. Participants were then asked to rate the woman on several variable such as her likely college GPA; ability to set a good example; ability to interact with others; intelligence; leadership; job knowledge and professional attitude.
The sexy office assistant received high ratings for social competence. However, the sexy CEO received the lowest rating for general competence and social competence.
This shows that while sexiness is associated with social ability in low-status jobs, when a woman is in a position of power, sexiness may be viewed as dysfunctional and inappropriate.
Sad to say, this only applies to female but not males. For instance, people are just as tolerant of a shirtless waiter and male leader. However, while they may be tolerant of a picture of a waitress in bikini, they may not react well to a photo of a female leader in a bikini.
While these two men were praised for the shirtless photo they took, can you imagine, in Singapore’s context if there was a bikini photo of say, Grace Fu, being leaked? I doubt the public will be so receptive or forgiving even though she is around the same age as them.
While I am aware of these concepts in theory, I realize that I too am sometimes guilty of such unconscious bias.
For instance, last year during the GE2015, my first impression of Kevryn Lim was a negative one due to the way she dressed during her first interview. Later on, when I learnt that she was a single mother and wanted to fight for this disadvantaged group, my respect for her grew. Looking back, it is perhaps not mature to judge someone’s personality based on something so superficial.
2. Other women will not perceive you as a threat to them
Research has also shown that it is not just men alone who judge sexy women in high status jobs harshly. It is a fact that women are often each other’s worst critics.
A study published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture proved that a woman’s sex appeal may make other women think she’s less intelligent.
Scientists asked over 100 young women aged 17-25 to review two Facebook profiles of a fictional 20 year old girl named “Amanda.” The only difference was the profile photo. In one profile, Amanda wore a red prom dress with a thigh-high split. In the other, she had on a more conservative jeans-and-t-shirt ensemble. Unsurprisingly, the more conservative Amanda was perceived to be more pretty; more likely to be their friend and more competent in completing a task.
In her experiment, 86 women were told that they were being recruited for a study in conflict resolution. Half of the women were briefly interrupted in the fake ‘study’ by an attractive woman who was dressed in a t-shirt in khakis. The other half were interrupted by same attractive woman, this time dressed in a tight, low-cut blouse and a miniskirt.
Unbeknownst to the study participants, they were being videotaped. The women in the study were more likely to roll their eyes at the “attractive” woman, stare her up and down, and even show anger when she was in the room. “When she left, Vaillancourt says, the other women ‘laughed at her, ridiculed her appearance, and/or suggested that she was sexually available.'”
In contrast, when she was dressed conservatively, the same confederate was barely noticed by the participants.
Given that women are intolerant of sexually attractive females and use indirect aggression to derogate potential rivals, I believe it would not be prudent for one to be perceived as a threat.
I feel my experience is not unique to myself.
Rather, I’ve seen this change of style in many examples. For instance, Ivanka Trump when she transitioned from to being a Socialite to First Daughter and also Jessica Alba when she changed her job from an actress to business woman.
I guess that the purpose of this post is not to tell other people what they should wear or should not wear. I feel that everyone has the freedom to dress in anyway they like. I am simply expressing my decision to dress more modestly and also benefits from doing so such as being perceived as more competent and trustworthy.
As a young woman, have you also changed the way you dressed since you entered the workforce? Let me know your comments below 🙂