Years ago, I struggled with self-image. I struggled so bad that I made excuses as to why I could not go to public events or speak in front of people, other than my students. I was afraid that people would not think that I was “worthy” enough to listen to because I did not look the part. I needed to lose weight and I knew that when people saw me…that’s what they saw.
It’s been years since those days and thankfully I no longer feel prisoner to my own self-doubt. As a matter of fact, I would probably consider the last year of my professional life, the best that I have ever had because I have made a point to be ME and proud of it.
And then I had a phone call today…
It was a person that I know in this industry who wanted to give “ME” advice on branding. I humored him because those calls are always interesting but then he said these words…
“I’m going to tell you something that someone told me one day. It hurt me to hear it but I needed to hear it. You are going to need to lose weight to be competitive in this industry. People want someone who is well put together and who is visually appealing. You need to be someone that people want to see on a stage and they want to see someone who takes care of themselves.”
I paused for a second and after ending the conversation, allowed myself to honestly reflect on what he said and in that moment, I knew that this would be the last time that I took that call.
Unless I am missing something, I’ve never signed up for a beauty contest and yet even as grossly inappropriate as this entire conversation is, I know that it happens because in the aftermath of this conversation, I compared notes with friends and a few have talked about how they were told that they need to be more “visually put together” for bigger speaking engagements. One was even told that she used to be “pretty” but is no longer really taking care of herself.
Is this where we are? Really???
Talking to someone about health, because honestly we should all care about it…is one thing. Telling someone that they need to look a certain way in order to have a voice is another. It’s wrong and it happens far too often. If you are one who values what you see over what you hear, read and learn…shame on you a million times over.
In case you were wondering, many of my friends who are black women in tech get this a great deal except “visually appealing” is translated to “angry looking” and even further that our names should be changed to be more pronounceable or if we have natural hair, we should straighten it to be taken seriously.
And here I was thinking that this work we do was about thoughtful ideas and innovation.