‘This industry isn’t for you, look into modeling or something where you can just look pretty’ – 2011
‘Why were you late, were you painting your face or your nails’ – 2014
‘You’re pretty, clients will like you’ – 2015
‘You only got this job because you’re pretty’ – 2016
‘You’re pretty, but I need someone who can actually do the job, and I don’t know if that’s you’ – 2018
‘You know he’s got a huge crush on you right’ – female colleague referring to a male colleagues advances – 2019
‘You’re actually quite pretty, even though you’ve had it easy’ – 2021
The above are just some of the comments female colleagues have said to me, over my 12-year career. These comments were all made by women who were ‘close’ to me, most were more senior than me, one was a client, and two were made by colleagues who were more junior to me. Each one of these caught me off guard, each one hurt me, and after each comment, I smiled and laughed it off – I never stopped these comments in their tracks. I tried to shrink myself in corporates, I dressed weirdly and always wore flats, I changed my hair colour – I’ve had black, brown, red, auburn, ginger, brunette ombre, plumb purple and blonde hair in my career.
Then one day, I had worked a really late night and got up early to finish a client pitch. I arrived at work dressed well but with no makeup on and my hair in a bun. I still said to my female manager, so sorry I look so plain today, I completed the deck for us, but I’m running on 4h sleep right now, and looking pretty this morning just wasn’t a priority. To which she replied – ‘Tam, I don’t care how you look, I hired you for your brain, not for what you look like. Thanks for getting this deck done, it’s great and only needs a few light edits’. This was the first time anyone, had ever said something like this to me, it was such a relief and it felt so good.
I don’t know why I felt pressured into trying to look good and be the best employee? So, I took those comments that I had received previously, took the positive out of them, and used them as fuel to ignite a fire within me. Now I use ‘being pretty ‘ to my advantage and this is how you can too.
Here are 4 tips I wish someone gave me, as a conventionally attractive female, entering into corporate South Africa.
People will listen to you: Use this to your advantage
Your beauty is a source of power. You will garner more attention because of the way you look. Do not allow that to make you feel uncomfortable and cause you to shrink down, or you will never get ahead. Use it to your advantage by preparing ahead of time in order to speak well in pitches, present good work well, and to get ahead. People like being around attractive people, attractive people are more likely to be hired and promoted. So, work on your self-confidence and use your looks to your utmost advantage, even on the days when you don’t feel confident. Fake it until you make it. Never speak for the sake of speaking, rather say too little than too much.
People will not like you: Develop a tough skin
Some women will be unkind to you for absolutely no reason. These women could be your superiors, your colleagues, and even your clients. This behaviour is due to their own insecurities and has nothing to do with you. You will struggle to find a female mentor because of this. All you can do is be kind to others, keep shining, and pray you gain access to a boss who is secure enough within themselves to allow you to flourish. It’s really tough having to report to other women who hate you for the way you look. They assume you’ve had it easy. They assume you’re confident and happy and they don’t like this. They will try to break you down, remember your worth. My mother once said to me… I didn’t raise you up, for another woman to come and break you down. Let the haters hate, keep doing you.
Men will be attracted to you: Squash it
Men you work with will be unprofessional because they cannot separate the fact that they are attracted to you, from the fact that they are working with you and that you are a peer of theirs. This is really annoying because we all know that you don’t care about his pointless stories, making small talk with him in the kitchen or telling him what you got up to this weekend. Remember that this is not your fault. It doesn’t mean that you were giving him the wrong impression, dressing inappropriately, or leading him on. Don’t blame yourself for the actions and behaviour of men. However, it is imperative that you keep your boundaries in place, be mindful of what you say, and squash the water cooler talk as much as possible. I’d rather be known as boring, shy or stand-offish, than as the office flirt.
People will have preconceived notions about you: Whatevs
Your beauty will cause people not to take you seriously. You’re going to have to site and source everything that comes out of your mouth. People cannot reconcile the fact that an attractive woman can also be intelligent. They will be looking for opportunities to catch you up, make you look dumb, and mock you, unfortunately. So be mindful of yourself and how you are perceived by others, always. All that attention that you already get, can also be unwelcomed.