|Exhibit 1: Eye makeup never helped anyone write better.|
|Exhibit 2: Sabbatical sweater. Hood keeps the ideas from falling out.|
So I shouldn't have been too surprised when, in March, when I was showered with praise by grad students and colleagues when I showed up somewhere looking more like this:
|Exhibit 3: No, really, it's still me!|
Gosh! You look nice! Everyone said. I did look nice, comparitively, and it's the comparisons that have got me thinking today. People, in general, treat me a lot nicer when I look like Exhibit 3 than Exhibits 1 and 2. A lot nicer.
On campus, when I'm well dressed, people assume I'm a faculty member. Staff do not glance at me askance, but rather, expectantly. Professors I don't know banter with me, or respond happily to my unprovoked friendliness. When I'm not so well dressed, people I know walk right past me, and look right through me. People I don't know give me static: everything seems a little ... bit ... harder. They don't smile at me as much, they seem a little suspicious. I wonder: is it because the no-makeup-all-hoodie look disguises my insitutional positioning? I am possibly an aged graduate student, or maybe a staff member who works so far back in a back office there is no dress code? Who am I? Or is it simply that I don't look attractive?
Off campus, when I'm well dressed, I get free stuff. Really. Like a break on a taxi fare, a free pastry at the coffee shop. The bus stops pulling away from the stop, and lets me on. The clerks at the drug store are actively friendly. These things are not true when I'm in my ratty jeans with pouffy hair and pale lips. Maybe when I'm well dressed I look like I have money, or like I'm competent. Or maybe when I'm not well dressed I look like a middle-aged woman, and they're not worth much attention or kindness.
But it's striking, the difference. I can switch my 'look' (such as it is) from day to day, and the differences in my experience of the social world are profound and discomfiting.
On the one hand, it's good, I guess, that I can smooth my own damn path in the world simply by brushing my hair and wearing pants with a zipper. On the other hand, that's kind of offensive. I mean, I like to cute as much as the next professor, but it seems rude that people treat me less well when I'm in my Super Productive Magic Writing Outfit. Then again, it seems rude that people give me free stuff when I put on lipstick.
So. "Good looking" is a complicated thing, and how I look alters how the world and I interact, shifts my potential for action in the world. I can be ambivalent about it, but it's true. I am ambivalent about it. And if I'm perfectly honest, I'm a little worried that the option to "dress for success" gets a little harder to access year by year, as I move from young woman to middle-aged woman. Maybe that will be freeing. I'm not sure. I'm looking for a day when I can wear my hoodie, and get my free donut, too.