Houses of the Broken and Other Stories

Third Life: Fool’s Gold – Week 1: Gilding the Gauntlet

Is it better to be pretty or smart? Welcome to my poorly contrived social experiment.

As my professional and life experience grows and I become entrusted with more responsibility, I can’t help but feeling more left behind. I’m in my mid-30’s, never been a ‘girly girl’ and most often wore the badge of ‘nerd’ in my academic days. I have a mind for problem solving, and enough social skills to get me through some of the most complicated business meetings (Smiling through clenched teeth should be listed on my resume under special skills or maybe additional languages.)

This bad idea started as most bad ideas do. At the bottom of a glass at the end of the bar, at the end of another long, confusing, frustrating week. “… you know, I have a push up bra too, maybe I need to wear it to start getting some recognition around there…” And that’s all it takes for an idea to bloom in the prickly garden of discontent.

I wish I could encapsulate the montage of identity crisis that followed.

“Maybe I should dress nicer… maybe I should wear make up… maybe I should keep my mouth shut…” this would go on for a few minutes before the angel on the other side chimed in.

“Screw them! Your cup size has nothing to do with how well you do your job. Big hair and bad perfume shouldn’t dictate who gets more attention.”

“But….” the other side would whisper “… it does.”

I was vexed. After some serious rationalizations and my friends evenly dividing between “No, you don’t need it!” and “Do what makes you feel best.” I decided to hit the warpaint store. I don’t even know how to shop for make up right. It all looks the same to me and all costs 3x more than I think it should. My goal, however, was fairly simple. Start testing out new looks. Simple, understated and professional. Going full on clown college was not going to get the right response for my goals. (Well, we may revisit that later…) I am the type that gets funny looks when I show up in something other than boots and dockers. I hate being cold and uncomfortable, and I have to be able to go crawl through a muddy basement or a dusty attic at a moments notice. It’s hard to wear a wiggle dress and climb up on a roof, no matter how dedicated you are to looking fabulous.

While I do sometimes envy the women that can run a 5k in stilettos, I don’t often have issues with the fact that I’m not one of them. (Though being able to wear a pair of heels for more than 5 minutes without an oozing blister or calf knotting foot cramp would be nice.) I do my job, I do it well, and I’m usually pretty well prepared…but… BUT…. not being polished and prissy in the process sometimes holds me to a disadvantage. I don’t get dragged in to extra important meetings (well maybe this isn’t exactly a disadvantage…), and I don’t get invited along to the quick lunches with the clients or consultants when they pass through town. (I’m rethinking this ‘disadvantage’ thing…) And while I hate wasting my time on the social niceties, it still… stings.

So my bargain with myself is thus: Start presenting myself as a stereotypical female, for a month, and see what happens. Maybe nothing. Maybe everything. But then I’ll know.

It was grey and bleak this morning. I took my time getting out of bed, so I didn’t have a lot of extra time on my hands getting ready. My hair was done (takes 5 minutes) and I turned to leave the bathroom.

“Oh… shit… that’s right…” I stared at the medicine cabinet longer than I should have, trying to dismiss this whole idea as silly so I could just be on my way. It only takes a few seconds…the other voice chimed. “Fine.” A few swipes of neutral eyeshadow, enough to claim I did it.

The gauntlet has been thrown.

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