I was reading a biography years ago about a successful business woman in the late eighties working in the music industry. The name of the woman and the book both elude me now. The heroine of the book, in a way I’m sure was common then {now?}, donned a suit of armour to face her predominantly hostile male office environment every day. Sharp suits, masculine tailoring, dark brooding colours. She felt strong in this suit. But fake too. Her genuine self was hidden behind the black armour of boxy corporate attire.

This week I stood helpless in a situation that there wasn’t a way out of. I felt small and weak. Tears of frustration welled in my eyes before I could properly convey what I needed to say. I needed to be heard. Called from home, I was wearing track suit pants, a t-shirt and flip-flops. I couldn’t help but wonder as I walked back to my car, when it was over, if I would have handled it differently in my own version of a suit of armour. A pencil skirt and killer heels, of course.

Had I done and said everything I would have if I felt more at home in the clothes I wore. If my hair was done and I had makeup on. Would the people there have listened to me more? What would I have done differently? Would I have held my ground past the point I did, demanded I be heard. Or would it have looked the same in the end.  I’ll never know if it would have ended up differently. But I think I would have FELT different.

It’s a strange idea this whole personal style thing. For me it’s part shield, part expression, part function and part form. And whole lot  about budget and access too. But how much of it factors into my self-worth and my confidence? I noticed in that moment that I wished I LOOKED better how much my appearance still impacts me. Sure I got the job done in the end but it took something to muster the courage to demand to be heard when I felt so blah.

It’s an excuse, of course. One I’m sure we have all used. An excuse like I’ll make more of an effort when I lose 5kg. I’ll like myself more when I get my teeth fixed. I’ll be better and nicer and calmer and smarter when I grow a few inches taller. This programming, the excuses, are so impactful that something like being in house clothes made me question if I should speak up. Made me question if I would be seen to have value.

Interesting. Don’t you think?

Interesting to question these thoughts and ideas when I have them. To challenge their validity and to ask myself ‘why is that?’. To continue to deconstruct the programming that my worth as a woman is intrinsically linked to the level of beauty I obtain. And don’t forget sexiness. That’s important to. After all how do I obtain what I want as a woman without my feminine wiles. My quiver of trickery and fluttering lashes?

The charms of a woman are something to behold. Of course. But what happens when we forget that our power doesn’t actually live there? Forget, ever for a moment, that our value lies in much more important things. In our kindness towards others, our generosity and the gifts we share with the world. The contribution we are to people. That sort of thing. Intelligence, beauty, wit, charm, grace… All of it is an idea created long ago passed down to us.

So tonight I wonder. I consider what I really believe. I ponder and let it spill onto the screen. I hope that it speaks of what I’m trying to say about being who you are. About empowerment and the need to be heard no matter what. I’m not sure it does actually. But for me, the process of writing it has settled my mind. Assured my heart. I am braver in my armour. But I can be brave without it.

So I ask you this, do the clothes make the man? Woman in this case.  

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