I am bothered by the June 2009 cover of Fast Company magazine. It features a glamour shot of business woman and Presidential Fellow of the MIT Media Lab, Ms. Neri Oxman. This very well could have been the cover for Cosmopolitan magazine. But it was the feature picture for a lead business story “The 100 Most Creative People in Business.”
What struck me was the personal impact that spending time with this magazine had on me. It made me feel inadequate: as a woman and as a business leader. I felt old, ugly and worthless. I had the urge to go and take a shower (which I did) and then asked my husband if he would give me a haircut (which he did beautifully!). Within minutes of separating myself from this magazine, I felt better.
Then I remembered a statistic that I had read that teen girls and young women begin to feel depressed after spending only 3 minutes with a beauty magazine. All the images that the media portrays of how women and girls “should look” is having a devastating impact on the self-esteem of our country – women and men, girls and boys. Our beauty-obsessed culture, driven by our media, has led to all sorts of serious social problems that have huge negative economic impact, including eating disorders, suicide, depression, unnecessary surgeries, consumerism of products that poison our bodies (such as much of the skin care and cosmetic regimes that women and men buy into). Even obesity could be linked to this root cause of media driven idealism of American beauty and success.
Now, you and I both know that beautiful and sexy cover photos and sensational headlines are what SELL magazines and newspapers. But I think we all need to be aware of the kinds of deep-seeded messages that this media portrayal sends out.
What does this have to do with business and leadership?
Consider what is this teaching younger professionals about how to dress for business? Many of the Gen Y (“The Millennials”) confuse what to wear to work versus what to wear on a date. Not good. This Fast Company magazine cover reinforces the blurred lines in dress code and what is appropriate. Can you imagine anyone (man or women) in an academic or business setting wearing this to the classroom, boardroom or meeting room? I think such inappropriate dress can cause undue distraction on the business issues at hand …and do serious damage to the reputation (and potential safety) of the business woman wearing such an outfit.
In the earlier days of my leadership career, I made such a mistake. Thankfully, my CEO gave me very clear and direct counsel. I never wore that outfit again. There are better ways to distinguish yourself and add value to the organization and to yourself!
With this selection of the cover photo of this June 2009 issue, Fast Company is implying that Most Creative = Most Sexy = Most Beautiful = Most Desirable = Most Successful. Is that really the formula for business success? Is it all about hair, make-up and sexy outfit? I think not. You’d never see Warren Buffet dolled up in this fashion.
What can you do about this? Simple actions can you take…
1. If you ever have the opportunity to view the documentary film by Darryl Roberts “America the Beautiful: Is America Obsessed with Beauty?” – watch it. It will open your eyes to this enormous issues. Join his blog.
2. Another great resource is the YWCA’s special report “Beauty at Any Cost: The Consequences of Amercia’s Beauty Obsession on Women & Girls.” Download this eye-opening report and share it with other people that you know!
3. Write to Fast Company magazine (as I have) and let the editors/publishers know that they can do better and they must do better. They have a responsibility to our future leaders.
4. Mentor and counsel younger professionals. Help them understand how important their professional credibility and reputation is and how dress and behavior can impact it positively or negatively. Help build their self-esteem and let them know that they are many dimensions to success and significance. It’s more than just skin deep!
5. Above all, be the example. Model the kind of thinking and behavior that will groom our future leaders to reach their full potential.
What are your thoughts on this issue? Please leave a comment and continue the conversation!