Monday, June 13, 2011

Pretty Ugly

(Started to put the following in the comments after Jess’s, but it got too long.)

Part of the reason I doubt I’ll ever give up this blog – despite a common view that FaceBook punctured the blogosphere (which I don’t think is true; it mainly pulled out the non-anonymous folks, though it did decrease blog comments, maybe because blog commenting is harder) – is how much I learn and grow from it, because of you all. Thoughtful disagreement is invaluable to me.

Answers to some questions: I was comfortable in what I wore to the party; other mothers were more covered up; and, a friend reported, Nana was wearing underwear. Nana did comment on FaceBook, “Why did I wear such a short skirt?” Suggesting there is some insight/struggle/insecurity there too, making me feel a little more ashamed. (A friend from the Pacific Northwest commented back that, well, it is hotter where we are ... )

I realized after my last post that I dress at opposite points on the spectrum for work and non-work. I am practically Amish at work. No bare legs! Errant necklines get the stapler treatment! Bare arms are covered before any patient contact! Occasionally if it’s really, really hot I’ll show toes, but I feel self-conscious about it all day. So for a recent dress-up event involving residents, I pulled the Ugly Pretty Girl move (you know, like in all those movies where the Plain Jane takes off her glasses and baggy clothes and appears at the school dance looking like Halle Berry and OMG, she’s pretty! WHO KNEW?). I wore a sequined silk fuschia halter dress that showed leg (below the knee), and heels, and put on contacts and eye makeup and pinned my hair up. And people seemed astonished. Comments included, “Wow, look at Dr. M, making it happen!” For days afterward residents were coming up to me saying, “You looked good. Like, really good.” Which felt nice.

Clearly I have a hard time with the middle ground, and I still haven’t seen a rule of thumb I can apply to myself. I agree in theory with the idea that everyone should be wearing exactly what they want to wear, and I mostly follow this at home and don’t care much what people think – although honestly? I’d like to be a nudist, and remember this post? Well, I have finally started wearing a shirt – but at work I don’t like wondering if I’m upsetting my patients. The distraction quotient does exist; there is one physician where I work who shows SO MUCH skin every single day that many, many people have asked many other people to “speak to her about it.” I partly like that she dresses that way, but I partly find it insensitive, not least because she is conventionally gorgeous and it seems like she’s showing off rather than being comfortable in her own skin.

I don’t mind being the Pretty Ugly Girl, but I don’t want to be the Mean Girl. Jacq, I think I won’t post her outfit next year.


Orange said...

Introspection! Personal growth! V. nice.

It's fantastic that Nana questioned her own outfit. Wonder if she'll cover up more for future kid parties?

Is there another woman doc whose professional look you admire? Is she Amish like you, or a little looser on the fashion front?

Laurel said...

Fair enough! Although this was a very interesting conversation for me, so I appreciate the chance to re-examine my thinking and values.

For me, context and nuance is everything when it comes to appearance: including location (workplace, children's party, grownup party), what we know about someone, the ensemble effect of an outfit. I think most people would agree on that--but maybe not as many as I would have thought before reading your comments?

Emmanuelle said...

that you have started to wear a shirt while running is the saddest thing I've read today :(

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I don't even like the label Pretty Ugly Girl. It's so limited and confining. But putting an end to being super mean, yes. Maybe stick with criticizing Nana's choices and behaviors that adversely affect you and your relationships with TH and HB.

Pale said...

I sympathize with the mean girl dilemma. When you struggle with a certain person and their behavior and you are forced to interact indefinitely with someone whose ability to negotiate a healthy relationship is compromised in one way or another ... it can be a fine line between theraputic venting and humor, looking for support for a mostly "invisible" problem ... and dipping into the mean.

I think you hit my feelings about this topic on the head when you said, "it seems like she’s showing off rather than being comfortable in her own skin." If it's who you are and you are comfortable in your own skin and it's not about provoking a reaction in your audience, it's fine. If it's a mask (whether you are conscious of that or not), if it's a substitute for being centered and having real self-esteem, if you are in denial about what looks good -- not self-aware and out-of-sync with reality -- if it's to intimidate or manipulate your audience in one way or another ... people notice and not in a good way. Fashion is an element of social skills. Which is why people like Tim Gunn (love Tim) and Stacy and Clinton are famous. We can all use to reflect on and hone our social skills once in a while. Though I suppose there might be a fine line between borrowing a bit of confidence from your power suit, enjoying the fashion choices available to you because of your hard work with an exercise routing ... and dressing a certain way to rub your advantage (real or imagined) in everyone's face or to preen for attention.

Jess said...

I wonder about how we interpret people's fashion choices based on their appearance. Why must the conventionally pretty person be showing off, rather than comfortable? Perhaps there are other things about her personality that make you think that.

I have pretty different standards of dress at home/in my free time than at work too. I'm sad to say that despite the happily unshaven state that I was existing in pre-professional life, I can't bring myself to be hairy-legged at work. I also am ashamed to admit that I once had a doctor who dressed kind of like she was going to the beach, and I really hated it.

I also struggle because I want to dress in a way that is professional, but also that doesn't make me stick out like a sore thumb. I do my job in people's homes, often in poor neighborhoods, and so to protect the privacy of my clients I don't want to look too obvious. But I do want to look professional for those times when I am in the office, and of course I want to dress in a way that is comfortable and makes me feel good. It's so difficult, really.

DoctorMama said...

I'm curious, Jess - why did you hate it that your doctor dressed like she was going to the beach? (And in what way - flip flops? bare legs?)

And when I wonder whether the person at work is showing off, it's because she actually seems UNcomfortable/tentative much of the time. But she is kind of that way about everything, and she's not show-offy in other ways, so I don't know. (B, if you're reading, you know of whom I speak - what's your take?)

E, come back home to the land of sundresses and summer, and I'll run shirtless with you again!

Jess said...

I'm trying to remember what she was wearing. Sandals I think. And an above the knee skirt with bare legs. The skirt was a lot like this one: ('s%20Apparel-_-126545)

But it hit just above the knee. I can't remember her shirt...I think it might have been sleeveless? I know it wasn't a collared button down, certainly.

It wasn't the amount of skin she was showing that bothered me, but the casual air of her outfit. AND, if I am going to be brutally honest? That it was pink and very feminine. I'm really not proud of my biases against girly girlness...but that was indeed part of it. I would have responded differently to a doctor wearing jeans or casualish khakis.

Kylie said...

Seems to me that this topic is now done and dusted. Can we talk about running please? I'd love some more Dr M running inspiration/motivation...

E. said...

I love this conversation. It's really a thorny issue, and it's nice to air it out a bit.

As a teacher, I have a lot of trouble deciding what to wear to work sometimes. I don't like to look "sexy" at school per se, but I do want my clothes to be flattering and it's tough when sexy is in the eye of the beholder. Sometimes I worry that certain of my dressier pants are too close-fitting, ass-wise, but then I look at other female teachers who are younger than me and they're often wearing really butt-snug pants. And teachers who are older than me tend to wear pretty loose-fitting pants. I hate to feel like I have to start wearing baggy clothes just because I'm getting older. It is hard to find a middle ground between frumpy and hott sometimes.

I will say that I once had a principal whose style really really bugged me. She wore a lot of pink, smocky-looking dresses, often embroidered with teddy bears. Really. Teddy bears. It struck me as very unprofessional for a principal (even of a K-8), and it was additionally weird b/c she was probably in her late 50s and so it seemed odd generationally. I don't mind if older ladies want to look hot, but let's not look childish. Anyway, that springs to mind as a professional look that bothered me. And this was a great principal whose work I respected.

Green said...

You're a doctor, right? Just wear doctorly things. I am shocked to read this is even an issue. As long as you wear business-casual stuff, it'll all be fine. I don't want to see my doctor's cleavage, but if you have a beautiful neck or like your collar bone and want to wear v-neck or boatneck shirts instead of turtlenecks, go for it.

OMDG said...

Wait, you show your TOES at the hospital?


Anonymous said...

I live in the art student world. I'm studying to become a classical musician ... and it's full of all sorts of people. Although it's classical music ... it's an arena for a few interesting things. There are guys who are very outwardly gay, and by that I mean skinny jeans, colourful hair and makeup. Political activists who wear t-shirts with controversial slogans. Heck the conductor here likes to wear a t-shirt to work, but it makes sense as he has to wave his arms around all day - it's a sport in itself! What I find intriguing is that for the students that teach an instrument on the side, if they are employed by a music school they are asked to tone it down a bit because the parents may get offended. I guess it happens in all fields that deal with people...

I live in Australia, and I think I've only come across one doctor in a lab coat. Most wear blouse/skirt/pants or collared shirt/pants.