The issue of how our appearance affects people's perceptions of our abilities and authority has once again been raised (NY Times essay 11/21) and once again the focus is mostly on women (young doctors in this case). There are 6 photos accompanying the essay, each showing an attractive young woman showing 'too much' skin.
Studies show that people prefer doctors who look like stereotypical doctors. I am sure this is also true of people's preference for airline pilots, professors, and President of the United States, but isn't it obvious that we need to change the perception, not the preference?
I can't comment on many of the points in the article. Maybe women doctors shouldn't have long hair -- the article says this is not hygienic (are beards hygienic, by the way?) -- and maybe there are some ways of dressing that are unprofessional (for both men and women). Nevertheless, I think that such issues should be discussed more thoughtfully, rather than just as emphatic statements about how women should and should not dress. For example: women professionals shouldn't wear short skirts because it is too distracting to others. It may well be, but how do we decide when the doctor (or professor or politician) is dressing inappropriately and when the patient (or student or citizen) needs to change their perceptions?
There are probably obvious end members where most people would agree about what is professional vs. unprofessional appearance/attire. I have a feeling, though, that there is a rather large gray area, and that a lot of women are in this gray area, not because they don't dress appropriately, but because people's perceptions of what is appropriate for women is more variable than it is for men.
6 months ago