I was raised to believe that it’s impolite to stare. Not socially, not professionally, not ever.
I would imagine this golden rule has trickled down to other generations, and unlike the pantyhose rule, won’t be going out of style anytime soon. Yet, I continue to see women in the workplace who dress in ways that make it nearly impossible for me (and everyone else) not to stare.
You know what I’m talking about. As one of my guy friends affectionately refers to them: “the girls.”
What a woman should or shouldn’t wear to the office has been discussed ad-nauseum, but I think it’s a topic that needs re-hashing. Many women still show too much skin, and probably don’t fully understand the damage that those low-cut tops are inflicting on their careers.
Let me explain. Remember that little device from Men in Black—the one Will Smith’s character used to erase people’s memories? Boobs are kind of like that. Once they get put out on display in a professional environment, they become a trait with which others associate you, and before you know it, their memory of your stellar sales record or mad analytical skills have been wiped clean, leaving only your cup size to remember you by.
Once upon a time I worked with a woman who dressed in a way that accentuated her chest (read: cleavage galore). To this day, I still have no idea what she did for the company. I don’t know if she was capable, intelligent, or even a nice person.
Of course, I wasn’t the only one who noticed. The guys in the office were faced with the even more challenging situation of wanting to stare (apparently, guys like boobs) but not wanting to be disrespectful, or worse, have their glances be perceived as sexual harassment.
One of my male friends told me once just how uncomfortable a woman’s revealing top made him during a company meeting:
Everyone in the meeting was staring at her—it was impossible not to! I really tried to focus on her face, but once I started, I couldn’t look away for fear she’d think I was checking her out. I spent the entire meeting trying to avoid her chest and respectfully listen to what she had to say, but instead I just kept repeating 'don’t look down' over and over again to myself until the meeting mercifully ended. I didn’t hear a word she said, and I don’t even remember her name.”
He continued on to say how bad he felt about the situation, and how frustrating it must be for her—and then he stopped and recalled that there were two other women at that meeting. He remembered both of their names, and recalled that they had struck him as smart, witty, and knowledgeable in their fields.
The difference? The other two women didn’t have their ta-tas on the boardroom table. They were dressed fashionably, but in no way revealing. Like me, my friend has no memory of the busted beauty’s role, capability, or intelligence. And he seemed almost resentful that her appearance became such a prominent fixture in the meeting.
Through her ill-advised clothing choice, this woman had reduced herself to a pair of breasts. Feminists may skewer me for this, but yes, I am placing the responsibility for this situation on her. While we may not be able to control every gender bias or sexist comment out there, we certainly can control how we present ourselves. You (probably) don’t bust out your mini-skirt and stripper heels when meeting your significant other’s parents for the first time, right? No, because you want to make a good impression, and you want them to see you as the incredible woman you are.
The same logic applies in the office. Whether your cups runneth over or you’re perfectly petite, take a moment to consider how the girls impact your image before you don that top that shows just a hint of cleavage. If you wouldn’t wear it to meet your future in-laws, interview for a job, go to church, or read to a bunch of kindergarteners, it’s probably best saved for after hours.
Stick to that rule, and you’ll ensure your colleagues (male and female) will focus less on your measurements, and more on what matters.
Photo of woman working courtesy of Shutterstock.
TopicsCareer , Style , Job Skills , Getting Ahead , Career Advice , Skirts & Suits by Jennifer Winter
Jennifer Winter is a freelance writer, editor and career consultant. She translates her 14-years of corporate combat experience to help others navigate their own careers, and become advocates for their own success. Need help negotiating that raise or writing the perfect email to your boss? Jennifer’s your girl. Find out more about her services on her blog, FearLessJenn or follow her on Twitter @fearlessjenn.More from this Author