Image: The Principle of Mollifying Effects Of Negative Stereotyping


american woman

Image of Womanhood

Last week we talked about things a job seeker cannot change about herself/himself– age, race, skin color, sex, height, and natural attractiveness (socially desirable traits of face and form said to be “beautiful”)–things generally counted against her/him because of negative stereotyping. Some of these “factory issue” human features can be surface-changed, but not totally changed.

A man remains a man at the DNA level. Flesh lightened or darkened with various products eventually reverts to its natural color if left alone as does hair.  No human being can  make the effect of having a certain number of birthdays disappear permanently. Height is genetically determined. Original eye color can only be temporarily changed with contact lenses. That 75 pounds over the Met Life table cannot be lost the night before the interview. The duty of the job seeker is to deal in the real about what she/he looks like compared with what is accepted as a positive for appearance. A potential employer upon seeing an overweight applicant may still think “lazy”, “poor worker”, and “not motivated”.

I have noticed in my travels that many image management experts recommend acknowledgment of  any possible negative stereotype–challenge–and to devise a way to make it less damaging to presenting a professional image.

Truthfully, some stereotypes stubbornly remain like ghosts of a spaghetti dinner past on a white shirt. Mighty efforts over years to change or eradicate some negative stereotypes have made only the slightest dent. Consider pre-election concerns about Mrs. Obama’s public image. You see, beneath the veneer of social equity in the USA there is an embedded social Darwinist principle still in operation that encourages  society to expect less from, consider as ugly and think less of some of us believed to really belong to another species closer to animals than people–devaluation.

Living in a nation very averse to talking about death and mortality except in clinical whispers sometimes makes it feel as if living in a  scene from “Logan’s Run”. Making old people the butt of jokes or keeping them out of sight  seems to be the only way this society can handle the reality of aging. We fear old women. We laugh at old men.

Women still see a fun house mirror image of themselves. We use products and knives to starve and carve ourselves into the perfect image of beauty and youth. All these realities and more is why there are still advice sections pointed at specific populations whenever the discussion turns to job hunting–especially presentation for the interview.

…And my classmates are still asking things like, “shall I dye my gray?”

…And some employers are telling female employees, “if you do dye make sure you keep that dye job done…”

We must all be aware that a potential employer makes a judgment about a “contestant’ within the first 30 seconds of an interview. Remember Susan Boyle, the plain-looking Scottish woman with the heavenly voice? At first derided and laughed at, nobody was laughing by the last note of her song.

There is an ideal of beauty in this society and entire industries–you know who you are–dedicate themselves to making people feel dissatisfied with themselves more out of concern for the bottom line than public health. My studied interest is rooted partly in the reality of being a “Baby Boom era” professional woman of color, of queenly stature, and in the autumn of life. My log entry about the experience of becoming “invisible” as I entered midlife is in an article entitled, “The Autumn of Life”, written for Waverly Fitzgerald’s Living In Season.

Brothers and sisters I have to tell you: few potential employers  are going to wait to “hear your song”. The stereotypes attached to certain aspects of appearance  cannot always be mollified. We have to “stack the deck” in our favor by presenting the best image possible.