People 06 March 2017
The prominence and importance of young female entrepreneurs are one of SWAAY's themes this week given the significance of this year's International Women's Day. Maddie and Mackenzie Ziegler are perfect examples of young innovation in girls that we could all only hope to exemplify.
Having first appeared as a duo on the hit TV show Dance Moms, the pair quickly rose to fame and were touted for multiple TV and film projects. The older of the two - Maddie famously starred in Sia's music video for her song 'Elastic Heart' in what was perhaps one of 2015's most singular performances, which she went on to perform live on some of the world's biggest and most widely viewed stages.
Following in her sister's footsteps, Mackenzie has begun to pursue entrepreneurial exploits and the first of those is her breakout T-shirt collection Tee4too. Beginning the line with her close friend Gabi Medvene-Cirigliano, the two have explored their creative talents and the brand has been highly successful since its launch - especially given that proceeds from the brand are shelled out to the girls' favorite charity, the ASPCA.
Maddie is set to take Hollywood by storm this year - starring in Ballerina and The Book of Henry - both set for release in 2017. While Mackenzie has enjoyed stays on top of Itunes and Billboard charts, and has recently starred in Nickelodeon's Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn on top of a nomination for a Teens Choice Award.
This pair is no ordinary duo and Mackenzie talks to SWAAY about branching out from her initial stardom gained from Dance Moms.
How has your appearance on Dance Moms changed your life?
My life has changed a lot! People recognize me just about everywhere I go. It was strange at first but I am used to it now. I have great fans and I love that they support me in everything I do.
Why did you decide to create the clothes line?
My friend Gabi and I love T-shirts and we would do 'DIY' designs at home. We were always asking our moms for supplies. People would comment on our shirts and it sparked the idea that we should start our own line. Now we create T-shirts and have so much fun doing it. We don't let our moms get involved at all. When they come up with any idea, we tell them that this is our company and we can handle it.
Why did you choose ASPCA to receive donations from your brand?
We are big animal lovers! We love all animals. Gabi even has horses! It was just a natural fit. We want to help animals that are in need.
What is your creative process - how do you come up with your designs or videos?
Gabi and I text or FaceTime each other ideas. We think about what's going on in our lives and on social media with kids our age. We also listen to fan ideas that they submit on social media.
You're a YouTube sensation - who was your inspiration for starting your own channel?
I have always loved any type of camera, lights or tech things and I also have always wanted my own TV show. YouTube is kind of like having your own show! I love coming up with video ideas and sharing them with my fans. Once I started making videos, I was hooked!
What are your upcoming business plans? Who helps you with your business?
Next we are doing cute baseball caps and more awesome T-shirts. We are having a new shoot next week! Gabi's mom and my mom do all the financial stuff but that's it. We do the rest. We even email and send messages to all our customers ourselves.
How do you deal with the spotlight?
I'm just a happy-go-lucky kid. I try to stay positive. Kids tell me they look up to me (even though I'm short! Ha ha) so I try to be a good role model.
What's the outlet you most enjoy doing at the moment - Instagram, YouTube, clothes designing?
That's a hard one. I love them all for different reasons! IG because it's quick and easy, YouTube because it's fun coming up with video ideas and clothing because I love to dress cute!!
What app do you use the most?
Maddie and Mackenzie are a testament to their generation that is growing up in a turbulent and uncertain time for women. In the aftermath of the election, much care was taken to inform girls of their age that although Hillary Clinton lost, it was not a loss for women. There would be female presidents and leaders in the future and there's no doubt that these two will be representative of an entire generation of female leaders, unburdened by failures or setbacks - the women of the future.
Women have come a long way in redefining beauty to be more inclusive of different body types, skin colors and hair styles, but society's beauty standards still remain as high as we have always known them to be. In the workplace, professionalism is directly linked to the appearance of both men and women, but for women, the expectations and requirements needed to fit the part are far stricter. Unlike men, there exists a direct correlation between beauty and respect that women are forced to acknowledge, and in turn comply with, in order to succeed.
Before stepping foot into the workforce, women who choose to opt out of conventional beauty and grooming regiments are immediately at a disadvantage. A recent Forbes article analyzing the attractiveness bias at work cited a comprehensive academic review for its study on the benefits attractive adults receive in the labor market. A summary of the review stated, "'Physically attractive individuals are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, they are more likely to advance rapidly in their careers through frequent promotions, and they earn higher wages than unattractive individuals.'" With attractiveness and success so tightly woven together, women often find themselves adhering to beauty standards they don't agree with in order to secure their careers.
Complying with modern beauty standards may be what gets your foot in the door in the corporate world, but once you're in, you are expected to maintain your appearance or risk being perceived as unprofessional. While it may not seem like a big deal, this double standard has become a hurdle for businesswomen who are forced to fit this mold in order to earn respect that men receive regardless of their grooming habits. Liz Elting, Founder and CEO of the Elizabeth Elting Foundation, is all too familiar with conforming to the beauty culture in order to command respect, and has fought throughout the course of her entrepreneurial journey to override this gender bias.
As an internationally-recognized women's advocate, Elting has made it her mission to help women succeed on their own, but she admits that little progress can be made until women reclaim their power and change the narrative surrounding beauty and success. In 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner conducted a study on the positive association between physical attractiveness and income. Their results concluded that "attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness," not including controlling for grooming. The data also proves that grooming accounts entirely for the attractiveness premium for women as opposed to only half for men. With empirical proof that financial success in directly linked to women's' appearance, Elting's desire to have women regain control and put an end to beauty standards in the workplace is necessary now more than ever.
Although the concepts of beauty and attractiveness are subjective, the consensus as to what is deemed beautiful, for women, is heavily dependent upon how much effort she makes towards looking her best. According to Elting, men do not need to strive to maintain their appearance in order to earn respect like women do, because while we appreciate a sharp-dressed man in an Armani suit who exudes power and influence, that same man can show up to at a casual office in a t-shirt and jeans and still be perceived in the same light, whereas women will not. "Men don't have to demonstrate that they're allowed to be in public the way women do. It's a running joke; show up to work without makeup, and everyone asks if you're sick or have insomnia," says Elting. The pressure to look our best in order to be treated better has also seeped into other areas of women's lives in which we sometimes feel pressured to make ourselves up in situations where it isn't required such as running out to the supermarket.
So, how do women begin the process of overriding this bias? Based on personal experience, Elting believes that women must step up and be forceful. With sexism so rampant in workplace, respect for women is sometimes hard to come across and even harder to earn. "I was frequently assumed to be my co-founder's secretary or assistant instead of the person who owned the other half of the company. And even in business meetings where everyone knew that, I would still be asked to be the one to take notes or get coffee," she recalls. In effort to change this dynamic, Elting was left to claim her authority through self-assertion and powering over her peers when her contributions were being ignored. What she was then faced with was the alternate stereotype of the bitchy executive. She admits that teetering between the caregiver role or the bitch boss on a power trip is frustrating and offensive that these are the two options businesswomen are left with.
Despite the challenges that come with standing your ground, women need to reclaim their power for themselves and each other. "I decided early on that I wanted to focus on being respected rather than being liked. As a boss, as a CEO, and in my personal life, I stuck my feet in the ground, said what I wanted to say, and demanded what I needed – to hell with what people think," said Elting. In order for women to opt out of ridiculous beauty standards, we have to own all the negative responses that come with it and let it make us stronger– and we don't have to do it alone. For men who support our fight, much can be achieved by pushing back and policing themselves and each other when women are being disrespected. It isn't about chivalry, but respecting women's right to advocate for ourselves and take up space.
For Elting, her hope is to see makeup and grooming standards become an optional choice each individual makes rather than a rule imposed on us as a form of control. While she states she would never tell anyone to stop wearing makeup or dressing in a way that makes them feel confident, the slumping shoulders of a woman resigned to being belittled looks far worse than going without under-eye concealer. Her advice to women is, "If you want to navigate beauty culture as an entrepreneur, the best thing you can be is strong in the face of it. It's exactly the thing they don't want you to do. That means not being afraid to be a bossy, bitchy, abrasive, difficult woman – because that's what a leader is."
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