Social media is a lot like Karma. When you show your true self, put love into what you do and care for other people, you get rewarded in the most unexpected ways. At least, this is what happened to me when I decided to start my new chocolate business in San Francisco.
I knew I couldn't fake it, and there was no need to: brigadeiros, tiny chocolate balls that belong to the traditional Brazilian cuisine, have always been part of my life. As the eldest of three sisters, when my mother needed help making chocolate she chose me. We would spend hours in our kitchen in Itapeva, São Paulo with our hands dirty and the biggest smiles on our faces. But for some reasons chocolate didn't become a big part of my life until later on. I chose nursing first because I loved to take care of people and make them feel better. Then I found out that there was another way I could take care of the people I loved: making chocolates that would make them happy. So, with a jump back to my childhood and an endless support from my husband, my sweet journey began: TinyB Chocolate was born in 2014.
They say that every successful recipe should have at least one secret ingredient. Well, it wasn't a rare spice or an unknown type of cacao that brought me success as a female chocolatier. It was actually the simplest ingredient of all: authenticity.
Talking about our journey and showing the people behind the company became ingrained parts of our branding strategy.
At the beginning of our business, my husband and I set up the website and the Social Media accounts to showcase our brigadeiros at their best. Rich, mouthwatering and delicious, they looked like precious little gems. We took great pictures from interesting angles, with great lighting and sharp colors to make people want to buy our chocolates. However, we soon realized that something was missing: it was us, our stories and our souls. Our customers told us that they could feel the love and the energy that went into making our brigadeiros when they bit into them. But could they feel the same from our pictures or videos?
The products alone told only half of the story. We had to take the leap and put ourselves out there together with our brigadeiros. This is how more faces started appearing in our Social Media pictures and our captions became more personal and detailed. We also started a blog to share important information not only about our company but behind every flavor and ingredient we were using in our brigadeiros. Talking about our journey and showing the people behind the company became ingrained parts of our branding strategy. We were stunned by the results: customers both online and offline appreciated our honesty immensely and became even more attached to our business. We had found our secret sauce!
There is something about food that can't really be hidden. The feelings and the mood of the chef or chocolatier while cooking always seem to show in the plate. It's like consumers can taste it when you've had a bad day. The food doesn't seem to come together. It just doesn't feel right. So I know that whenever I make brigadeiros, I am not just preparing chocolate. I am creating a human connection. I know that people will be able to tell my intentions just by eating my chocolates. The same goes for our online presence and overall branding.
When we take a picture, or we put together the message we want to communicate, we prioritize authenticity, transparency, and honesty. Consumers are not as naïve as we think they are. They can tell when a business fakes passion for what it does and sells. Especially chocolate lovers, they are becoming increasingly demanding not only for the quality of their chocolates but also for the people who make them. Nowadays chocolate consumers want to see faces, hear the details and get to know what happens behind the scenes. If they don't find transparency and authenticity, they will rarely trust a brand or would want to buy from it.
As I keep growing my chocolate business, one of my most important goals is to stay true to myself and communicate the love that goes into my chocolates. Brigadeiros might call for few ingredients and an easy process, but here's the tricky part: without pouring your soul into what you are doing, not even the simplest recipe will come out right. I finally understood that authenticity is what keeps family businesses like us successful in the long run. Although they help, it's not spectacular images or fancy ingredients that will keep us in business. It's the love that we put into our products, and how effectively we manage to communicate that love to our customers online and offline.
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."