People 15 November 2018
While traveling around Africa on vacation, I needed to go for long training runs as I was slated to run an IRONMAN Triathlon the day after returning to the United States. I strategically plan my races at the beginning of the year so this was very important to me.
When I asked the managers at the camp in Tanzania for a good route for me to run, they told me that I would be required to have security guard accompaniment in case I encountered any dangerous animals. They also told me that I was the first woman ever to request an outdoor run, which was crazy to hear!
I went for runs two days in a row, and a group of locals joined me on the second day. Several of them commented on how they rarely have the opportunity to enjoy exercise given the risky circumstances of their environment.
This experience and their perspective made me mindful about the degree to which we often take self-care and access to safety for granted, and it inspired me to want to become more involved with global wellness initiatives.
As word spread about my runs in Tanzania, I was asked to participate in the first ever Serengeti Girls Run, a 55-mile run over the course of three days. I was also asked to speak to a group of 400 local high school students about confidence, self-esteem, and empowerment. I was honored and really excited to be able to share some experiences with them and hopefully make an impact. I am so passionate about STEM and mentoring our future leaders that this was right up my alley.
In October 2018, I participated in the first-ever women-only run across the Serengeti wilderness as part of a fundraiser for female empowerment programs hosted by the Singita Grumeti Fund and BRAVE:
The run aims to raise funds and awareness about the challenges facing girls and women living in nearby communities and seeking sustainable solutions.
The main focus is on opportunities for women to become leaders in conservation in their communities and countries.
Singita Grumeti Fund programmes include a secondary school, vocational studies and university scholarships, life skills, enterprise development training, environmental education, and internships.
On the first day, I spoke to the crowd and then joined the other participating women for a solidarity ‘fun run’ with girls from the local community. This was an incredible experience for me. During the ‘fun run’ a few of the girls ran along my side, holding my hand, and we sang Beyonce for the 4 miles. I will never forget how happy and free those girls felt as they ran down the streets of Tanzania.
Later, I showed the girls an iPhone, and many of them commented on how they had never seen the technology and hadn’t seen pictures of themselves before. The girls were grabbing the phone to see their pictures and more importantly asking questions-very curious and intriguing minds. The 400 school girls that I met along the journey wanted to know everything from self-esteem, to what it takes to work hard, to what to study, and to what I like to eat. They asked loads of questions.
For the Serengeti Run itself, I ran 18 miles each day for three days (for a total of 90 km / 55 miles), accompanied by the Singita Grumeti Fund anti-poaching, Special Operations Center armed guard scouts and nine other women. While running, we were able to witness the wildlife in the plains. It wasn’t about just doing a race- it was the people coming together from around the world and doing this for a cause that helped Africa overall and made a difference in the world. The bonds that I formed with these women are some that I will cherish for the rest of my life. I was inspired, uplifted, and so proud of what we accomplished together. The bonds made friends for life and a moment captured in my life that was so unique that it couldn’t be remade- we made history together through the Serengeti.
I was so inspired by the locals, my fellow participants, and all of the folks that I encountered on this trip. They are now my friends for life.
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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