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Pantsuits to Pencil Skirts: We Are Still Sexualizing Women In The Workplace

Career

I'm 5’8 and 160 pounds, with 38-29-40 proportions. There are days when I succumb to those cliched ideologies: “The skinnier you are, the more you’re worth.” But these ideas are disruptive to the human spirit, and they are reductive to your time on earth. So I like pizza and wine. Who cares? Apparently, my workplace.


It doesn’t matter how good you may feel about your body sometimes. Because, like a snake, body policing and shaming sneaks up and twists its way into our lives. If I wear a pencil skirt to work, that means I’ll have to expose 40 inches of hips — oh, the audacity! — to my coworkers. God forbid they see the shape of a woman. And god forbid I assault them with all these shapes!

All sarcasm aside, women who are considered “attractive” or women whose bodies show any semblance of shape inspires insidious notions of vulgarity.

When Patrice Brown, a “curvy” paraprofessional in an Atlanta school, wore form-fitting clothes to work, she was reprimanded by the school system. And by form-fitting, they meant a dress that fits her form. Brown hadn’t behaved in an improper way; she was victim to the scrutiny and sexualization of our bodies.

Not to mention the dental assistant by the name of Melissa Nelson was fired by her boss because she was "too good-looking". The dentist feared she would tempt him away from his marriage. This happened in 2013, though it’s puritanical stench reeks of yesteryear's.

One BBC piece reported that women considered “attractive” at work often face discrimination by their colleagues. They may even be prevented from advancing, as they are considered distracting or incompetent.

We can only imagine what our own bosses and colleagues are thinking as we dare to show up at work with a body and a face.

News alert: All humans have bodies and faces. Only some humans are penalized for it.

As if we weren’t force-fed enough body shame on a daily basis, we have to be careful to be too human. But when your career is at risk because you dare to live in a body, there’s a real problem.

There seems to be two issues at the core.

The first — yet secondary — issue in the clothing itself, which is often not made to compliment various body types. With the average retailer not selling well-made, price-jacked plus-size clothing (67% of women are plus-size, which starts at size 10 or 12 in stores), it’s hard for women to find something that fits well, is aesthetically pleasing and is office appropriate. No one wants to opt for a lumpy oversized cardigan just because their breasts might offend someone.

According to Michelle Herrera Mulligan, a writer, Latin culture commentator and activist who was also the founding editor for Cosmo for Latinas and part of the founding team for Latina Magazine, “It’s like everything is either skin tight or boxy (and has to be altered a hundred times.) We’re not all six foot tall amazons—the average woman in America is 5” 4. If you have any curves at all, there will be a gap at the waist or it will ride too high, or you can’t button the shirt. The problem is that when you do have curves, office wear is sexualized. It would be nice to see more options for women who actually take fashion and office wear seriously.”

There’s no doubt the fashion industry is ripe for change. Not to mention, it’s missing out on billions of dollars. Bottom line: Fixing fashion would be a win-win for all parties. Even Tim Gunn, host of Project Runway — which is undeniably culpable in terms of peddling ridiculous fashion expectations— has been singing a new tune: “This is a design failure and not a customer issue. There is no reason larger women can’t look just as fabulous as all other women,” Gunn wrote for the Washington Post.

“The key is the harmonious balance of silhouette, proportion and fit, regardless of size or shape. Designs need to be reconceived, not just sized up; it’s a matter of adjusting proportions. The textile changes, every seam changes.”

And while the fashion industry is unarguably accountable for that change, the main issue remains that workplace discrimination still exists. If a woman wears a dress that even remotely hints at her figure, or if she shows up with a “beautiful” face, we assume she is on display in some way. And if another woman doesn’t hint at having a body under her work clothes, she’s somehow in the clear. She’s decent. She’s professional. She’s desexualized, therefore a stable force in the workplace. She doesn’t offend, she doesn’t tempt, she doesn’t distract. She doesn’t really exist.

We expect women to perfectly straddle two worlds — the world in which she is an equal, an employee, a human, a dignified woman. And the world in which she is a sexual entity and a thing to be desired. We haven’t been able to reconcile the two. Consider the obsession over Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits. While Mrs. Clinton has created a sort of buzz around her fabulous outfits, the fact is that we don't expect to see a woman in pants, thus we turn the pantsuit into a symbol. Of feminism. Strength. Democracy. And the same people who (myself included) joined the millions-member Pantsuit Nation group on Facebook are likely to be those feminists who want clothing to be a non-issue when it comes to female public entities.

So we haven’t gotten past it. We haven’t figured out a way to stop sexualizing women in general, let alone in the office, where we’re supposed to be our most civilized selves. The irony is that while most women can’t prove sexism in the workplace — and thus, live with it to some extent — we are the ones to blame when discriminated against for simply existing.

This systemic sexism has strong, rotten roots and a grip that won’t let go. And merely covering up at work won’t change the issue because if you treat it topically, you can never get to the center of the wound. But then, what is a working woman to do? Take on the issues of men all alone in her office? It isn’t that easy.

It shouldn’t be a radical thing to be alive, but if we have to make it radical, let’s do it together. The answer starts from within. Women must empower one another, respect one another and rise up against the idea of the body being a shameful thing. When we protect and communicate with one another, we can make change. Speak out.

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Business

How Postpartum Mesh Underwear Started My Entrepreneurial Journey

"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.


It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.

My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.

Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.

I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.

My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.

Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).

They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).

Fast forward to 2018...

While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.

In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.

As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.

Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.