Since I can remember, I have always had anxiety, and travel brought it out in full force when it came to packing for a trip. Until recently, my control freak process always involved pulling out my suitcase a week in advance, building a check off list with quantities, and planning out two times the number of outfits that I actually needed on the trip. This process made me feel safe. The thought of packing the night before gave my hives and if after all of that, I arrived at my destination without something I needed, my whole world would crumble around me. Instead of letting it go and telling myself I can buy it there or that I didn't really need it, I would get angry with myself. What I didn't realize was that my anxiety about packing and preparing for a trip (whether it be for business or pleasure), was the result of something much bigger than just the fear of forgetting something.
Breaking Free Abroad
Before I dive deeper into my packing idiosyncrasy and what it really means, I want to highlight my obsession with travel and what it has taught me. Travel has always been my escape, and over the years, it has revealed my hidden inner strength, inspired my writing and taught me important life skills. After I graduated from college, I ran away and moved to Taipei, Taiwan. It was 2004, Bush was president, I wasn't ready to be a broke writer living in New YorkCity yet and I wanted an adventure. I left the country with one suitcase and a backpack. I felt free. I didn't know the language (Mandarin), I didn't have a job (I figured it was better to apply for a teaching job upon my arrival) and I didn't have a place to live other than renting a room at a sketchy hostel.
You would think this whole situation would have made me insanely anxious, but I was actually quite calm throughout the process and it all ended up working out in the end. I got the job I wanted within about three weeks, rented a pretty cool rooftop apartment and I was quickly making friends, many of whom I still talk to today. After two years, I had become a happy expat who had created a new life for herself with almost nothing. Looking back now, I don't think I really understood the significance, but now I do. I had taught myself a lesson about packing light and EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE.
Packing and Unpacking Emotions
My anxiety and packing paranoia was coming from my emotional baggage that I wasn't dealing with. The act of "leaving my life" behind in the U.S. to live in Taiwan was liberating, but when I got home, the baggage and unresolved issues were still there. Blocking my emotions (which I am such an expert at!) manifested in various ways that created chaos in multiple parts of my life. It took me 10 years after returning home from Taiwan to realize that my anxiety was a result of being a survivor of child sexual abuse. Once the suppressed memories started to reveal themselves to me while I raised my daughter, my recurring dreams of packing and unpacking my suitcase started. My control freak nature began to make sense. I needed to release my emotions (unpack them) and feel safe to do so.
What has helped me do this? Releasing my self-judgment and being more patient with myself. Telling myself it is okay if I make a mistake or forget something. The world won't come to an end if I forget to pack my toothbrush or if I only brought two pairs of shoes for my kids instead of three. I won't lie and say it has been easy and that my anxiety is gone. Sometimes anxiety is a good thing because it helps me problem solve. Because of my therapy sessions, supportive husband, journaling and taking Artful Body founder Meg Berry's MomCore class, I have an ongoing support system. And if you are wondering, I have been practicing packing only three days before instead of seven. Baby steps!
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."