5 Min ReadLifestyle 30 April 2020
Please don't ask me when I last washed my hair.
Because when I told my mother over FaceTime last week. She gave me a look that I had never seen before — a mix of horror and disgust sprinkled with a dash of disappointment.
So please don't ask me when I last washed my hair.
Because in the greatest forced social experiment of a lifetime — being in front of our cameras all day long — my hair is constantly forced into a long ponytail, my eyelashes are bare, and my feet haven't felt the inside of a pair of heels since this new pandemic normal began.
COVID-19 has been teaching me the value of a lot of things. Including the obscene amount of value I had placed on a great blowout and manicure, the right height of a heel, and a closet full of thoughtfully assembled timeless, striking, and chic dresses. Not one of which had escaped from my closet in the past six weeks and counting.
Early on in my first corporate gig, I was assigned coach and she schooled me on everything I needed to know about my appearance.
"First, make sure you always wear a good amount of makeup, so even from a distance you can see the makeup," the coach said, stretching her arms far out in front of herself.
"Second, wear a jacket when presenting to give yourself more presence," the coach said, touching her own boxy jacket, standing up very straight.
"And finally, never, ever go without heels," she said, as she wrinkled her nose and tightened her lips, while her eyes burnt a hole into my Nine West black flats.
"You are too short to not wear heels. Heels are a must."
There's no shortage of advice on what women should show up to work wearing. Dress to the level you want to. Focus on business casual, smart business attire, and business formal. Make sure nothing is too short, too tight, too low, too sheer, too revealing. The little black dress, the crisp white button-down shirt, the wrap dress, the black pants, and don't forget those versatile ankle boots.
And in the words of the fashion guru Rachel Zoe: "Style is a way to say who you are without having to speak." And in the case of most women, judgment on "our style" is cemented within seconds of entering a room even before we shake hands, pull up a chair, and voice our opinions.
Because if I am wearing little or no foundation, eye shadow, or blush, they ask why I look so tired. Followed by the "Is everything okay?" Because If I am dressed down, they ask if I went to the gym that morning. Because if I dress up too much, they ask if I have plans that evening. Because if I wear a jacket, they ask if I am presenting. Because if I wear jeans, they say taken aback momentarily, "Wait, you own jeans?"
And for the record, I when I do wear jeans, it's with the nice crisp white button-down shirt and the versatile ankle boots. Because I can't recall the last woman leader who was spotted wearing jeans and a hoodie and sneakers. We simply aren't afforded that privilege. Maybe COVID-19 is here to prove us wrong.
Because remote working has become the great equalizer when it comes to my appearance.
I haven't worn makeup in five weeks. I place the camera far enough away so you can see me and not my pores or have a closeup of my bare lips or fuzzy eyebrows. I haven't worn heels or dresses or real trousers in five weeks. (I feel like a real adult when I use the word trousers.) I angle the camera so you can only see waist up and not my ripped jeans and bare feet. I haven't painted my nails or had a manicure in five weeks. Even if I talk with my hands no one can really see them on camera. My rings, stacks of bracelets, and watch are tucked away for now.
Sitting and working with leaders on video conference calls. Running in between meetings to home school my kids, as my husband and I take shifts. Making lunch with the kids, throwing in a load of laundry, and back to more meetings and emails. Getting shit done. Tons of shit done. All wearing ripped jeans and a gray turtleneck sweater, sockless. My toes unpainted. And not shoved into pretty heels so I could dash around faster than ever before.
Nobody on these video calls cares what I am wearing. And when we are back in our offices. Maybe (just maybe) others will stop caring what I am wearing. And I will stop caring if they care what I am wearing. And this could be one of the many ways COVID-19 starts to transform the way we, particularly women, work.
After my mother's reaction to my hair not being washed, I promptly hung up. Then I sprinted to the bathroom and washed my hair. Because really, even COVID-19 wasn't a good enough excuse not to have clean hair. Washing my hair took some time, but when it was done, I felt proud.
Because the truth is, I hadn't washed my own hair in almost nine months. After being spoiled with heavily discounted blowouts in our company hair salon, I forgot what it was like to wash my own hair. All I remembered when I closed my eyes in the shower was me sitting in the chair. Click-clacking away at my keyboard. The trifecta of superpowers: that large round brush, a warm hair dryer, and a skilled stylist all working together to deliver hair magic.
So please don't tell my immigrant mother about my great blowouts, and that I actually haven't been washing own hair. Along with a list of other ridiculous privileges that had been a part of my old normal.
About six weeks ago, I remember a seeing a quote on a coffee mug that stuck with me:
"Never underestimate the power of a good outfit on a bad day."
I have always been on that endless search for that good outfit. That power dress wrap, that great structured jacket. Or that stylish jumpsuit. And when it comes to those bad days. We all now have new perspective on what a bad day really means in our new normal.
And so, the quote now holds new meaning and new reflection for me.
Maybe it's about never underestimating the amount of energy and time spent on looking for that elusive good outfit. When instead you can just throw on your gray turtleneck sweater, slip on ripped jeans, pull your hair back into a ponytail, pull up your chair, turn on and adjust your laptop camera, and just get to work.
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5 Min Read
You may recognize Judge, Tanya Acker, from her political and legal commentary on different networks and shows like Good Morning America, The Talk, Wendy Williams, CNN Reports or The Insider. Acker is more than an experienced commentator. She is also a Judge on the fifth season of Emmy nominated CBS show, Hot Bench.
The show, created by Judge Judy, is a new take on the court genre. Alongside Acker, are two other judges: Patricia DiMango and Michael Corriero. Together the three-panel judges take viewers inside the courtroom and into their chambers. “I feel like my responsibility on the show is, to be honest, fair, [and] to try and give people a just and equitable result," Acker says. She is accomplished, honest and especially passionate about her career. In fact, Acker likes the fact that she is able to help people solve problems. “I think that efficient ways of solving disputes are really at the core of modern life.
“We are a very diverse community [with] different values, backgrounds [and] beliefs. It's inevitable that we're going to find ourselves in some conflicts. I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
Acker's career has been built around key moments and professional experiences in her life. Particularly, her time working right after college impacted the type of legal work she takes on now.
Shaping Her Career
Acker didn't foresee doing this kind of work on television when she was in college at either Howard University or Yale Law. “I was really open in college about what would happen next," Acker comments. “In fact, I deliberately chose a major (English) that wouldn't lock me into anything [because] I wanted to keep all of my options open." Her inevitable success on the show and throughout her career is an example of that. In fact, after graduating from Yale, Acker served as a judicial law clerk to Judge Dorothy Nelson who sits on the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
It was not only her first job out of law school but also one of the formative experiences of her professional life. “[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law," she exclaims. “She delivers it all with a lot of love." Judge Nelson is still on the bench and is continuing to work through her Foundation: The Western Justice Center in Pasadena, California, where Acker serves on the board. The foundation helps people seeking alternative ways of resolving their disputes instead of going to court.
"I enjoy being a part of a process where you can help resolve the conflicts and diffuse them," she explains.
“It was important to her to try and create platforms for people to resolve conflict outside of court because court takes a long time," Acker explains. “I'm proud to be a part of that work and to sit on that board."
After her clerkship, she was awarded a Bristow Fellowship and continued building her career. Outside of the fellowship, Acker's legal work incorporated a broad variety of matters from civil litigation, constitutional cases, business counseling, and advising. One of her most memorable moments was representing a group of homeless people against the city. “They were being fought for vagrancy and our defense was, they had no place to go," she shares.
As part of her pro bono work, Acker was awarded the ACLU's First Amendment Award for her success with the case. Though, she has a hard time choosing from one of many memorable moments on Hot Bench. Acker does share a few of the things that matter to her. “Our show is really drawn from a cross-section of courtrooms across America and the chance to engage with such a diverse group of people really means a lot to me," she discusses.
How Did Acker Become A Judge?
In addition to Judge Nelson, Judge Judy is certainly among her top professional influences. “I think it's incredible [and] I feel very lucky that my professional career has been bookended by these incredible judges," she acclaims. “I've really learned a lot from Judy about this job, doing this kind of job on television." Before Acker was selected for Hot Bench, she hadn't been a judge. It was Judge Judy who recommended that she get some experience. Acker briefly comments on her first experience as a temporary judge on a volunteer basis in traffic court. “I was happy to be able to have the chance to kind of get a feel for it before we started doing the show," she comments. “Judy is a wonderful, kind, generous person [and] she's taught me quite a lot. I feel lucky."
Photo Courtesy of Annie Shak.
Acker's Time Away From Home
Outside of Hot Bench, Acker took recent trips to Haiti and Alabama. They were memorable and meaningful.
Haiti, in particular, was the first trip she excitedly talks about. She did some work there in an orphanage as part of LOVE Takes Root, an organization that is driven to help children around the world whether it's basic aid or education. “Haiti has a special place in my heart," she began. “As a person who's descended from enslaved people, I have a lot of honor and reverence for a country that threw off the shackles of slavery."
She was intrigued by the history of Haiti. Especially regarding the communities, corrupt government and natural disasters. “They really had to endure a lot, but I tell you this when I was there, I saw people who were more elegant, dignified, gracious and generous as any group of people I've ever met anywhere in the world," she goes on. “I think it left me with was a strong sense of how you can be graceful and elegant under fire." Acker is optimistic about the country's overall growth and success.
“[Judge Nelson is] certainly, if not my most important professional influence," Acker says. “She is really the living embodiment of justice, fairness, and believes in being faithful to the letter and the spirit of the law."
“There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," Acker says. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving."
Her other trip was different in more ways than one. She traveled there for the first time with her mother as part of a get out to vote effort, that Alabama's First black House Minority Leader, Anthony Daniels was organizing. “It was incredible to take that trip with her [and] I've got to tell you, the South of today is not the South of my mother's upbringing," she explains. Originally from Mississippi, Acker's mother hasn't been back in the South since 1952. “Every place has a ways to go, but it was a really exciting trip [and] it was nice for me to connect with that part of the country and that part of my history."
Overcoming Racial Barriers
As a black woman, Acker has certainly faced challenges based on her race and gender. But it doesn't define who she is or what she can accomplish. “There are certainly times when people treated me differently or made assumptions about me because I was a black woman," she says. “There's no sort of barrier that someone would attempt to impose upon me that they didn't attempt to impose on my mother, grandmother or great-grandmother." In a space where disparity is sometimes apparent, she recognizes that there is no barrier someone would try to impose on her that they didn't attempt to impose on her mother or grandmothers. “I've got it much better, but that doesn't mean it's perfect...it certainly isn't, but you just have to keep it moving," Acker states. The conversation continues truthfully and seriously. Acker shares what it can be like for black women, specifically. “I think we're underestimated and we can be disrespected, whereas other folks are allowed the freedom to enjoy a full range of emotions and feelings," she articulates.
At times black women are often restricted from expressing themselves. “If someone wants to make an assumption or jump to a conclusion about me because of my race or gender, that's on them, but their assumptions aren't going to define me," Acker declares. “If something makes me angry or happy I will express that and if someone wants to caricature me, that's their pigeonholing; that's not my problem." A lifelong lesson she learned and shared is to not let other people define who you are. It is one of three bits of wisdom.
Three Pieces Of Advice From Judge Acker
The Power Of Self-awareness
“It's really important that you have a really firm sense of what you want to do and be, and how you're moving in the world because when people try to sway you, judge you or steer you off course you've got to have some basis for getting back on track."
Know Your Support System
“Have a strong community of people who you trust, love and who love you," she advises. “But also learn to love and trust yourself because sometimes it's your own voice that can provide you the most comfort or solace in something."
Learn From Your Experiences
“Trust yourself. Take care of yourself. Don't be too hard on yourself. Be honest with yourself.
“There are times when it's not enough to say this is who I am. Take it or leave it. Sometimes we've got things that we need to work on, change or improve upon," she concludes.
Acker stands out not only because of her accomplishments, but the way she views certain aspects of her life. These days, she's comfortable accepting what makes her different. “I think there's a time when you're younger when conformity feels comfortable, [but] I'm comfortable these days not conforming," she laughs. She enjoys being a decision maker and helping people work through it on Hot Bench.
This article was originally published May 15, 2019.