Ceiling to floor windows, fancy chocolate arranged neatly, the aroma of Turkish coffee and white couches facing a large glass desk. It seemed the office suddenly became hotter than the dessert outside.
I was far away from home, in Kuwait, completing my second public relations program co-op work term. I did not speak Arabic, although I looked like I did. I am a Persian girl from Halifax. No one in Kuwait knew where Halifax was; they also didn’t know what or where Nova Scotia was. I always smiled and said I’m from Canada; everyone knows where that is.
I was lucky enough to make the move to a company filled with welcoming co-workers who were motivated, inspiring PR practitioners. The managing director, Dina, treated me like her own daughter. Dina made sure I had everything I needed at work and outside of the office. She cooked for me, made sure I had gas in my car, and asked to host me during the weekends if I had no plans.
“Paria! Sorry, I had to answer that call. Thanks for being so patient,” Dina said smiling. She sat there in her massive black leather chair, her frizzy curls surrounding her Botox-filled face and her plump red lips. She was very pretty; she had naturally tanned skin with freckles. She barely wore make up, but she always wore blood-red lipstick as if it was put on with a permanent marker. “Glad you could join me for coffee! I just wanted to have a moment to chat to see how things are going for you here.”
She intimidated me. I’m not sure if it was because she towered over me, stood with her hand on her hip, and spoke confidently without any hesitation. Her clothes were extravagant: that day, a green silk Balenciaga shirt and gold chains.
“Paria, I see the seed of PR in you. You take every task and complete it with such confidence, on time and without any complaints. It’s a hard to juggle multiple clients, and I’m amazed you can. But you know to be successful, most importantly you have to dress the part.”
In my mind I thought, what’s wrong with how I dress? This was going somewhere.
Dina explained to me the importance of PR being an image-conscious profession. Women and men, but especially women, are still being judged for their appearance. We become so in tune with fashion and materialistic objects, we strive to prove our knowledge and success through our appearance. It’s a sad truth to consider, that a professional woman may be judged more for her appearance rather than her abilities.
The expectation of showcasing one’s success through designer brands becomes a hard goal to achieve—especially on a co-op student’s budget—but it’s a reality some of us face. People spend more than they earn on materialistic objects to gain social status. It means spending your earnings on materialistic objects that show society you make a respectable income and are accomplished in your field of work. A fake-it-’til-you-make-it thing. I may have been working in Kuwait, but women in boardrooms, classrooms and lunchrooms around the world are having similar conversations. In Canada, we learn to dress by example, with no official standards, but to look presentable and fashionable. It was a great difference in oil-rich Kuwait, where looking presentable meant wearing known high-end fashion brands like Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Burberry, Kenzo and so many more.
During my internship, Dina opened my eyes to the truth. After our conversation that day, the puzzle pieces fit together; I knew exactly what she was talking about. On a global scale, women in PR are heavily focused on the importance of their image, and break the bank to do so. Our society has begun to believe that dressing in style showcases our work abilities, especially in first impressions. Our physical appearance is what others view during first impressions, but nowhere does it say what brands a good first impression consists of. It all comes down to looking proper and put together, and letting your work skills speak for you. The Gucci purse won’t get you the promotion; it’s the work that’s put into the job or career, that will.