How I Stopped Worrying About Being Someone Else’s Definition of ‘Presentable’
If you’re like me, the past year has left you relatively sheltered. I’ve worked from my home office for the better part of 25 years. Yet, the remote work wave affected me just the same.
I used to attend face-to-face meetings at least twice a month and traveled several times a year. Since March 2020, professional travel has been zip. The volume of meetings has increased, with nearly all of them taking place via Zoom or Microsoft Teams. I now attend meetings via remote desktop frequently.
You’ve got to love filters. They make it so you can roll out of bed, stumble to the coffee maker, and then directly to the computer. With puffy eyes and sleep marks still visible, on the screen, you look pretty decent. Technology for the win.
But not every get-together allows for such fakeness. I thank my lucky stars when I join a remote meeting and discover others are going audio-only. Their presentable, smiling profile pictures sit neatly within a black box. Mine does, too.
A few weeks ago, someone tossed a monkey wrench into the mix. “We’ll go with cameras on for this one,” the esteemed leader said. “I want to see all your faces.”
For the first time in my professional life, I panicked over my lack of presentability. As I blew the dust off my makeup bag, I wondered what excuse I could use not to show myself on camera. I soon learned the mascara had dried entirely — to the point I could barely get the brush wand out of the tube. And lipstick. There wasn’t any in there. I bolted around the house, digging deep into any purses I’d used over the past year.
When you wear a mask almost everywhere, you don’t need to worry so much about the total package. Plenty of glasses styles make the need for perfect brows and eyes go right out the window.
I’m not about getting all dolled up to leave the house. I don’t iron unless I’m attending a wedding or a funeral. But I do like to get my nails and toes done. I like using foundation powder to smooth out some of the blemishes. And lipstick — a simple splash of color is always better than nothing.
Two minutes before the meeting started, I threw up my hands and said, “to heck with it.” I ran fingers through my hair and clipped it up in the back, took a deep breath, and tapped the join button. I figured I could always blame my appearance on poor lighting.
Whom was I fooling here? I looked like I’d just rolled out of bed. I was chatting with the CEO of a company wearing yesterday’s v-neck top — please, home more than ever, and the laundry continues to pile up — and out-of-sight pajama bottoms. No shoes, by the way.
When the meeting went live, I was graced with a clean-shaven gentleman wearing a wrinkle-free dress shirt and tie. I struggled to hold a smile while the words, oh no, swirled about my head.
Then a dozen mini-video blocks popped up, the screen continuously adjusting the grid to accommodate everyone. I saw a golden retriever sleeping under someone’s hallway table. In the lower right, a man sitting at a makeshift desk apologized for all the toddler-age toys scattered about the floor. In the middle right, a young blonde was wearing a ball cap while she sat on her back porch. No one was dressed for a professional setting. My bet is plenty of oh nos echoed in their minds, too.
As the CEO welcomed us all to the meeting, he flashed a Duchenne smile that immediately put me at ease. He didn’t expect anyone to dress like they were heading into a board meeting on Fifth Avenue. He was thrilled everyone attended “in their own element.”
He went on to talk about productivity and how one’s comfort zone plays a significant role in it. He sent high-paws to the doggie on screen and said toys added some lovely splashes of color to one man’s otherwise drab-looking work area.
There he was, in an office filled with leather and wood, a classic banker’s lamp on the desk behind him, donning a crisply ironed shirt, buttoned to the cuffs. He wasn’t stuffy. He wasn’t trying to act better than the rest of us. He was — like everyone else in the meeting — participating from within his comfort zone.
Halfway through the discussion, we all heard a baby cooing. The lady speaking nervously shifted her eyes off camera. The executive expressed delight. He appreciated being let into everyone’s little worlds. He was real.
I recently returned to playing darts. Sometimes three nights a week. I’ve been skipping the makeup, mostly because I’m working up until it’s past time to rush out the door. But, you know what? It doesn’t bother me one bit. I’ve learned that if I feel good, I look just fine.
It hasn’t gone unnoticed that people who are finally emerging from nearly a year of sheltering in place as if they just walked the runway in Paris are scamming us. Seriously, it’s overkill. Because the rest of us? We’re simply glad to be let back out into the wild, even if it is still sort of taboo.
Interestingly enough, 44% of American women vie not to leave the house makeup-free. And the two most common reasons are psychological. Women wear makeup to be less or more noticeable. Color palettes are used to either hide insecurities or increase attractiveness. Hence, video and photo filters to make people like me look younger and more powerful or in line with my peers.
Since business meetings aren’t the place for looking like a China doll, we have a choice: turn the camera on or hide behind a well-crafted profile image. But we easily forget the most important factors: inner beauty and the need to be ourselves.
A video-based meeting made me realize that I don’t need to worry about being someone else’s definition of presentable as much as I need to focus on being me — grown-out hair with some gray roots and all. My nails are naked, and my brows need threading like you wouldn’t believe. Yet, when I head out the door to go anywhere, I’m abundantly happy about it. I’ve got more than my groove back. Because there was a time, not too long ago, I hid behind a screen, camera off.