Dressing down: Can female journalists drop the facade?

The lack of attention to one’s appearance during COVID-19 may permanently change how some journalists dress for work.

Some news anchors, particularly women, have transitioned from an era of wearing business attire and having their hair and makeup professionally done to resorting to loungewear and self-styling for their on-camera appearances.

The question that will remain post-COVID-19 is: does it take professional business attire and a stylist to do your job as a journalist?

For Christine Craft, it did. The former news anchor for KMBC-TV in Kansas City, was the first in the broadcast industry to file a lawsuit against the television station in the 1980s after being fired for no longer being ‘attractive’. Craft won the verdict and was awarded $325,000 drawing widespread attention as to whether female journalists are judged differently than their male colleagues.

But what does looking ‘good’ mean when you’re a female journalist?

According to several studies on age and gender bias by Nielsen media research, women in general face barriers in their careers due to physical appearance. These career perceptions of women include the need to have blonde hair and blue eyes, a youthful appearance, wear revealing clothes and be physically fit. Concluding ‘looks’ equal a more substantial audience share and account for credibility and integrity.

“The decisions that are made that affect women are still made by a very small group of men who have influence and power,” says author Donna Harper in her book Unlocking the Business Environment. And it’s not just men who are calling the shots.

“Every day, there is a lot of pressure. When I worked at Elle, I had all these competitive girls all around me, making fun of the fact that I wasn’t wearing my makeup right. So I went through a trial by fire in my early days,” said Sangeeta Wadhwani, who has been the Executive Editor at HELLO Magazine for over a decade.

“Then it became second nature to go out there, get trendy stuff to wear, you know, to be minimalist, not look gaudy, not look too earnest, and have the confidence that you represent a brand that stands for certain values in lifestyle and that you convey those brand values wherever you go,” she said in an interview via Zoom recently.

“It is a very key part of the lifestyle industry,” she said.

Historically, society has traditional expectations that call for youth and beauty as the exemplars of successful womanhood. Still, Wadhwani addresses a new focus on credibility: to own expensive material goods.

“The difference in that time and our time was that you see right now people are more struck on sort of status symbols, and things that make them look rich and prosperous, like beautiful homes…and the focus has become more visceral and more visual. Whereas in the early days of magazine publishing, when we didn’t have all these lifestyle brands, it had a lot more intellect,” she said.

Will a journalist’s appearance post-COVID-19 revert to the old standard? Maybe. To address issues such as racism, ageism and sexism in the newsroom, news outlets and their staff need to embrace professionalism over physical appearance to usher in a new era.

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Posted: Jul 5 2020 6:21 pm
Filed under: Features Living Room Newsroom News