Should I Be Attractive?

I really try not to fuss about the challenges of being a woman in a leadership role, particularly an arena (church work) where leadership is primarily male-dominated, however occasionally I just have to rant a bit.

I came across this article the other day from a Fox News alert entitled “Female Candidates Judged on Looks More than Male Candidates”.  The article opens with this quote:

“Women running for top offices need to appear competent and attractive, according to a new study. For male candidates, seeming competent may be enough.”

So apparently it’s not enough for women to just be competent?

I know this article is particularly about politics, but I have to say that I have experienced a lot of critique and opinions on the way I look.  Nancy Beach even addressed this female leadership phenomena with a section entitled “Hair, Lipstick, and the Fashion Patrol” in her book Gifted to Lead.  She shares:

“But nothing surprised me more than the apparent obsession the congregation has with what a woman leader wears.  I really wish this weren’t such a big deal, but apparently the outfit selection can either drive listeners to distraction or become a non-issue so we can all focus primarily on the content.”

And we are not talking about modesty here – that’s a given.  Both of these quotes are speaking to how much people expect women to “look good”.

I know I could be opening a huge can of worms, but I would love to hear what you all think about this?  Why is the standard different for woman than men in regard to appearance and the focus that is placed on it?

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  • jan owen November 3, 2008  

    I’m not sure you want to really get me started on this but quite honestly I think we have a culture that says that the main “Currency” women have to spend is how they look, i.e. sex appeal. If a woman is beautiful, she is apt to have more influence. If she is plain, more apt to be ignored. For a woman, beauty – or the ability to be well put together does equal success for many people even if it is not voiced aloud. I am not a beautiful woman – not “ugly”, but no raving beauty by any means and I am not super thin – my appearance is always a challenge for me. And I am in a position to be in front of people every single Sunday. I think I am a fairly comfortable person – I look okay but not good enough to distract anyone. (that was being sarcastic, true but sarcastic) True story: We had a young woman come in to sing one time who is a model. She’s a dedicated believer and she is jaw-dropping gorgeous with a wonderfully expressive voice. My band paid more attention to her in one day than I’ve gotten in ten years. It was humbling. It made me sad because the guys just got tongue tied around her and ignored what I thought was the greatest gift she brought – her heart for Jesus and her message as she sang. I never heard anyone mention this. That made me sad.

    I do think different things are expected of women. You’ve been in the recording industry – how many slightly overweight women in their 40s do you see them signing? Do the men they are signing have to look as good? OF course not……

    So, we wonder why women manipulate with sex……..this might be why!

  • ryanguard November 3, 2008  

    I’m sure this is true about women in leadership, but its also true about men! Think back to King Saul… he got the job because he was tall, dark, and handsome. The only problem was that he was a lousy leader.

    To be honest, I think I got my first ministry job because I looked the part… I knew that I was a “good interview”, and that my face carried more confidence than my brain carried ability. Or something like that…

  • mandythompson November 3, 2008  

    When I was in college, taking some social psych class or something, we were exposed to a study done on appearance… Namely, how people respond to others based on appearance.

    I think the study was set up by showing subjects a number of photos of faces. Then subjects were asked to respond to each face. Indicating trust, good will, favor, etc.

    The beautiful people always won out over the less attractive people.

    Our prof also mentioned the serial killer Ted Bundy, that he was a very attractive and charming man. This was his hook.

    Bottom line of the study: people are more likely to trust those who are attractive, rather than those who are unattractive.

    Maybe, because of society, this rule is more strongly applied to women… BUT, I’ve heard many claim that the more attractive candidate is usually the one elected into office.

  • Jenni Catron November 3, 2008  

    @Ryan – thanks for being the first brave male to join the discussion! I think your point is good and Mandy’s adds to it, that truly appearance can have an impact for both genders.

  • carolyn November 3, 2008  


    i’ve written 3 replies and erased them all. i’m beginning to think it’s going to be impossible for me to write on this topic without it coming across in a seemingly unavoidable tone. i’ve started and scrapped more blog posts than i can count, because i refuse to be labeled a whiner girl. suffice it to say this topic is very frustrating to me… and i’m afraid the way god made us means it’s a topic which very well may go unresolved.

    wow… that sounded uncharacteristically pessimistic. i really look forward to reading this conversation.

  • alex November 3, 2008  

    Yeah this is a crazy subject, especially in regards to the church. It’s sad really. I’ve been a part of conversations where I’ve actually heard something to the effect of “yeah she might not be the best singer, but she’s easy on the eyes…” I had to pick my jaw up off the floor.
    I’ve also heard someone try to argue that an overweight woman (who could sing) was a bad representation because she outwardly showed the sin of ‘gluttony’.
    Another one I’ve heard (this dealing with a male), is this comment, “people love him because they know him, but he’s not a good first impressions guy” (this based on his looks). Oh man, this in the church? I’ve lost all respect for the people who’ve made those comments (sorry, I know that’s pretty harsh).
    I realize that men and women are different, and we think different, we’re motivated differently, we’re attracted differently (sometimes) – but we are not animals either, we’re responsible for our actions, our cultures that we’re creating, etc. ESPECIALLY if we’ve come to know Christ. Now we’ve got a new outlook on life – our hearts are being restored and mended – our person is being crafted into the image of Christ. What does he see when he looks at us? How do we model that in our churches? By encouraging the stereotypical view of women as something to look at? By valuing attractiveness over giftedness & heart? Sorry, this frustrates me.
    The issue lies in our hearts. How many people (men & women) are overlooked, devalued, or “de-powered” (made that word up) based on looks, attractiveness… I think we’d be surprised if we could see peoples hearts & qualities through the outer shell.

    [sidenote: I do believe in doing our best to live healthy and treat our bodies as a very special gift from God, I think that’s another post though]
    Sorry for rambling, or ranting – but this is a great discussion topic.

  • Heidi November 3, 2008  

    I think this is a very true statement.

    I have always struggled with my looks (a whole another post) but after some really digging in mysel; I am starting to figure out if I look good.. I feel good… My head is a little higher.. confident.. People start to reach out to you… you seem to be more authoritive… people listen to you with value..

    People are looking for people with value and confidence.

    I’m not saying I don’t wear my jeans… Because I do ALOT!

    Why women more than men… My opinion, we’re trained that way.. Look at all the 60’s sitcoms, mom’s cooked and cleaned in their pearls and heels.


    (I’m not saying it’s right….this is a hard discussion Jenni!)

  • Christina Schmidt November 3, 2008  

    I read somewhere that overweight women have the hardest time getting a job, which, being one, I understand! I guarantee if I were skinny, I’d have a job without a problem, I’m intelligent, great with people, and have a Bachelor’s degree, yet, it’s been over 6 months since my last job! I’m a confident person, it’s not like I don’t look people in the eye, or don’t dress the part. When I did my internship (at a resort), my manager said she hired one girl because she was pretty, but turned out to be a LOUSY employee! I was snubbed at one interview, being asked to fill out the application and then, all of a sudden, the office manager wasn’t there to interview me, saying they’d look over my application (of which they already had my resume), and call back! MMM HMM! I called back the next day, trying to figure out what happened, and the position was supposedly filled, after she asked my name and all!

    Men do have it easier, there are many more uglier men in leadership positions than there are women. Many of the unattractive women are certainly behind the scenes in the workplace, working in call centers, or where they’re not viewed by the public constantly.

  • anne jackson November 3, 2008  

    sorry this is so random, but i’m a little dyslexic sometimes…i was skimming the comments and when jan said

    “If she is plain, more apt to be ignored.”

    i truly thought she said “If she is *palin*, more apt to be ignored.”


  • Sherry Surratt November 3, 2008  

    Unfortunately, this is incredibly true. We are judged differently on our appearance than men are. I don’t think we are going to change that. I also love what Nancy Beach said in Gifted to Lead, when she instructed women to ‘just bring your A game’. The stereotypes and initial filter judgements that can’t be changed, do seem to dissipate with excellent performance and knowing your stuff, though it sometimes take time. I think where we can gain the most ground here as women is not judging EACH OTHER on appearance. I’ve seen women give each other the ‘once over’ with their eyes, making the other woman feel like she doesn’t belong because of what she does or does not have on. Lord, help me not to do that!

  • jan owen November 3, 2008  

    @anne – you made me laugh on a very very tough day

  • Emily November 3, 2008  

    I can tell you one thing. Whenever I have meetings with the people (males especially) in our church I always try to look my best because of the double standard. Being young and female puts up so many walls automatically, and I try my best to bring them down by looking professional and put together. Does it suck? yep. Does it make me mad? sure does. Do I play the game? I do.

  • holly November 3, 2008  

    Jenni –

    Isn’t the double standard frightening?!? You’re good to point this out and I agree with you and your commenters – unfortunately, this happens to both males and females; however, I do feel that females have much more pressure to look good than males. I find it ridiculous that people are judged on their appearance rather than their qualities. As a young teacher (I started teaching high school students when I was 23, barely older than them) I was once told that I should “not look so good so that I would be a better teacher.” First of all, I wasn’t “glamming it up” – just trying to look professional and act professional. Second of all, I was a good teacher. and thirdly, why should my looks have anything to do with my abilities? The audacity of that statement stunned me and has stayed with me. And, to be clear, I am often guilty of forming an assumption based on first impression of looks; however, I try to make a point to know that person so I can form an accurate opinion of them. I also try very hard not to judge because I have never been in their shoes. It’s not always easy. I wrote a bit about this on my blog today in dealing with raising two girls in a body image obsessed culture – it sickens me.
    Also, I fully agree with @Sherry – women stop judging each other!! Moms stop judging each other!!

    So, should you be attractive? Well, you already are, but your “attractiveness” comes from not only how you put yourself together, but by your character, you gifts, your leadership abilities, and many other non tangible wonderful things about you. Thanks for starting the conversation. Have a great day!

  • November 3, 2008  

    really really really great question!

    We have 2 senior pastors that are women at my church and you are dead on…I even talk about their hair, outfits, and makeup. It’s rumored that they have makeup artists for every service…now I see why. People are obsessed with it (even me).

    I think all people – male or female should strive to look their best. Not obsess about it, but definitely make an effort to be presentable and professional. Attractive is another story. The goal in mind shouldn’t be “what does the opposite sex think about the way I look”. that’s dangerous territory and we should never be dressing ourselves to please the opposite sex and that’s where the word “attractive” comes into play for me.

    I read that chapter in Nancy’s book and I think she did a great job of defining the challenges a female leader faces.

  • Andy Depuy November 3, 2008  

    Here is what I think and what I know

    In my eyes which I pray come from my Heavenly Dad (God). it doesn’t matter what you look on the outside what counts is what is on the inside. Beauty is the eyes of the beholder. If you have jesus Christ in your life then your beauty will be shown out, and it doesn’t matter to me what you look like on the outside. The inside is where the jewels are really shown and they light up the outside. Don’t know if i made any sense but this is what I see

  • Linda Stanley November 3, 2008  

    As a female who has worked in the ministry field for the past 14 years, I can tell you from experience that looks absolutely make a difference. As I’ve read in previous posts here, many competent women are overlooked and passed over based on appearance (meaning the woman wasn’t “easy on the eyes” in the opinion of some). Many competent women are not taken seriously because of their appearance (meaning they possess physical, outward beauty). Realistically do I think this will change? Not for some, both men and women. Sadly it’s a reflection of the culture we live in. My heart’s desire and sincere prayer is that both men and women will value women for their gifts and competencies, not their dress size. All the protesting, finger pointing, lecturing, etc. won’t change this. Day by day, each person has to make a conscious choice about how they will interact with and think about a woman. That includes women AND men.

  • Elena Stoeckig November 4, 2008  

    During lunch today, I happened to read that exact chapter in Nancy’s book. I always struggled with my appearance. If anyone ever says that I am pretty or they like my outfit, it makes me very uncomfortable. I don’t like attention based on attractiveness.
    When I use to lead worship, the hardest part of my morning was picking out what to wear. I didn’t want to attract attention and so I would stand in the closet wondering what color would be less noticeable. I wonder how long it took the guys in the band to pick out an outfit? 🙂
    What I’ve learned over the years and what I learned today in Nancy’s book is that I have to be confident in who God created me to be. Leadership isn’t about gender and whether someone is attractive or not. It’s a shame that we’ve allowed society to put this much pressure on women.
    Honestly, if a man or a woman is going to miss out on God’s word because they are too busy looking at a lipstick shade or shoes then that is there loss.
    Besides, what is attractive? Another tabloid rumor is that Palin is attractive but not competent yet Clinton is competent but not attractive. If society didn’t judge women based on attractiveness or competence then it would be something else…..hum….what traits would that that be? hahah

  • Cyndi November 5, 2008  

    My husband just became pastor of a small church in an urban area. I thought it would’t matter what I wore as “First Lady” because knowone would know who I was anyway. But I soon realized that not only does the congregation look at me, but others outside of the church look at me and I represent the church whether I wanted to or not. I have come to the conclusion that its not so much about me but about the people we connect with in and out of church and unfortunetly at this time and place they are judging my appearance (thereby judging the members of our church)!

  • Cindy Beall November 5, 2008  

    I don’t know why it’s so different. Just know that it is.

    I know this well because when I wear certain clothes, use my CHI flat iron, actually wear make-up and put on my absolutely favorite tinted lip gloss #1137 from Bath and Body Works, I’m treated better. I’m treated as if I’m important.

    But, when I wear my sweats, put on my pink ball cap with my hair coming out the back hole and try to get the remains of yesterday’s mascara from under my eyes, people don’t treat me the same. Sometimes I’m ignored.

    Funny thing is, I’m still the same girl underneath.

    Because I know this to be true with many people, I really, really, really, really, really…really try not to do this to people who don’t have as much and don’t dress as nice and don’t talk as appropriate…you get the point.

    Change has to start in us. Even if it’s only us.

    Great post, Jenni.

    And for the record, you are cute 🙂

  • Sharon Wilson February 18, 2009  

    To an extent a woman’s personality do contribute to her success as a business magnet. But its not mere looks where a woman is judged for her leadership qualities. Its more like how she can present herself, her confidence, her communication skills and ofcourse her leadership qualities.