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Being Your Own PR Flak: Perception is Reality

Posted Oct 27 2008 11:22pm

(*Disclosure: I’m a PR professional in real life, and have a master’s in public communication — so I have a vested interest in changing perceptions and building relationships — two basic tenets of good PR).

Are you your own best PR person?

Are you putting your best image, er, foot forward every day, or are you still hung up on your looks, imperfections, and short-comings?

This was one of the topics of the keynote yesterday by journalist, writer and blogger Penelope Trunk at the Public Relations Society of America conference I am attending here in Detroit.

Her argument was that, when it comes to women and their careers (she authored a book called The Brazen Careerist and writes a blog under the same premise), all too often, women are not being their own best PR person, even though they are most qualified to do so.

Women today have the power to carve their own path, regardless of the state of the economy or if they’ve been out of the working world for a while, she says. We can be our own biggest PR flaks.

Penelope contends that we ought to be out there pitching ourselves (our authentic “brand”, what makes us unique and desirable) like mad … because jobs don’t last forever, career tracks change, but we’re still “us,” and we’re worth investing a little time to polish the image we portray to the world.

We don’t need to be perfect by any means (something I’m coming to terms with). But like it or not, perceptions matter.

If you’re perceived at a job interview, for example, as confident and firm, people will think you are. It essentially becomes your reality.

On the flip side, if you walk into a room with your eyes down and are constantly touching your hair or fidgeting, people will see you as insecure. That becomes your “reality,” because that’s the image you’re portraying.

So how does this translate to body image issues so many of us face? Oftentimes it is these issues that hold us back from becoming our own best PR person. If we don’t think we look good, well, we probably won’t carry ourselves with confidence.

But, for example, if you carefully dress yourself for work every day and feel awesome in your clothes (be it a size 6, 16, or 26), you’re probably giving off positive vibes about yourself — your “brand.” You’re probably going to carry yourself with pride, probably smiling a lot more, maybe glancing at your butt in the mirror.

(Side note: These are the women some of of you admitted yesterday that you envy in your comments re: the body snarking post).

Taking it a step further, if your clothes are tailored and have clean lines, and you are maybe wearing a little make-up, a spritz of perfume and perhaps you took some time to do your hair vs “showering and going” … chances are, your body size or shape has very little to do with how put-together you look and feel.

Am I right?

You’re putting your “brand” out there, and it’s confident, self-assured, poised. In fact, I’d argue how you carry yourself speaks volumes, significantly more than your physical appearance.

When I lived in DC, I always felt so good going to work because I was always dressed up — in a suit, skirts, dresses, slacks, twin-sets, blouses, etc. I was always told to “dress for the position you want, not the position you have.” And so I did played the part, working for trade associations and for the federal government.

Even when I was heavy, I was always complimented for looking so put-together. Thanks to my mom’s advice, I finally learned how to dress my body and figure out my mess of tresses. It didn’t need to be expensive clothing — but dressing well helped me feel confident and I was able to portray confidence, even when inside I wasn’t always feeling it.

Seriously, my wardrobe helped build confidence and improve my body image. In an A-line tweed skirt, tights and tall boots, I looked fierce and ready to tackle any curve ball thrown my way … not “fat.”

Now, I work at a digital advertising agency in the Midwest where it’s uber-casual (save for client meetings), and where we’re running up and down three flights of stairs all day long. So practical flats, cords, cute fitted blouses, and jeans are much more the norm than the much more “dressed up” wardrobe I was accustomed to in my former life.

Since deep down I’m still a pretty preppy dresser (it’s part of my ”brand”), I’ve learned over the past two years to find a level of balance that I’m comfortable with. I still do my hair/make-up, perfume routine because those things make me feel good about myself.

And I’ve learned that, regardless of size or body type, you can look just as put-together in a blazer and great jeans as you do in a suit (especially with the right accessories, shoes and bag).

I know that if I dressed this casually at my job in DC, I’d probably have been asked to reassess my wardrobe choices, as the perception in my government job would be that I wasn’t “dressed conservatively enough”. But here, it’s absolutely acceptable and I’m embracing it.

It’s not to say I don’t feel wonderful when I’m all decked out … but it’s nice to know that, given the creative industry I’m in now, I’m not judged the same parameters as I was, perhaps, back in DC.

Again, it’s all about perception. How you carry yourself (personality, attitude, appearance, etc.) is critical. When we feel good on the inside, it exudes on the outside.

And that confidence (however tough to find at first) can, in time, become your reality.

So how can you put your best foot forward at work, in school, in your personal life? Do you agree that body confidence is related to how you carry yourself more than physical shape/size? What helps you to feel confident, regardless of the number on your scale?

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