23 July 2009

A rant on maternity clothing and what I think looks "professional"

I hate clothing shopping. I always have. One of the things I dreaded most growing up was the back to school clothing shopping, especially the search for jeans that would actually fit me. None of this has changed. But now that I have a preggy belly it's more complicated.

All I wanted was a simple, professional looking shirt to wear for my 15-minute presentation at Botany on Monday. I did manage to find a shirt that will work. However, I also came away with shocking insight into my ideas of what looks "professional," "sciency" and "serious".

Beware: major ranting ahead.

I went to Motherhood Maternity to find The Shirt. Yes, Motherhood makes cheaply-assembled crappy clothes and is overpriced. It's also pretty much the only option in Logan for anything beyond maternity t-shirts and jeans. So I sucked it up and went in there. Overbearing, overeager salesperson aside, it was not terrible. But the three rounds of trying on shirts in the dressing room, coupled with excessive scrutiny on my part, made the task really suck.

Things that I realized I didn't like about the shirt options:
  • Ribbons or bows. These are inherently feminine, and thus not "professional" or "serious" enough for what I needed. Yes, I recognize this is a bullshit assumption. I know I could pull off a cute skirt with a little bow on it and still look professional. But if you lived in my head you would understand that girly does not equal serious, so ribbons are out.
  • Puffy sleeves. These are both too feminine and too matronly. I have never ever ever liked puffy sleeves and am not about to start now.
  • That damn elastic between the boobs and the belly that's supposed to make me look more shapely and cute? Annoying as hell. It rides up in the back, causing a Quasimodo poof between my shoulder blades while emphasizing that the shirt was really cut for someone a little more well endowed than myself. Screw that. Oh, and if you put a ribbon ON TOP of this annoying elastic? Double no from me.
  • Pleating that shows off the belly. Yes, I'm pregnant. Yes, I'm happy to be pregnant. No, I don't want my shirt screaming "LOOK AT MY FERTILE WOMB" from 50 yards away.
  • Ditto on the boob pleating. I'm trying to look "professional" and "serious," which apparently in my brain means that I must look as androgynous or close to male as possible. Males do not have boobs. Therefore shirts that draw attention to my boobs are out.
The wiring in my head that says "serious" "professional" "scientists" must look androgynous or male is totally fucked up. I realize this. I'm a woman, and I'm a scientist. I should not need to make myself look as masculine as possible in order to be taken seriously. Yet that's how things are coded in my brain - so much so that I visibly sneer at my reflection after putting on a maternity shirt that draws attention to my curves which I otherwise love so much right now. Because when I'm talking science I don't want to accentuate those things, I want to downplay them. Ugh.

I don't know where I'm going with this. I am totally fed up with myself for thinking like this, but glad that I recognize that I'm thinking like this. Where do I start with the reprogramming? How do I make it okay for myself to wear something feminine and cute AND think I still look professional. And why does it matter what anyone else thinks about what I'm wearing? Shouldn't they be paying more attention to the information I'm trying to share with them?

I was going to suggest the alternative of a professional conference in the nude, but... ummm... no. That opens up a whole nother can of worms, and I'm not ready to go there either.


the good twin said...

I had the same problem last pregnancy. This time around I, thankfully, haven't (and probably won't) had to put on my professional 'hat'. I am sick of ribbons, bows and pleats on maternity clothes- and why are there flowers or horizontal stripes on everything?!I'm not much for clothes shopping either and, even with my impressive belly size, have managed to wear many non-maternity outfits. Too bad you didn't post sooner, I have a nice blue maternity blouse that does not sport any ribbons, bows, or even elastic, and it does not come close to fitting me this pregnancy- I would have mailed it to you. =)

Aaron said...

I hope after all this trouble you don't end up giving your talk while standing behind a podium so no one can see anything you are wearing anyway. Also, I'm going to make it my personal mission to point out to you all the men at this conference who DO have boobs!

Amy said...

Do I apologize, do I feel sympathy for you or both knowing what CRAP you are going to have to take from Aaron being at the conference with him! I wish you good luck, my friend.

Mama bee said...

Yes, Aaron, please do point out manboobs to me at the conference. :-)

Daktari said...

I find this post very interesting. First, I tend to agree with you (i.e., professional equal masculine). And when I begin to examine why I agree with that, like you, what I find is very telling and more than a bit disturbing about ME.

We are quite the same, pregnant you and non-pregnant I. Where you have a pregnant belly, I have extraordinarily large breasts. And where you want to be taken seriously as a scientist who happens to be pregnant, I wish to be taken seriously as a scientist who happens to have large breasts. Unfortunately, we both know that a pregnant belly and big boobs trigger negative biases and stereotypes in both men and women on both a professional and a personal level. You are pregnant, therefore you aren't serious about your work. I have big boobs. Obviously, I've gotten where I am by capitalizing on my tits. Or worse, I must be a bubble-headed bimbo. Like you, my physical condition announces itself before I have an opportunity to demonstrate my competence, my seriousness, or my professionalism. So in virtually any interaction with a new acquaintence, I believe myself to be operating from a position of weakness (having to identify and diffuse each new person's biases and stereotypes). I do so predominantly by downplaying (to the best of my ability) my physical attributes (hiding them, if you will), seldom dressing in feminine attire, and by ignoring any reference to them (and trust me, you'd be surprised how many people are willing to say "Wow, those are some tits!"), and finally, by overwhelming people from the get-go with my intelligence, competence, and professionalism.

It's a lot to ask of every single interaction I have with every single person I meet. And it is one reason that people who only know me via the internet think that I am something of an intellectual snob. Because they haven't met me, they don't understand my need to diffuse a potentially embarassing situation before it happens by overwhelming them with my competence.

It is sad but it is my life. Be thankful that pregnancy is only temporary. Unless and until I have money for a breast reduction, this is my life permanently.