Pretty Powerful: Appearance, Substance, and Success
By: Eboni K. Williams
Publisher: Viva Editions
Publication Date: September 2017
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
As an attorney and now a media legal analyst, Eboni K. Williams has strong opinions on how a woman's appearance can help, or hinder, her professional career. In Pretty Powerful, she presents her case using examples from her own life mixed with experiences from other successful women.
Having worked as an actress and model before turning to the world of law and politics, Ms. Williams well understands how women struggle to play up their looks to help move along the corporate ladder. She too, struggled, particularly after having that modeling career. But she uses her legal background to make a strong argument for using "Pretty Powerful" to one's advantage and will have you re-thinking how you want to present yourself to the world.
Ms. Williams starts her book with an introduction that recalls her interviewing at Fox News to become a legal and political analyst. This was a position she'd been working toward for a long time and she was going to do all she could to secure that job. In addition to knowing what she wanted to tell the executives who would be interviewing her, Williams also paid careful attention to how she dressed. The way her hair was styled, the dress she wore, and her makeup, would, she believed, convey to those executives that she was a serious contender for the coveted job. While many of us don't want to think that how we dress/look affects our professional career, Williams argues that the first impression we make is still based on physical appearance. But, she argues, beauty and a perfect appearance alone are not enough to succeed, and to make her point, she delves into the 2008 presidential campaign and the woes of vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin. A well-dressed, attractive woman, Palin initially seemed to be a welcome addition to the Republican ticket. But once her lack of substance became apparent, she was torn apart in the press.
Williams tackles numerous aspects of "Pretty Powerful" from "Fat-shaming" to "The Bimbo Effect," giving her opinions on each as well as including interviews with well-known and successful women to get their views on the topics. From Meghan McCain, to Marcia Clark and Judge Jeanine Pirro, these ladies have some strong views and they're not afraid to share them. The interviewees give great insight into how using their appearance/dress (or not using it) helped or hindered their careers. For example, when Judge Pirro was beginning her career in law, she was one of only a few women lawyers and felt strong pressure to downplay her feminine side. Today, she argues, it's a different world, and by the time she had risen to being a judge, she felt comfortable about dressing up her wardrobe a little. Marcia Clark too, remembers when she was thrown into the limelight during the O.J. Simpson trail. She was too busy to worry about her looks and the media had a feeding frenzy because of it. In contrast, Desiree Rogers, who was the White House social secretary for President Obama, was criticized for being too flashy and that played a pivotal role in her job. Williams analyzes these various experiences to show how looks and brains must be used together, and that one over the other can have negative effects on a career. The author concludes her book with a look at sexual harassment and "The Bimbo Effect," where women who are very attractive can be stigmatized as being less capable.
In today's world, women are taught that we should advance in the work world (and indeed, in all aspects of our lives) by using our brains and not our beauty. But Ms. Williams makes a strong argument for using both to help us achieve our goals. Whether you have natural beauty or not, how you present yourself (your hair, your dress, your makeup), will say a lot about who you are and how serious you are about your job. Williams cautions, however, that too much of one over the other will likely have a negative effect. How to achieve that perfect balance is something Williams addresses throughout the book. Women, she argues, will be empowered once they realize that it's okay to use both their substance and appearance to fast-forward their careers. Pretty Powerful is an easy and interesting read, well researched, and it may well start some interesting discussions around the water cooler.
Quill says: In Pretty Powerful, Eboni K. Williams makes a strong argument for how and why to use one's appearance to help succeed in the work world.