It’s a Wednesday afternoon and it’s raining outside -- typical for Wellington. The gray skies and howling wind seem like light years away while I’m inside in my warm house. Thank goodness for heat pumps. My favourite candle is flickering nearby, a glass of wine filled and in my hand as I scroll through the website I’m reading. Face mask on, hair up in a towel that is supposed to reduce my frizz (we’ll see… it’s still early in our relationship), and in my fluffy robe you’d think I’m at a spa retreat.
These are all the things I love. These are the things that apparently make me less of a scientist. For I apparently cannot enjoy fashion and other “frivolities” without somehow compromising how seriously someone takes me as an early career researcher.
You see, I’m not reading a research article on that website I’m scrolling through (and have been for almost an hour)—I’m reading one of my favourite lifestyle blogger’s posts. She’s off to Spain and has shared her MUST HAVE’S list during long airplane rides; I bookmark the page as a reminder to myself for my long treks from New Zealand to… well, wherever since New Zealand is so freaking far away.
@SamanthaZY on twitter quoted Dr. Huda Zoghbi in saying, “I am serious about my work. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like fashion, too.” I almost threw my hands up in the air in agreement. YES! I felt validated in my love for a good lipstick that didn’t fade in an hour and spending hours poring over makeup review sites to see what foundation will stay on all day for conferences. I spend a good amount of time (and money) on finding heels that are not only stylish but also comfortable for those very same conferences.
“Well, you don’t have to wear heels, Melissa. You can wear flats.” Very true. But, flats don’t give me the same little boost of confidence as I step onto the stage to address an audience. In fact, I wish I had been able to wear heels for my TEDx talk (I didn’t because of the plush rug that was not exactly heel-friendly). For me, there’s just something powerful about hearing your heels click on the floor… almost like a drumroll to your entrance.
Am I always in a pencil skirt, heels, and blazer with cute accessories? Heck no. You’re more likely to see me in distressed jeans that have all sorts of stains (and odors), tattered gum boots, and oversized hoodies (the better for layering because I easily get cold). But given the chance, I’d rather dress up and show off my fashion taste. Yet, apparently those scientists who dress stylishly are a distraction. Case in Point: #DistractinglySexy. A study claims good looks (and fashion) could make people think you're not as competent as your less attractive colleagues.
I can enjoy make up, wearing high heels, dresses that show off my curves, and having my nails done AND be a good scientist. I do not have to pick between the two. They are not mutually exclusive. My appearances do not make me less of a scientist. According to this study, the better-looking and more sociable [scientists] were perceived to be, the less they were expected to be conducting high quality research.
I’m sorry, since when could I not like more than one thing?
Sadly, the problem isn’t just outside perception of scientists—it’s sometimes the scientists themselves. Peers have often scoffed at me wanting to get my nails done – why do your nails if you’re just going to keep them short and you’re out in the field? Obviously during the field season when I’m elbow deep in mud (and probably fish guts) I don’t splurge for a mani/pedi but when I’m home and all I’m doing is staring at a computer screen for 8 hours (minimum) a day, I like to keep my nails a little longer and you best believe I’m taking an hour of “me time” to relax.
One does not have to be on “scientist mode” every waking moment of the day. Scientists are allowed to have interests outside of science. Expecting one to continuously work is unhealthy and often leads to burn out.
It’s why I’m so glad the Stylish Scientist List exists. “The individuals on the list prove that along with doing fascinating research, scientists are fascinating people, from athletes and techies to chefs and yes...even fashionistas.” I love the idea of celebrating diverse, stylish scientists doing fantastic research. And the 2017 Stylish Scientist List is jam-packed with diverse role models for those interested in fashion, science, or BOTH.
So friends, let’s wear what we want and do our awesome science in the meantime. Do you like dressing up and splurging on the latest Urban Decay eyeshadow palette (side note: UD’s Naked HEAT is AH-mazing)? Go for it. Want to wear science-y themed bowties and socks? Yeah, man! As the Stylish Scientist List says, “it is possible to be a person of both substance and style.”
Now if you excuse me, I have a facial appointment I don’t want to miss.
Hi! I'm Melissa, an Australian-based Latina science educator, podcaster, and freelance writer. I spend a lot more time on Instagram and Twitter, but blogging is my first love. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you stay a while.
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