Steps to Success.

November 22, 2009

Two weeks ago, I did an experiment. The Editor wasn’t giving me the chances I deserved to prove myself, and the soles had finally fallen off my  last year’s boots, so my default choice of footwear was immediately ruled out.  As I lay out my work experience clothes for the next day, my perspex-heeled, hand-embroidered turquoise Irr*gular Cho*ce spike heels winked at me from the line of shoes by the door.

I put away my cheap suit, and got out my LBD. I coupled it with warm winter tights and a plain black jacket. I accessorised with a turquoise silk scarf, silver watch, silver ring and those shoes.

The difference that it made was enormous – and problematic. It wasn’t just that The Editor commented on my shoes three times throughout the day and took down the web address to pass on to his partner. He also gave me three stories, and sent me out on my first call. Admittedly it was a rather uninteresting one (for anyone else – I am a local government nerd and was entirely fascinated), but it was a call nonetheless. All that for a pair of shoes – not a pumpkin carriage and a handsome prince, granted, but it will do for now.

It is not practical for journalists to wear heels everyday, and I worry that I have now set the bar, and must continue to cripple myself, physically and financially, in pursuit of my career.

Now, I love shoes. As somebody who tries very hard to challenge main-stream conceptions of beauty, this is a source of conflict for me anyway. It is hard to square the desire to march beneath the banner of freedom and liberty for all with the urge to do it in cherry-red peep-toes. This is a personal hobby, though: just like I’m into amateur dramatics, or have an unhealthy appetite for glossy vampire t.v. shows. It should not impact on how I have to appear or behave at work.

In cannot believe that we should be judged on our appearance, and I certainly do not think that we should be judged by our bank balances; if I wear glamorous shoes to work again, it will be the same pair of glamorous shoes. I do not own any others, and I’m embarrassed by how close I have come in the last week or so to buying more, when my savings are at present very clearly marked “food” and “rent”.

Unsure of what to feel or how to proceed after Heelgate, I canvassed the opinion of four very dear friends of mine. All are close to my heart, all are very successful in their own fields, and all see the world very differently.


THE PUBLISHER: Don’t over-think it. All that happened was, you gave your editor a talking point. You got the extra work because you gave him the chance to come and talk to you, get the measure of your enthusiasm and your intelligence. Your shoes didn’t automatically get you assignments, you did that yourself. They just got his attention. Now you know that you can approach him and engage him, you can start asking for things. All you needed was an “in”.

THE SOCIOLOGIST: Oh my god, patriarchy fail. That’s awful, it shouldn’t have happened. Why did you do it? It was just an experiment, right? Oh god, you hear stories about this sort of thing… you’re so silly for getting worried about it. Now you know what you’re up against. You’re not going to wear them again, are you?

THE PA: Duh. What did you expect? It’s completely rubbish that women have to make all this extra effort, but it is just the way the world works at the moment. It makes a massive difference because the way you dress demonstrates your commitment. People can tell that you’re serious and that you want attention… I’ll come shopping with you. You have to make sure that everything is professional, but not boring. Careful with accessories. Pearl earrings are good at work. Never wear earrings, necklace bracelet and rings together. As for make-up, you’re quite lucky. You don’t really need foundation, but make sure you wear blusher. Get a good brush, so the bristles won’t fall out…

THE CRITIC: Ha! You whore. I love it. I love conflicted people. You’re going to do it again next week, right?

It is hard to draw a verdict from all that, except that everybody seems to agree that there is a double standard in the workplace, and that it is not unusual for women to be expected (almost always implicitly these days, thankfully) to go that extra mile. To match shoes and bag, to wear make-up, to walk on tip-toe and to smile. To maintain a manicure when typing all day. I have a suspicion however that what it boils down to at the end of the day is confidence. I agree with The Publisher: it was a conversation, and not shoes, that got me stories. I only needed them because I didn’t have the guts to stride on up to The Editor and ask for more work in the first place. I also agree with The PA, that these cosmetic things make a difference. They make a difference because we are taught that it is the trappings of femininity that give us confidence, and that unless we meet these paradigms, we are not successful people.

Society has got it backwards. I will never tell another person not to wear make-up or not to wear those shoes because they are “buying into harmful stereotypes”. I have heard those lines often enough myself and they make me feel like rubbish. Suddenly I’m not trendy enough to be beautiful and not right-on enough to be radical, either. It’s true, the extremes of the beauty industry are bad for your body and they are bad for your brain. I needed a boost to my confidence. I have got it, and in future, I won’t use shoes to start a conversation, I will damn well start it myself. In that respect, Heelgate has given me a wake-up call.

But if wearing make-up does make you feel more confident, if you do love your shoes or think your personality is in your turn-ups, far be it from me to tell you not to use it. We are supposed to be in the business of making each other more confident, not less.


  1. Attended the Young Journalist of the Year awards, presented by the Periodicals Training Council. Included schmoozing and boozing, a masterclass from top industry names, and an absolutely, phenomenally, gorgeous lunch.
  2. Did a pub shift. Pretty annoyed about this, actually. It’s so standard to pay people for trial shifts during the interview process these days that I didn’t think to ask. That’s five hours I’ll never have again, and there are 65 people competing for the job. Outlook: poor.


Attending Revolutionary Alcoholics. The whole of the left-ish spectrum, form Lib Dem LGBT activists to card carrying socialists (and anarchists who refuse to carry cards) meet in a tower room of a beautiful old college to drink until we can’t talk politics anymore. Tweeting. I love twitter. You don’t have to think, it is pure, knee-jerk reaction. Cue “new blog post” tweet…


3 Responses to “Steps to Success.”

  1. This deserves a response. I will write one. Watch this space…

  2. Ray Says:

    I realise this isn’t quite the point you were making, but I bloody love Irregular Choice.

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