Growing a Business without Sexing it Up

posted May 28, 2013, 10:23 AM by Tia Karelson
April 13, 2012

Growing a Business without Sexing it Up

Two months ago, on Valentine’s Day, I officially launched my business, Market Karma. Market Karma is dedicated to uncovering the best market opportunities businesses should pursue to achieve their growth goals.  

I am a damn fine marketer. I can understand your market, your customers, create a strategy to grow your business, and execute the heck out of the strategy. However, while I am meeting with you, working with you and your staff, and working on your business, I will look professional, but I will not be wearing a dress, a skirt, high heels or make-up. I will be myself. My glasses will come off only when I need to read small print. 

Launching on Valentine’s Day felt right since it is a day ostensibly about love, and Market Karma is my new love. However, Valentine’s Day is also a day of Victoria’s Secret, and creating romantic images. It is about “sexing it up.” 

In recent conversations with a few women, the subject of image has come up. In their quest to be helpful, they have made some suggestions. There are two components to this: 1) my perceived age and 2) my appearance. And now given Ashley Judd’s recent response to the criticism of her “puffy” face, I felt compelled during a 3:30 a.m. insomnia episode to write this piece.   

The conundrum…our society prefers youth, but it must meet certain beauty ideals. I look young, which is apparently a good thing, but does not necessarily evoke power. And I do not play the beauty game which means I do not look as expected for a professional woman.    

Since birth, I have been perceived as young. The year I turned 21, I went to Las Vegas, was carded everywhere and spent more time with security than my friends. Two years ago, shortly after turning 40, I was visiting customers with a sales rep who did not believe my age until we had spent six hours confined in a car together. When I could easily reference the 1970s, and intelligently speak to various issues, he finally said, “You really are 40?”
Last month I rode-along with a police officer who asked my age. When I told him 42, he said, “I was not expecting that.” A few weeks ago, I met with a seasoned female executive for the first time. No matter the words that came out of my mouth, she assumed me to be in my early 30s. When I finally told her the ride-along story, her eyes grew big, and she said, “You’ll look great when you are 60. You must not even need to wear foundation.” 

As I have gotten older, I appreciate the age perceptions and comments. I choose to take them as compliments even as they may frustrate my ability to forge ahead more quickly in business settings. I recognize that these perceptions and comments will occur less often the older I get. 

The other, more disturbing part of the story, are the image comments. In recent meetings with successful women, the message was effectively this, “Sex it up. There are men in the workplace. You need to be attractive to them.” Really? There are men? I had not noticed. You never encounter them in executive positions or on boards of directors.  

As all girls and women experience, the pressure to appear a certain way is immense. You must be pretty, thin, dress stylishly, wear heels, make-up, and have perfect hair. A really expensive piece of jewelry also doesn’t hurt. And it must all appear effortless.  

The message that I need to look a certain way because to attract business, I must be attractive to men is nauseating. This is 2012.  

My day has 24 hours just like everyone else’s. I am a businessperson, a mom, a friend, a community member, the list goes on. I do not want to spend precious time creating an illusion. I want to look in the mirror, and know that the person looking back is real. My clients also have the right to know that they are getting the real deal.

The recent comments are not new news. Over the years, there have been similar gems, “You could be so pretty. If only you would wear make-up.” Or, my favorite, “You could be so pretty. If only you didn’t wear glasses. Have you considered LASIK?” The slew of “If Onlys.” Women, if we took away the weight that we put on each other, I have a feeling we’d all be a little happier. 
Speaking of weight, do you remember the days of wanting to weigh more? In junior high, I was so excited to hit 90 lbs, then 95 lbs. I felt like a woman when I hit 100 lbs. It felt like if there was more of me, I was somehow more real.  

Today Market Karma is real and it is my dream. I want to work. I want to expand my client base. I want to help people who run businesses realize their goals, their dreams. I have to believe that to achieve my dream, and help others achieve theirs, that being me is the greatest asset I have to offer.
It is hard enough to go out in the world to sell your skills, sell your business. If I had to go out under a guise that isn’t me, that would be even harder. And you would know. 

Folks want to know how Market Karma distinguishes itself from the pack. Here it is. What you see really is what you get. The genuine article. What more could you want for your business?