“I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a suit and heels.”


In recent blogs, I ruminated on the idea of innate femaleness, wondering if such a thing even exists. I have been reflecting on the differences between women who choose to beautify themselves and women who choose a more au natural look.

I believe that each of us holds within ourselves a standard of the ideal woman or at least a few images to suit our changing moods. Whether or not we choose to emulate those images is another matter. But to simply say that a woman “should” beautify herself for her own sake alone may be naïve and cavalier. This statement doesn’t take into consideration the mass female culture norms that bombard women every day through the advertising that contributes to shaping her inner view of how she should look. (Incidentally, I’m so grateful for Dove commercials). So how do we as women internalize this advertising onslaught in terms of how we choose to present ourselves to the world?

Or should we? If we refuse to be influenced by advertising—if that’s even possible—then where would we find our sense of style?

“Clothes can suggest, persuade, connote, insinuate, or indeed lie, and apply subtle pressure while their wearer is speaking frankly and straightforwardly of other matters.”  ~Anne Hollander

February, 2010, while attending a writer’s conference in San Francisco, I was sitting in the hotel lobby. Heart racing and red faced, I was attempting to calm myself having just given my first manuscript “pitch” to an editor. The bumbling part of me threatened to overwhelm me with shame. Yikes!

As I took in deep breaths, I looked up to see a gorgeous young woman dressed in a stunning suit gracefully walking her very long legs in my direction. With her beautiful smile and outstretched hand ready to shake mine she said, “Hi, my name is Jenny, who are you and what are you doing here at the conference?” I told her I was trying to catch my breath and my composure. I declined her request to tell her about my book, still feeling embarrassed by my true confession pitch. Instead, I asked her to tell me about the book she was pitching (which has since been published). “Well, it’s about everything you ever wanted to know about after college….”

Despite our thirty-year age difference, I found Jenny delightfully engaging and easy to talk with. Eventually I began telling her about my book, beginning with the collage I’d made many years ago. In that collage, I discovered that no matter how I chose to present myself to the world, through dress and makeup, that in and of itself would not tell you, or me, who I am.

Jenny said something like, “Oh my, what a great thing to write about. Up until four months ago, I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a suit and heels. I would love to learn more about how to be feminine.” Jenny’s honesty and generosity is part of my inspiration for writing this blog. We have remained in touch with each another and I recently asked what she recalled of our “lobby” conversation. Here is what she remembers about our conversation.

“I admire women who embrace their femininity – it almost seemed like a foreign concept to me growing up. My mom worked full-time to raise two kids — her priority was paying the bills and providing for us – not on buying fabulous shoes, taking time for herself or dating. In today’s society, women are taught to work hard, to learn how to support themselves and be independent, and to succeed ‘in a man’s world’.  Because of this, I never really learned how to embrace my feminine side until after I turned 25. I had reached success in other areas and now wanted to be feminine and fabulous – even though I didn’t know how. At the same time, magazines taught me that I needed to be skinny, blond and have big boobs – that was true femininity. As an athletic brunette with a small chest, I constantly measured myself against an image I could never achieve. So when I meet women who own their sensuality, who dress to the nines because it makes THEM feel great, and who can still come across as graceful, soft, and powerful yet relatable (you, Dawn, fit all of those categories) – I am immediately drawn in with wonder and amazement.”

Let me tell you, the day I met Jenny, she definitely looked feminine and fabulous.

So again I ask, just how much of my proclivity towards all things soft and sensual stem from my innate femaleness and how much is social/gender indoctrination?

What do you think?

Does adorning oneself in a certain way represent one’s feminine side as Jenny expressed?

Do you share Jenny’s views?

Have you ever measured yourself against the prevailing “feminine” image?

How about men? Do you measure yourself against a prevailing “masculine” image?



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  1. I can say, that I have had my conflicts. One example is as a Marine, we were sternly admonished to shave every day–even if we had only one canteen of water in the field (no electric shavers there, of course). But then I see so many examples of ‘famous movie stars’ and models who seem to believe that having two days worth of stubble is sexy and in style. Well, I’ve never really asked any women if having to rub their face against such stubble is pleasant or not, but since the Marine in me won out, I have retained the clean skin habit for decades now. I guess you could say I have chosen to ‘beautify myself’ as opposed to ‘au natural’.


    • Hi Ron,

      I think it’s great that men are even thinking in these terms without believing that it is unmanly. I know that men are using face creams, having cosmetic surgeries and getting their hair styled by beauticians verses just any old chop, chop by the neighborhood barber.


  2. Dawn, I have been pondering your questions and I have even discussed them with a friend or two. For me, whether I “beautify” myself or not depends on a number of things. At some point it was in rebellion to my mother who was June Clever that I did not use makeup, but as I got older sometimes I felt like being all girly and other times I felt like being “campy.” Even now, during the dog days of summer in Texas, wearing makeup is just one more layer of skin to have melt onto the ground, so I don’t tend to get dressed up because it is just too hot. But if I am going out for a nice dinner and a concert I beautify myself. I don’t feel any lesser than in either of these situations. Sometimes when I don’t feel good about myself, I get out the makeup, but I have never taken makeup, other than sun block, camping. Thanks for your pondering. I enjoy your thoughts a great deal. Warmly, Helen

    • Hi Helen,

      Sounds like you have found a comfortable place to be with your femininity. I was struck with Jenny’s comment “I constantly measured myself against an image I could never achieve.” I wonder if everyone has to sort this image stuff out at some point in their lives or are there those that know from the beginning what is “right” for them? I think that I gradually grew into the image that I am most comfortable with but when I was first entering the job market I needed women mentors to show me how to dress properly for the work place. Thankfully, there were many women who were more than generous with their time.

      Best regards, dawn

  3. Ridelle Roper says:

    What determines my taste in clothes? I think that I try to look clean and appropriate for the occassion and the temperature. I love expensive shoes, but hiking boots and walking shoes are my style in retirement. I am not comfortable dressing too sexy or provocative, because I am in a relationship and would rather discus interesting topics than flirt or attract men. I want to “fit in”. What is “in style” for my age of 63? Pink is not one of my favorites but a bright berry is good. Also I live in Sequim where the most fabulous women I know wear jeans and sweatshirts. One transvestite I know in Maui dresses in skirts and wears more makeup than I ever do. I have a sketch of Gertrude Stein in my Nook where she looks and dresses like a man and that doesn’t appeal to me. I went to a meeting after work one time, and the group seemed to all dress like men. I had worn a flowered blouse and full skirt and nylons and I felt like I was in a “girl” costume, but I had felt comfortable at work. More than any image in magazines or television I think I adapt to my surroundings to “fit in”.

    • Hi Ridelle,

      I really like your last line about fitting in. I think if people are truly honest they would admit there is a fine line between choosing an individual style and the need to fit in. What does it say about someone who is determined to seek attention by dressing outrageously and/or someone totally out of touch with current fashion? For example, it would seem odd if one chose to show up wearing huge shoulder pads and the big hair that was so popular in the 70’s. I prefer to be, at least aware of current fashion trends. I do not feel compelled to dress in the latest fad nor do I chose to be so far out of sync that I draw attention to myself, i.e. big hair. I also tend to have my lipstick on whether I am dressed for work, lunch with friends or camping. Either way, I experience myself as feminine no matter where I am.

      Kind regards, dawn

  4. One of the things I am always conscious of is the way I cross my legs. I have the belief that real men feel comfortable crossing their legs where the ankle of the crossed leg -R- rests on the knee of the other-L- leg. When I do that it hurts my –R-hip so I cross my legs like a woman does with one knee over the other—always feeling less manly until I realize it’s only a false belief. The mind is a terrible thing–until examined. I guess men have some hang-ups too. Mike

    • Hi Mike,

      Thanks for writing. I must admit, I have never once given any thought to how a man crosses his legs. It is interesting that men may worry about masculine/feminine traits just as women do and these worries would affect their self-concept.


  5. Dawn – I’m so honored and grateful that we met, and that I could play such an important role for you that day. Your beauty, grace, style and joie de virve were absolutely breathtaking — you were a showstopper that day, even when you weren’t even trying to be! You still are 😀 That’s true femininity, and I love that you are sharing your work with the world, and that I get to support you in the process and vice versa!!

    Big hugs 🙂

    • Hi Jenny,

      Now I am blushing. Talk about a showstopper Jenny, that would be you. So sorry that I did not ask you to guest blog before you got bogged down with your recent move to New York.

      One again Jenny, congratulation on your book publication.

      Hugs to you, dawn

      “Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want” by Jenny Blake

      Jenny Blake is an author, blogger, life coach and sought-after speaker who helps others “Wake up, live big! and love the journey.” She has been featured on, US News & World Report, and was recognized by Suze Orman as a leader among Gen Y.

      Jenny started her blog,, in 2005 and recently translated it into a popular book, Life After College: The Complete Guide to Getting What You Want, which serves as a portable life coach for 20-somethings. Jenny recently took her own great leap by leaving Google after five and a half years at the company (on the Training, Career Development and Authors@Google teams) to pursue her passions full-time.

  6. Thanks for writing farouk. dawn

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