A few years ago, the University of Oregon published a study that found that young womxn* who posted sexy photos on social media were perceived as less competent than their conservatively dressed counterparts.
In light of these findings, Elizabeth Daniels, the lead researcher for the experiment, advised that womxn only post social media photos that showcase their identity (i.e their hobbies and interests).
"Don't focus so heavily on appearance," she said, “focus on who you are as a person and what you do in the world.”
Sounds good right? But let’s unpack this for a moment.
Sexual expression is an important part of identity, and for many womxn, it’s a major source of empowerment. We also know that sexual repression continues to plague our culture, and can lead to significant emotional harm.
We’re still often told that modesty is what commands respect. But what about challenging the norms that keep fear-based attitudes about female sexuality in place? And is it simply an unfortunate truth that we’re more hirable if we keep our sexuality under wraps and off of Instagram?
I’m not buying it.
In between the corporate grind and building my own business, I do freelance modeling for creative collaborations that feed my soul. This isn't true for everyone, but for me, showing my skin helps me feel more at home in it. And when I walk into a boardroom or pitch new business, it is partly because of (not in spite of) this work that I’m successful.
Ask anyone who makes a living in the naked arts - burlesque dancers and strippers alike - and they will tell you that the skills they learn onstage can translate into huge gains in business. It's about giving yourself permission to take up space; it's about building confidence.
The photographer Laura Schneider and the makeup artist Erika Pareja were an absolute dream team, and the result was some of the best visual storytelling I’ve ever been a part of. We set out to create an honest portrayal of strong femininity through unapologetic sexual energy, and I am proud to say I think we nailed it.
Of course, as womxn we have acknowledge our vulnerability, and consider safety in everything we post and do. So I’m not suggesting that we spend our erotic capital to further exploit ourselves, or that we shouldn’t keep close tabs on what our daughters post online. I’m simply asking to revisit this notion that open sexual expression somehow makes us less competent, and in turn, less hirable.
For a long time, I worried about my digital presence. I feared that prospective content marketing clients would judge my modeling work and this blog, and that I’d lose income because of it.
But it turns out that being authentic is really good for my business, and I'm so much happier being open about my work.
It’s also been a great litmus test to weed out any potential partnerships that I’d likely regret down the road (aka if you won't hire me because of the photos in this post or if you're sleazy in my DMs I don't want to work with you anyway). These small steps toward greater transparency continue to help me grow, and I’ve found that this congruence suits me just fine.
Looking around, it seems that attitudes about female sexuality are shifting, and this will continue as more womxn make their way to the c-suite. For example, GM CEO Mary Barra recently made some waves when she overhauled GM’s lengthy dress code policy. The first female CEO of a major automaker, she replaced ten pages of employee regulations with two words “dress appropriately.” And when asked what could be done to most improve the lives of womxn at work she simply said:
“Stop making assumptions.”
Leaders like Barra give me hope for a world of work where womxn are judged by our abilities and trusted to make sound judgements about how we portray ourselves. I dream of a day when my sexuality isn't a professional liability, when pantsuits aren’t prerequisites for promotions, and when a womxn is safe to celebrate her full spectrum of self.
So tell me, do you have to censor yourself online because of your job?
Have you ever been reprimanded for your social media presence?
If you’re a model or otherwise fan of the #sensualselfie, how do you juggle your digital and professional identifies?
Head on over to @immaculate.confessions and drop me a line.
*I was fortunate to collaborate on the Darlin shoot with @blissfulstupor who prefers the pronouns they/them. Working with Bliss was a great opportunity for me to learn more about creating content that’s more inclusive for nonbinary people. Using terms like womxn, enby people/humans, and nonbinary folx helps increase visibility and start meaningful dialogues - something we need in Nashville. Thanks so much Bliss for your patience and willingness share your story with me!