Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Keeping up appearances

Okay, I'll admit it right now: Three months before my first AHA, I went on a diet-and-exercise program, which I continued pretty much until my second run at the AHA. Because having grown up overweight, I knew that people judge you for these things, no matter how much they may try not to.

Why bring this up? Well, for those of you who haven't seen it, there's an article in the Chronicle about a perennial adjunct who gets Botox injections before her latest round of job interviews. I won't judge the author, who seems ambivalent about ditching a long-held belief ("that women should not turn themselves into time-frozen fantasy objects while men garner value with age") in order to get a job.

Really, though, my question is: when did academia become a glamour profession? It seems to me that there was a time when professors were expected to be a bit dumpy. Sure, there was That One Professor that everyone had a crush on, but that was exceptional. Now, I can log on to RMP and check in to see how many chili peppers they've gotten. I've had a student tell me that at least one other student was ogling me (a perfectly average-looking nearing-middle-aged woman), and seemed taken aback at my response: "I don't want to know that."

I really don't. Because frankly, it's bad enough having to worry about how far behind I am on my writing, whether that article will get published, whether my lectures need to be updated, how I'm ever going to get out of debt, or where on earth I've put the receipts for my recent conference travel, without also having to think about whether the 5-10 pounds I've gained will make people think differently in a professional framework.

I'm just too damn busy for that crap.


Anonymous said...

Okay, here is where I can confess that what I dread about Kzoo is running into people who haven't seen me for a while and having them think, Well, she's gained weight! Or meeting people for the first time and having them think, Gosh, she's fat!

I don't judge the author - a person's gotta do what a person's gotta do - but I really hate the idea that Botox might have made a difference. But then, as I switching careers later in life, I don't want to think that such things matter! (I should stay plump until I get through law school, I guess - the fat smooths out the wrinkles. :-P)

AcadeMama said...

I'm new to your blog, but really enjoying it...so much so that I've already tagged you for the memoir meme. More details are on my blog if you want to play along :)

Dr. S said...

Yeah, this one leaves me feeling different things all over the place.

On one hand, one of the joys of being away from my home campus (and from teaching) this year has been being able to dress my age in a way that I feel I can't back at home. Here, if I want to wear a minidress, I can--because I'm not always in front of the people I teach, around whom I feel as though I should maintain some sort of different decorum. It was something that hit me during the summer: I can wear low-cut dresses, or ratty jeans, or whatever, because I'm not on stage.

On the other hand, damn, what an exhausting way to live, being judged by our appearances all the time. And no, I don't think it's the same for men--just as I'd wager it's still not the same thing for female instructors to end up with their former students as it might be for male instructors to end up with theirs.

Also, can you imagine a female department member saying to a male job candidate, "Don't get me wrong; I'm happily married. But you look fantastic today. For what that's worth."

AcadeMama said...

Here's a confession: somehow I'm the radical feminist who's also had (medically unnecessary) plastic surgery. I've actually faced some really harsh criticism from fellow female graduate students who also identify as feminists. Apparently, one cannot be both a "real" feminist *and* someone who would want/have plastic surgery.

I don't know why, but I was under the impression that our students in particular would be less likely to judge our attractiveness/body the older we get and the more distanced we are from them. I can understand the way some of them look at really young graduate TAs, but once you're more than a decade older than these students, don't most of them kinda shift perspective?

Anonymous said...

I firmly believe that a bit of frumpiness adds to an educator's credentials. Please remember this when I'm hitting my 40's as a teacher.

Notorious Ph.D. said...

AcadeMama -- welcome! I'm not-quite-RadFem, anti-surgery myself, but does getting a non-malignant mole removed count?

@ S: As far as "dressing my age," I sympathize, because I know where you live/teach. From my own experience in smallish places, I remember that as a woman, you've basically got two sartorial choices: undergraduate hoochie, or frumptastic. I've personally aged out of miniskirts, but yesterday I put on a tank top that might be considered teaching-inappropriate. I think ID was startled.

@ New Kid -- Hoo boy, do I sympathize. New career is already scary. And a hyper-competitive one like that? (and I'm also stepping up the exercise a bit these few weeks...)

Notorious Ph.D. said...

And Michael -- when your second-graders start judging you on your relative hotness, we're all in big, big trouble.

Dr. S said...

Yeah, I end up wearing an infamous amount of black and some really fantastic scarves and boots. But there's never really an occasion to dress up--so I'm taking advantage of getting to do it here! Last night, I lost my red lipstick for awhile and cracked myself up by running around in circles looking for it, thinking, "But I can't wear a satin dress without the red lipstick!" Yeah. So not my usual life.

The obscene thing about the botox story, to my mind, is the fact that that woman was almost certainly being judged by people HER OWN AGE OR OLDER. I hate the way young people in our profession often seem to get judged in that pseudo-bad-parental way, as metrics of what the judgers wish they'd been or done when they were young. I hate the idea that that woman might have been being judged by people who just didn't want to accept that they, too, are aging. Psh.

Anonymous said...

This matter is in they eye of the beholder. A false construction created by those who think or would like to think they have an edge.

I think most people are this way. Have you noticed that at the AHA people like looking at name tags, too.

BTW, great blog.