A recent article (August 15th) on the front page of The Boston Globe, Dress More Provocatively, Newswomen Are Often Told , got me all fired up! This article by Beth Teitell seemed to be triggered by the sudden departure of Heather Unruh from WCVB-TV sometime last year. While never saying the actual reason for the departure, Heather said that “women are encouraged to dress more provocatively than I feel is appropriate for delivering the news.” Hmmm.
Supposedly management – in the industry as a whole – directs women to wear “smaller, tighter, shorter, more revealing clothes” One was told that her jacket was “too boxy”. (Well, yeah! Boxy jackets look pretty awful on most women anyway, TV will only magnify that.) Some broadcasters report having seen women crying in the makeup room because they felt pressure to dress a certain way. Puh-leez. Stop it. While I usually watch Channel 5, I have watched other stations in Boston as well as in New York, and have never seen attire that a grown woman should be crying about. Perhaps the tears were more about how the message to alter their style was delivered, in an insensitive way to cause hurt feelings. Using the words “smaller, tighter, more revealing” sounds more like an interpretation of words, rather the words that were likely used. A wardrobe consultant, who knows what works on TV, would also know the appropriate language: they would say form-fitting, cap sleeves, sleeveless, sheath dresses; they would say length one to two inches above knee…
Andrea Kremer, an award winning journalist, has had experiences for many years where her attire was often an unwelcome factor. She says “Until we have women in the position to hire, you will get men who want to hire women they couldn’t get dates with in high school.” NO. Smart women will make decisions based on what works for the business – and in the TV business it’s all about the RATINGS. Good looking women boost ratings.
Deborah Pine, the Executive Director at The Center for Women and Business at Bentley College says “the underlying message is telling women and young girls that appearance is more important than experience and skills or thought or voice.” Sorry ladies. In some industries appearance is more important! (Yeah, wish I was on the cover of Vogue…) In others it may be very important (sales rep), then in others, not as important (scientist, engineer, physician). Why not teach young girls the truth? Like it or not, how you look does matter in many circumstances. Being honest with young women can help them to make wise decisions, and it can also be empowering.
Before I started writing this post I wanted to further research the departure of Heather Unruh – I really liked her – found her to be very genuine. Alas! I found another article from the Boston Globe, this one by Mark Shanahan on August 2nd. Still no direct reason given for her sudden departure, but you can read between the lines. She preferred to wear blazers daily, did not like to have her arms bare, etc, etc…She thought blazers conveyed a more serious image. Well, I must agree with that. In my business, I will also wear a blazer, always my covered arms in a serious meeting. And I completely respect her if she left because she did not want to comply with the station dress code. BUT. I cannot find fault with a dress code if it supports the business. That’s the bottom line. With that said, certainly lines can be crossed where the sexiness is too much, becomes a distraction, and decreases the credibility of the newscaster. There are certainly those cases out there, but as far as the major stations I watch, the balance of serious and sexy seems just right.
Reporting live – Candy Costas – back to you!