Monday, 13 April 2015

Cleavage and Credibility

I find myself exercised by the topic of bosoms this month.

On 18th March the Right Honourable George Osborne MP, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, stood up in the House of Commons to give his final, valedictory budget speech before the United Kingdom goes to the polls to vote in early May. This event is a very important date in the calendar for politicians of all political persuasion and Osborne was on his feet for more than an hour. During that time, his speech was streamed live on the internet and across TV and radio news channels. Sat behind him, and clearly in view throughout the whole session, was the most powerful female politician in the UK – the Home Secretary, the Right Honourable Theresa May, MP. May is responsible for keeping our country safe and secure, so to say that she has a very important job would be something of an understatement.

Back to Osborne’s speech. So, as the cameras rolled and the policies and political rhetoric unfolded, what exercised most comment? Well, apart from Osborne’s choice of suit (that’s for another newsletter), it was what Theresa May was wearing (or rather what she wasn’t wearing), that attracted the most attention. Her neckline prompted debate far and wide because what was on show was her cleavage. Endless amusing, irritating and on occasion downright offensive commentary was made about a woman who holds a serious position of authority, responsibility and stature. All because we could see some of her ‘girls’. See the review here.

In Australia, Channel Ten host Natarsha Belling became an unsuspecting internet sensation after her ‘phallic shaped’ neckline caused a social media storm. Of course she didn’t mean to do it. The image attracted more than 110,000 ‘likes’ and was shared more than 7,000 times. The point about this was summed up perfectly by the line from one wag “once you’ve seen it; you can’t un-see it”. Here’s just one article.

As professionals and as leaders, our visual signature matters - whether we like it or not. Whenever we look at others, the eye is searching for contrast; for difference; we are ‘drawn’ to a focal point and we will always look at skin. I think Belling literally didn’t ‘see’ the visual she had created through high contrast. Unfortunately 110,000 other people, who could be bothered to re–tweet it, could. As for May, the focal point she chose was so at odds with the occasion, the mood and the relevance to her role. Cleavage conveys vulnerability, femininity, softness, allure, sexiness. All of which is fantastic – just not for business (unless your business is the oldest one in the world).

When you get your choice of clothing right, we notice you. When you get it wrong, we notice what you’re wearing.