I was in hospital the night news broke of Kevin’s de-throning. Thanks to Twitter I was privy to this info a good 20 minutes before it became breaking news all over our TV screens. I phoned my hubby to tell him. His response? “Al, they’re giving you way too many drugs in there – go to sleep. You’re dreaming”. 20 minutes later, he phoned to apologise as all hell broke loose and our televisions were bombarded with more politics than any of us ever thought we’d be able to stomach in a whole lifetime! Over the course of my hospital stay, I was force-fed more and more images of Julia and this is also where my Stylist’s radar became tuned in to the public image – one I’d previously tried to ignore.
The next day, as I was awaiting the arrival of an orderly to wheel me down for more tests, I received another phone call. This time NOT from an apologetic hubby but from the ABC asking for my opinion on Julia Gillard’s image in the media! It hadn’t even been formally announced that Julia was to be our next PM yet already the media were focusing on her choice of dress, hairstyle and makeup! I briefly shared with the producer some of my professional opinions on the topic. (Well, I do teach this to Corporates and individuals for a living so beware – it’s a topic I can wax-lyrical about for hours!) She quickly stopped me in my tracks and asked if I’d be willing to share my views on-air later that day. I happily agreed, but as hospital wards don’t march to the beat of Media deadlines sadly I was whisked away at the very time I was supposed to share my opinions on air. That, dear readers, is what you’re about to get right now! Aren’t you you lucky?!…
Well, Julia did indeed become our new PM…
And after a protracted and painful election vote-count, she hasn’t disappointed (me or any of us) with fodder for comment about her choice of dress, her voice, her communication skills, her taste – or lack thereof, depending on who you talk to and which side of the political fence you sit!
I have watched Julia over the years (which is often only just a little easier than listening to her, I’m afraid) and cringed at her choices of clothing, hair-style, makeup (or lack-thereof). But it’s the complete package that has really been the one thing that makes me “see and not hear” her. It’s not about male vs female (I often comment on many a male’s poor choices of clothing in the media). You see, with Julia, it’s after the first 3 seconds (which is as long as it takes to form a 1st impression) that it then becomes all about THE VOICE. That monotone drawl, that perfectly-scripted performance with matching over-exaggerated body-language/hand movements. Do I trust what she says, despite her recent image overhauls and fairly obvious media training? Not for one minute! I’m sure there are many experts on body language who may choose to differ, but really, I don’t care how “open” one’s hand gestures appear, or whether she’s wearing that one white jacket (for the 400th time) it’s THAT VOICE that negates any of her other attempts to convince her public of her trustworthiness and professionalism.
I earn a living speaking about and advising clients on the impact their image has in all aspects of daily life. But I also often go to great pains to assure people that while I am often employed to “audit” or pass judgment (as it might seem) on appearances, there are so many other facets of our image that are far more important in life than how we look. So today I’m going to use Julia as our guinea-pig if it were, to try to set the record straight on the importance of the “complete package” and how (whether we care to admit it or not) we all DO judge books by their covers BUT there’s a whole lot more to it – especially if you are in the public eye! Disclaimer: I’m sure Julia (the private person) is a lovely lady. I am in no way passing judgment on her the person. I am merely commenting on the public persona – the image she chooses to project to us, as a Public Figure. Because after all, that’s really all any of us have to go on, isn’t it? That’s what impressions management is all about really!
Let’s look at the VISUALS first. After all it’s what we ALL do – Stylist or not!
- The Hair: It’s not called our crowning glory for nothing you know! Why do you think cancer patients faced with the thought of losing their hair often struggle with this (until acceptance of the course of their treatment kicks in and ) often more than the fear of how those powerful drugs will in fact make them feel? Like it or not, male or female, hair is pretty important to us all! Think how much money we girls spend at the hairdresser over a lifetime? How much of a “good hair day” you have when you feel like your hair is behaving as you want it to? Julia’s hair is (this) stylist’s fodder! That way-too-fake shade of red and apparent inability to find a style she can consistently manage HERSELF regardless of whether she has a bevy of staff on hand to style it for her, or a boyfriend to give her a good blow…dry before she leaves for work in the morning. Don’t worry, I feel the same about Paris Hilton platinum Blonde and Goth Black. I’m not discriminating about red-heads at all. Just make whatever colour you choose to be “believable” and in a style you yourself have “down-pat”. And stay on top of re-growth, especially if you’re in the public eye and have a salary/staff/boyfriend/stylist on tap as Julia indeed does!
- The Makeup: This is another industry which isn’t short of a quid for obvious reasons either! How many of us have the courage to be seen without a skerrick of makeup – especially on camera for all the NATION to see? Some might argue that it shows she’s more interested in her job than how she looks (heaven knows the knife-in-chest slaying of K-rudd showed us all that!) BUT, I challenge any of us to have a professional photographer or film-crew come to our house to record what we have to say WITHOUT us first doing a quick check in the mirror and running a comb through our hair (male or female) or at least putting on a little lippy (hopefully only females!?). Go on…be honest!!
- The Clothes: Who will ever forget that trench coat/dress that masquerading as a tone-down version of Joseph’s techni-coloured dream-coat. I am sure it was made (ala Sound of Music) out of unwanted curtains from The Lodge. Or that white jacket with the split in the back and front, which successfully draws attention to the two focal points very few of us would like to draw attention to – bum AND belly. Or that black shirt teamed with the pinstriped man-style jacket which was buttoned-to-within-an-inch-of-it’s-life, as she addressed the media re the Qld Flood crisis? To be fair…perhaps she had toothpaste stains on her black shirt; And perhaps she simply forgot to bring her own jacket to the press-conference and that’s why she quickly grabbed a (male) colleague’s suit jacket and closed every button, all the way up to her mouth in order to cover said toothpaste and control the flow of the monotone drawl that was about be unleashed on us all, but…And this brings me to…
- The Voice: Admittedly, I don’t ever listen to this for very long as I fear it may cause tinnitus. And I know she’s probably had some media and image training to ensure she keeps her puppet-like hand movements in sync with the pre-scripted words that dribble, I mean, cascade robot-like out of her (lipsticked or not) mouth BUT…It really doesn’t matter what Julia says, I’ve usually already switched off. Each “speech” is virtually identical to the last. Each rebuttal to any clever investigative journo is the same as the last – never answered directly but always very controlled and skillfully dodged.
To quote Mama Mia’s recent post about a similar topic…
“I’ve slowly come to understand that the key to a successful public image (ie if you want people to listen to what you’re saying) is to make your appearance fade into the background. Don’t let it detract from your words. Ditch the tricky hair, the wacky tie, the try-hard clothes. Consistency is crucial.”
And yes, consistency with image is indeed crucial. But one can’t be so consistent that we don’t learn the art of the chameleon. We need to be able to read our audience and adapt our public image accordingly.
I preach the virtues of style vs fashion: Finding your own signature style, wearing classics, keeping it simple, being consistent, finding a style that we feel truly comfortable (read, confident) with. But all of that means being able to read our audience and giving consideration to the company we keep.
To appear truly stylish, one must pay attention to: Occasion, Location, Climate, Personality, Industry, Budget, Body Shape, Lifestyle, Hair, Makeup, Communication Skills, Etiquette…the list goes on.
I’m not so sure our Julia is devoting enough time to all or any of the above, just quietly. Politics is by nature, polarising. Some we will hate, regardless of how fabulously hard they work on their public image purely because we are either left or right or in general anti-politics. BUT there isn’t a public profile/media personality alive who can afford to not pay attention to some professional Image Guidance. I think we should start at the top and work our way down…thing is, there are many Media personalities who seem to “get it” far more than our Julia does!
What do you think?….