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Hey there brilliant professional women, I’ve got a bone to pick with you.
In these days of webinars, online courses, and e-books, it's more important than ever to have visuals to support your message. Not only should a presentation, blog, or site have great graphics, but there needs to be a face to go with those brilliant, innovative thoughts. And this, my fellow women, is where I am quite frustrated and disappointed with you.
At my day job, I often promote events featuring field experts. In preparation, I contact the speakers or their assistants and ask for a bio and headshot. The male speakers will quickly provide a paragraph or two of their experience and a clear, high-resolution professional headshot taken in the past year or two. The man is usually dressed in a dark suit and seated in front of a background of books, flags, or a marbled gray canvas.
And the women? While they will provide their impressive bio, more often than not my multiple requests for a headshot are ignored. Or worse, some of these women with multiple degrees, published works, and impressive titles write back to me, a complete stranger, and joke about how they’re too ugly/fat/old for a headshot. When I do actually receive an image, it's often very low resolution, obviously years old, or from their personal Facebook account. I don't want to discuss how many times a female speaker has asked me to use her company logo instead of a headshot.
Are you KIDDING ME? You went to school for all those years, are an expert in your field, manage dozens of individuals and important projects, invent life-changing technology or help create life-changing policy and you don’t want proper recognition because you don’t think you’re attractive enough? I receive headshots of fat men, old men, scarred men, and plenty of men who are not conventionally attractive. But all of their headshots are amazing because they dress for the situation and pose for the camera oozing confidence and pride in their work. They take those head shots not because they’re vain and love the camera, but because they understand it’s part of the job and necessary to promote their work.
Take a lesson from these brilliant professional women. Whether you're in public health (America Bracho), biology (Maydianne Andrade), investments (Diane Greene), economics (Alice Rivlin), astrophysics (Jocelyn Bell Burnell), medicine (Nancy Dickey), history (Annette Gordon-Reed), anthropology (Johnnetta Cole), or another industry, it's important have a professional headshot to connect to your work.
How DARE you sacrifice all your hard work and purpose on this planet for a zit, double chin, or crow’s feet! How DARE you tell the world your vanity trumps your intelligence! You’ve worked damn hard to get where you are, you should stand proud, not hide behind a company logo or an unprofessional blurry photo from your sister’s wedding or your summer beach vacation. I don't care if you see clothing as just a way to stay warm and not arrested for indecent exposure and fashion to be frivolous. I completely respect your opinion. But when you hide from the world while your male counterparts are proudly visible, I can’t abide. You’re doing no favors to yourself, your company, or your fellow woman.
Having your photo taken by a professional is important, even though everyone these days owns a DSLR and a copy of Photoshop. This image will be used and reused quite often, will come up in Google searches, and often enlarged. It's important to have an image that is clear, high resolution, and well-lit as well as professional in style and environment. Do an Internet search for professional portrait photographers or ask for recommendations from your peers. Investing in a quality headshot is not an act in vanity but a way to properly and professionally represent yourself and your work.
How to Get a Professional Headshot You Won’t Hate
Dress the Part. Consider your field of expertise when choosing your outfit. For most professions, a well-fitting suit jacket in a subdued color and a blouse with a conservative neckline in a favorite color is appropriate. If you’re in the creative field, you may wish to dress with more color and style; if you’re in a social field a blouse or dress may provide a more friendly and approachable vibe. No matter your profession, this is not the time for low necklines or sleeveless tops.
Solids are better than prints; they photograph better and date better (though you should be updating your headshot on a regular basis!). While black may seem slimming it’s often too harsh for photos; consider a dark gray or navy blazer with a blouse in a lighter color. If you’re wearing a dress or just a blouse consider a jewel tone like teal or deep purple which is flattering on most any skintone and against most any background.
Keep accessories simple; if you wear a necklace your earrings should be small or choose not to wear any at all. This is not the time for bold statement necklaces, colorful scarves, or dangly earrings; you are selling your expertise, not your personal style.
Be You Only Better. Normally a tinted moisturizer and lip balm sort of gal? You may wish to step up your game with a touch of concealer and mascara because flash photography can wash out a complexion. There’s nothing wrong with visiting a makeup counter to get an up-to-date tutorial on natural looking makeup (I highly recommend Bobbi Brown counters for their broad range of foundation colors and ability to give a truly natural yet polished look). However, if you’re one who is usually fresh faced your headshot is not the time for lipstick and false lashes; it’s better to stick to blotting papers and Chapstick than look like a stranger.
As for hair, this is NOT the time to pull your hair back into a topknot or tight bun. Hair should be clean but will have fewer flyaways if it isn’t washed same day. If your hair is pulled back it should be soft and natural, not slicked and severe. If you color your hair, have a current root touch-up. Bring a comb and any other styling tools and products with you in case your hair gets mussed on the way or when changing outfits.
Glasses can be worn in a headshot if you wear them on a daily basis; a quality photographer will know how to angle the lights and her camera to prevent glare. Just be sure they are very clean and bring cleanser and a soft cloth to wipe away any smudges during the shoot.
Speak Your Mind. Let the photographer know what the photos are for. S/he will pose and photograph you differently if it’s for a book jacket versus a convention program versus an acting headshot versus a dating site. Explain your field of work; a senator should be posed differently from a social worker who should be posed differently from a fiction book author.
Feel free to bring examples; print out headshots of fellow women that appeal to you (and be sure they appeal to you because of pose, smile, position, and lighting not fashion and beauty). Again, consider your position and the culture of your field; if a man in your profession wouldn’t pose leaned against a wall or sitting on a floor photographed from above you shouldn’t either. However there’s nothing wrong with angling your body (sit perpendicular to the camera then turn your face to the photographer) or your head (a slight tilt can be flattering without looking twee) to get the most flattering angle.
Be Proud. You’re being photographed because you are a talented person. You’ve worked hard, and now others want to recognize your hard work. Imagine a thread going from your tailbone up your spine through the top of your head holding you upright and tall. Shoulders back, then down so you don’t look hunched. Smile, while thinking about your awesome accomplishments so your expression is genuine. You deserve this moment, and you deserve to be seen and recognized!