Keeping Up Appearances

cre·a·tiv·i·ty [kree-ey-tiv-i-tee] noun

1. the state or quality of being creative.

2. the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.; originality, progressiveness, or imagination: the need for creativity in modern industry; creativity in the performing arts.

3. the process by which one utilizes creative ability: Extensive reading stimulated his creativity.

Something that I’ve found interesting about becoming my own boss is the expectations people have of you when you decide to take on that role. The sudden ‘professionalism’ that is assumed of you, and a certain aesthetic that fits with their preconceptions. I also find it interesting to see what happens when you decide to break these expectations.

I should probably explain that I have always been interested in body modification. I have had, and still have, piercings, have one tattoo and am saving for another. My interest is for a number of reasons, not least of which pertains to needing some control over my body. I’ve always had a difficult time with self-esteem and body confidence (as I’m sure pretty much every other woman, and probably man, has at some point in their lives) and was always pretty plain as a child, therefore, as soon as I was old enough, I used piercings to make myself a little bit more interesting, maybe to make people more likely to remember me, even if it was just for an unusual combination of titanium positioning on my body.

Up to this point I have had piercings in my ears, tragus, nape, nipple, lip and eyebrow at different times. Currently I only have the first 4.

During University none of this was a problem, in fact, it was pretty much the norm, particularly among others who shared my interests and views. Even in my middle class high school sixth form, where I think I was the only one with piercings, nobody really objected. I was old enough to decide for myself, and the school respected that. The only time I have run into issues with the way I look is in the world of employment.

I’m sure I’m not the only one that finds it odd that when you have reached what is pretty much the most mature, and lengthy, stage of your life, people suddenly find it acceptable to judge you on appearances alone. My first job interview post-university included the words ‘you’ll have to take out your piercings‘ very early on. This job was in a call centre with no face-to-face customer contact, and the reason given for this demand was that, in the event of management gracing us with their (his) presence, they (he) probably wouldn’t like it. I stayed there for 4 months and never once saw anyone from management. I ended up losing one of my lip piercings because of this job – all the taking out and putting back in meant that replacing lost balls was becoming expensive.

My second job was as a web developer within a internet marketing agency. A creative job in a creative industry with, sadly, a distinctly uncreative boss. The company was small and practically everyone there was under 30, aside from the boss (who owned the company with his (soon-to-be-ex) wife). I decided to turn up to my interview smartly dressed but with piercings in tact and was offered the job there and then. A victory, I thought – somewhere that recognises creativity and self-expression. I was wrong. The piercings weren’t an issue here – clothing was. Wearing a suit in the height of summer in a room filled with heat-expelling computers was not a pleasant experience, but one that I could just about deal with. The problem here was, the excuse given was that we were working with a lot of small business owners who would prefer us to look ‘professional’. Fair enough – only they all turned up to meetings wearing jeans and a t-shirt :-/

The actual reason was that our boss previously owned a loans company, and was not a creatively minded man. He was also a very sexist man who disapproved of females working anywhere near technology (his wife gave me the job), immediately assumed I was crap at what I did, and didn’t speak to me for 8 of the 15 months I worked there – until he realised that I was pretty much doing all of the work he thought others were myself, at which point I had handed in my notice. He also had blazing rows with his wife whilst going through their divorce in the middle of an open-plan office when client meetings were going on. Who was the unprofessional one here?

I can see the reasoning behind dictating appearance for people who are employees. You are technically representing something that is larger than yourself whilst you are at work, and I suppose that the company (or delegated representatives of it) want you to represent it in a particular way. Although I don’t see why this means that you can not also represent yourself as in individual at the same time.

Once I started out on my own, I thought that this would be my chance to express myself exactly as I wanted, as well as proving that I was good at what I did, and I would not need to justify how I looked. This was going well up until a week or so ago.

A client who I do a lot of work for wanted to appear to be a bigger organisation than just himself. He wanted to do this by adding a ‘team’ page onto his site which would include me, a guy who does his videos, and his secretary. This was fine by me, and I dutifully added descriptions and pictures. Not being some one who enjoys having my photo taken I added a photo I was already happy with, which was taken when I had red hair and still one lip piercing (this has since been taken out due to dental issues). I was wearing a shirt and looked relatively ‘professional’ in my opinion.

I get a call from the client the day after adding the page to ask whether I would like my picture taken ‘professionally’ for free for the site instead. When I indicated that I didn’t really, and asked why, he said that older clients may view it as a bit unprofessional. I explained that generally, when I have my photo taken properly I tend to look like a 15 year old having her school photo taken, and that this was not really the ‘professional’ look I was going for. Even so, I ended up having the photo taken. It did not come out well, but apparently that’s OK because my hair is no longer red, and my face no longer has metal in it.

You’ll notice that I use the word ‘professional’ in inverted commas, as I’m still not entirely sure what it means. I would say I am ‘professional’ – I am adept at conversation, I am able to present an argument or idea in an organised way, I produce work which meets pre-defined specifications and I accept that there needs to be room for compromise and adjustments in any working relationship. However, because I chose to dye my hair and pierce my skin, I am unprofessional in the eyes of (some) others.

At the beginning of this post, I quoted a definition of creativity. I would like reiterate the section stating  that it is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.” The way I see it is that, being a freelance web designer and developer, people employ me to be creative. They have a requirement within their business for some one who will ‘transcend traditional ideas, rules and patterns’ in order to produce something that will help their business and that they are unable to produce themselves (otherwise, why would they be hiring some one else). I’m not saying that people who hire others to create a web presence are not creative – they may simply lack the particular skills involved in converting their ideas into code, they may be creative with words, but not so much with imaging or a whole host of other things including just simply not having the time.

That being said, the majority of clients I find myself working for are business-minded people. They want me to be creative for them because they cannot. They do their job well and they expect me to do mine. That’s completely fine by me. However, how can they expect some one to create something which embodies the qualities that they lack, whilst conforming to the qualities they don’t.

As an adult, I am aware of when certain clothing is appropriate or not. I understand when a degree of ‘professionalism’ is required that may not be conveyed by jeans and a t-shirt. However, I also understand that creativity does not stem from being defined. In order to create something impressive – something different – you need to take a step back from keeping up appearances and be comfortable with who you are and what you’re doing, and only be judged on the work you produce – surely this is the only thing that needs to meet some one else’s requirements.


Disagree? Tell me why.

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