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Worried You Look Awful on Zoom?

Vivia Chen

April 27, 2020

People-3060107_1280Be honest now, how many of you have hit the “hide myself” button during a Zoom conference call because of the state of your hair?

Oh, I know this is an awfully trivial topic. But isn’t that exactly what we need at the moment?

Here’s what I’m hearing from the front lines: Lawyers are increasingly opting out of being seen. “It used to be maybe two or three lawyers out of 10 or 12 don’t show their faces,” says an Am Law 200 partner about some Zoom meetings. “Now, it’s more like seven.”

Some are being totally honest and admit that they’re too vain to be seen in their natural disheveled state. Others, however, are claiming that there’s a technological glitch with their computer—an explanation no one buys.

Hey, let’s not shame each other. It’s okay if you’re not ready for Prime Time. I did it the other day. I refused to be seen during the first 10 minutes of an office Zoom call because I was in the bathroom, desperately trying to fluff up my yucky, matted hair.

And while we’re being honest, let’s ask another pesky question: Are women more apt to dodge the screen? And what does this say about the different expectations we have of women and men in the workforce, even in the face of a pandemic?

“Yes it is true,” says a female lawyer who works in government about feeling self-conscious about her looks on Zoom calls. “I myself prefer to opt-out of being seen, but I’ve been called out for not being sufficiently visible and told to move to an area that allows more light to hit my face. Ugh!”

More often than not, hair is the issue. “Hair matters because it is a major physical trait for both sexes, but it matters more for women because men judge women based on their looks more; they just do,” says an Am Law 100 partner. She adds, “I still recall a senior female partner who was seriously marginalized behind her back because of how long she let her gray roots grow.”

Those standards might have been true in normal times, but is that still the case now?

Well, yes and no. Some women say they make a point of “looking professional” during calls—meaning they put on makeup and a nice top (though who knows how many are wearing pajama bottoms)—undoubtedly spending more time on grooming than male colleagues. “If I’m talking to a client or a judge, I put on lipstick, mascara and wear a suit,” says one female litigator. “With internal firm meetings, not so much.”

Others, however, are taking a hiatus from the usual rituals of female grooming. “I’ve temporarily liberated myself from the tyranny of appearance, which is currently easy to do, given how few non-family members I see, and given how much of my face is obscured by a mask when I am out in public,” says the government lawyer.

A few say they’re becoming radical: going gray: “If Keanu Reeves‘ girlfriend is completely gray, why shouldn’t I be too?” says a female partner. “It’s as good a time as any to go natural.” Another one says, “Frances McDormand is my new role model.”

What’s also making women more relaxed (or is it lax?) about their appearance is that their male colleagues aren’t looking so hot either. Several noted that a lot of men are growing beards—with mixed results.

“It’s not a good look,” says one senior in-house lawyer. “Cavemen were never attractive.” Moreover, she adds, now that her male colleagues can’t take male clients to all those professional sports events, they’re really letting themselves go. “They don’t look so great unshaven in their baseball caps and sweatshirts.”

Put another way: There’s no one to impress these days.

Contact Vivia Chen at vchen@alm.com. On Twitter: @lawcareerist

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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