super hero closet

Presence Through Appearance

I‘m at the LAX airport waiting to board a plane to New York. I’m meeting my publisher, Hachette, to get feedback on the first few chapters of my upcoming book. As I’m waiting to board the plane and frequently checking the weather app on my phone for the storm that’s hitting New York; I crack open Marie Claire magazine and find a great article by psychologist, Samantha Boardman, who discusses the importance of appearance and the snap judgments people make when they first see you.

This is something I spend a lot of time on in the book, which includes a childhood memory that has had a major impact on me. Dr. Boardman is spot-on in her advice and assessment. Here’s a snippet from the article:

People make snap judgements about us based on our appearance, especially when it comes to what we are wearing. But what we wear has meaning beyond what others see; it also affects the way we perceive ourselves.

The symbolic power of clothing became crystal clear to me when I put on a white coat for the first time in medical school. Like magic, I became a doctor before my own eyes. I stood taller, held my head higher, and felt more confident. …I learned that dressing the part can help us rise to the occasion. In fact, there is scientific evidence suggesting that clothing can influence your posture, body language, motivation, and even mood. When you wear something that makes you feel great, the effects may be subtle—the way you tilt your head, your facial expressions—but they matter. …Whatever you do, choose clothes that bring out the best in you, that elevate you, and that make you feel strong and beautiful.

Yes! Presentation is powerful! Presentation is about the impression others have of you, but more importantly how you see and feel about yourself. It’s oftentimes important to dress the part before you feel you can act the part—just as Dr. Boardman needed to wear the white coat before she felt like a doctor. I have seen the same transformation happen in the gym.

Last summer I wrote about how Sadiqua Bynum styled her hair into a faux hawk and then into a fully-shaved mohawk to demonstrate the fierce and powerful woman she had become. Her senior year at our end-of-the-year banquet, Sadiqua shared how giving herself a fierce appearance, particularly the mohawk, impacted the way she felt about herself. Sound familiar?

There’s a great expression in fashion that urges the consumer to find the right appearance to become empowered, “Wear the clothes, don’t let the clothes wear you.” You hear actors all the time talk about how the character they’re portraying finally comes to life when they put on the costume. The same applies with our day-to-day attire.

If I want to relax at the end of the day? I put on my super comfortable pajama bottoms and a white men’s Hanes t-shirt. If I want to hit a home run in a meeting with the administration at work? I wear my sharpest outfit. If I were a gymnast—which I’m definitely not—and wanted to own the floor in the middle of UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion? I’d shave a mohawk and crush it. You have to be able to wear the mohawk and not let the mohawk wear you—something Sadiqua did fiercely and flawlessly.

In the next 48 hours I’ll be meeting with my book publisher, a concept designer for Cirque about one of my theatre projects, the President and CEO of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, the Global President of Pfizer Oncology, the CEO of J.P. Morgan Asset Management, the President of Women In Sports & Events (WISE) chapter in NY, and I’m speaking at American Ballet Theatre. I would love to have six costume changes, but will have to make do with two similarly-crafted power/casual outfits. Casual enough to invite conversation, but sharp enough to exude confidence. I’ll have to pay special attention to my make-up this time around because the rain and humidity are sure to add a Halloween-esque halo of frizz to my overall look. Not exactly the look I’m striving for. #Keep the Intention ~ Scrap the Ego.

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13 Comments on "Presence Through Appearance"

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This is so important. I also find there’s nothing like wearing workout clothes that are somewhat revealing like running shorts when I’m feeling flabby to motivate me to work out or take a walk or do something more healthy. My dad always told me if you aren’t taking care of yourself you aren’t at your best taking care of work or taking care of others and part of that is appearance.

This concept is something that my mom has instilled in me for many years and I feel that I have embraced it. I have two jobs and for both, I feel that I need to put on a professional air. I am quite young looking (last year I was mistaken for a high school student but was really a substitute teacher) so I make it a point to dress more professionally when I substitute teach. I do the same when I house manage at my local theater because I feel that dressing professionally makes me feel more confident and able… Read more »
Betsy B

Thanks Miss Val. For me, the ongoing work happens in learning how to embody the wearing and not being worn. Thank you for your thoughtful musings and all best for your upcoming book and other projects.

Sharon S

Love this! As I used to say when I was in the business world… “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have!” Have an amazing NYC trip!

anne josephson

Wow, I so relate to this…and you always look fierce because you are blessed with amazing genetics and you radiate something that makes everyone who encounters you want to be your friend and better version of themselves so they get to! Go get ’em girl! xoxo


Miss Val, first of all, have an AMAZING time in NY. I’m sure it’ll be a whirlwind, but I know you’re going to crush it! Secondly, I can’t WAIT to read this book of yours. You never cease to inspire. #bestseller

Amy Scherer

Love this Miss Val! Hope your trip goes smoothly and successfully!