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Karen Salmansohn

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The Power of Cleavage

Posted: 10/29/07 02:45 PM ET

I was asked to come on The Today Show to talk about "cleavage in the workplace" -- the basic rules and regulations for bringing a loaded cleavage into the office. I found this topic to be so rife with conflicting opinions, I wanted to bring it to this blog forum, as well.

First, let me state up front that I think it's an evolutionary step forward for all of womankind that we business women can now dress at least somewhat femininely at the office. As recently as a mere decade ago, a woman used to feel that to succeed in business she had to imitate men - and even more foolishly imitate stupid, obnoxious men - and even more foolishly, a woman even thought she had to dress like a man to succeed.

Personally, I've never believed a woman has to make a choice:

1. feminine

2. successful

Pick only one of the above.

I've always been a believer that a woman should be her full feminine self at the office. I'm into what I call "feminine-ism" - which unlike some of the hardcore "feminism" I knew growing up- "feminine- ism is about being feminine and powerful both - in one tasty spoonful.

But -- with that said -- I also think there's a definite moderation point with cleavage -- a balance between dressing-like-a-man-in-drag and dressing like a stripper! A business woman must keep in mind that too much exposed boobage can swing back around and kick her in the butt.

Basically, at a certain point exposed cleavage stops making a woman more appealing and persuasive - and starts detracting and distracting from her professionalism.

Of course there's more freedom of cleavage expression depending upon the business you are in. Creative fields - like advertising, fashion, pr - tend to be more liberal in their views of cleavage - and how much cleavage should be liberally viewed. Law firms, poltical fields, and financial offices are more conservative.

The general rule across the board: Dress for the people who pay you! Humans are attracted to familiars -- people who remind them of themselves. There's even a word for this psychological tendency: mimesis. So, mirror your employer's dress-code needs -- while still having a dash of your own self-expression.

Emphasis on dash - not FLASH! You can't be flashing those boobs all over the place if you want to be taken seriously.

And let's be honest here! Chances are you know in your heart - right beneath that cleavage - if you're overexposing yourself.

It's like pornography versus art. You know the difference when you see it. Well, if you're honest with yourself, you know the difference between pornographic cleavage at the office - and artistic cleavage at the office.

If you don't feel you do, then keep the following in mind: "the medium cleavage is the best message." And this is actually scientifically researched - at the University of Central Florida - where researchers put together a study to discover the affect of a woman's cleavage on people.

They videotaped the same actress giving the same speech - each time with a different breast size and cleavage exposure... ranging from A to D. Participants then viewed one of the A, B, C or D cup- sized videos and rated the actress on her professionalism. The majority of males perceived the actress to be most professional when she had a medium cup breast size -- whereas females were generally not influenced by the actress' breast size at all.

Another interesting highlight from this Central Florida study -- the actress herself had different reactions to her own blossoming bosom. As her cup-size began to runneth over, the actress felt more self- conscious about her breasts - and thereby more worried about her performance.

So if you're a woman who's showing too much cleavage, you might not only be creating a dizzying affect on the people around you, but on yourself - because you might make yourself extra self-conscious.

Ok... So what is the lesson to be learned?

I think flaunting too much cleavage at the office can often be about over-compensating - trying to make up for some needed self-confidence in other aspects of insecurity in professional life. Basically, many women who expose their cleavage are trying to accentuate their positives -- in hopes of distracting from their negatives.

THE BIG IRONY: If you look like you're trying too hard -- you will be perceived as less confident and thereby be taken less seriously and be less liked.

However -- if dressing a bit on the sexy side is your natural personality -- your authentic self - you probably will be able to get away with showing a little skin -- because people will sense you feel comfortable in your skin.

Oh...and one last point. The Today Show did their own man and woman on the street reconnaissance interviews on this subject, and majority of the women expressed anger at other women who show cleavage at the office.

I thought this was interesting -- and in thinking about it, I understand that reaction a bit. I think we business women feel stressed out as it is, trying to make it in what for the most part is still a man's business world. And I think the business environment gets even more stressful for a woman, when she worries the office reward system includes a beauty pageant bikini contest.

The world of business should be about rewarding a women fairly for talent, productivity and discipline - not by how she looks in a sweater.

The good news: In today's post-Sex In The City World, we women can dress more casually and femininely at the office -- instead of like men-in-drag. The bad news -- some women are out there abusing their cleavage power in hopes of influencing key men with decision making power.

So... if you're a business woman reading this blog -- remember -- cleavage IS power - and you must be aware of using your cleavage power responsibly!

Like I stated up front, this is a controversial but interesting topic. I look forward to reading your comments below!


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