The amount of times I have heard this sentence is probably beyond imaginable. In fact, I hate even thinking about how many times I have been told this. Especially the times it was meant as a compliment.
It is a vivid reminder of how we associate certain jobs, paths, and even likings to certain looks. However, saying this out loud or well, writing it down already sounds outstandingly absurd. Why do we think that certain ways people look defines their jobs?
Social science research shows that a person’s physical appearance has a meaningful impact on their life experiences and opportunities. This of course applies to jobs and interviews too. And in fact, it even applies in a way that might be unthought of for some.
I have 2 tattoos, love pink things, and wear heels as often as I can. And yes, I am also a woman. This means, that due to all the aforementioned, I do not fit society's idea of what an engineer looks like. Simply due to the fact, that we don't have enough people like me in my field.
Women are still not often taught of as STEM field players. Therefore, people are quite surprised, and shocked to learn that I do in fact am in STEM. And they think, that pointing out the obvious, can be turned into a compliment.
I vividly recall asking a recruiter one day, when having a day-to-day conversation about how I wish to have a few tattoos, would affect my chances in STEM. She told me not to get any, as that would make me seem "not serious enough".
Flash news. It has in no way negatively impacted me so far, and no normal workplace should ever make anyone feel otherwise. If your job cares about your looks before your knowledge and skills, that is not the right workplace for you or anyone.
And to anyone wondering. Trying to turn this into a compliment is in no way a compliment. I am aware that I stick out at school, work, conferences, and so on. I do not live in a fairytale, that I would sit here and write, that in my everyday life I look like those around me. Yet, it is a huge discouragement, to be so often reminded. That no matter what I do, I can not go a day without sticking out.
Because trust me, some days I wish I could go without the questions of: "How did you end up in this career?", "How come you like STEM as a female?", "I have worked with another female before, but why are there so few of you?"
However, the main issue with this comment is the way it can negatively affect future generations. No little kid should ever hear anyone say, that a female just doesn't fit a given field due to their looks. I may be aware of the reality, of STEM, however, I look like an engineer. As jobs should not be associated with looks, behavior, or any of those.
Engineers can look like anyone. They can have long hair, short hair, pink hair, grey hair. They can have tattoos or piercings. They can be young, old, male or female. They can wear bikinis and feel good about their own looks.
I often get told: "You don't look like an Engineer". I like to reply: "Well, I am not one yet!"