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The Importance of Being Heard ~ My Story

October 19, 2016

By ALI CUDBY

woman being followed on lingerie Briefs

In last month’s She Buzz column  I wrote about body image as an important part of empowering women.

I saw a photo of myself on a family vacation when I was 13 years old. At a point when I was trying to figure out how I felt about my curvy body.

It must have been prophetic, choosing to write about that moment in my life.

A few days after that photo was taken, I experienced something that colored my perspective as a maturing young woman – and it’s not a story I ever expected to share.

My family visited Paris, and I fell in love with the city. The fashion! The food! The architecture! I took it all in with unabashed wonder. I couldn’t wait to see the Eifel Tower. We went up the Tower, and the views were breathtaking. I wandered away from my parents to check out a different perspective on the city skyline.

Slowly, I sensed someone standing behind me. A man wearing a trench coat and a Tyrolean hat.

I can still picture that hat.

At first, I thought he was simply being inconsiderate of my personal space. It soon became obvious it wasn’t so innocent. He pinned me and touched my body in places my 13-year old self couldn’t understand. He pulled me and tried to force me onto the elevator with him.

It all happened quickly and, fortunately, I was able to wrench myself away and get back to my family. I tried to explain what happened to my parents – I couldn’t bring myself to say all the words, but it was clear something was wrong. I remember clinging to my Dad’s hand.

When we got to the bottom of the Eiffel Tower, the man was waiting.

Staring at me.

He followed us through the streets of Paris. It seemed like forever – but eventually he melted away into the crowds. For the rest of the day and night, I looked over my shoulder. I was terrified.

And yet, in the aftermath, the episode was quickly dismissed. I wasn’t hurt. The moment was over. To preserve the vacation, I moved on and pretended it wasn’t a big deal.

It was a big deal.

I had felt helpless. I couldn’t figure out how to talk about what happened in a way that stated the facts without “being melodramatic.”

Decades later, when I think back to that day, my heart still races.

Yes, it could it have been worse. And it doesn’t compare to what other women have experienced. But that’s not the point.

Just because it could have been worse didn’t mean it hadn’t been real.

I was shocked.

I was embarrassed.

I was ashamed.

I was afraid.

I wasn’t sure anyone would believe me.

Even if they did, I didn’t want to relive it.

And it could have been worse.

Mostly, I just wanted it to go away.

All those thoughts stem from a culture that lets women know – implicitly and explicitly – that speaking up is more likely to go badly for the victim than the aggressor.

For women to be empowered, society must stop diminishing and invalidating assault. It happens far, far too often. To women of every age, race, size and appearance.

Girls and women deserve to be safe. And when they aren’t safe, they deserve to be heard.

Anything less creates an environment where women are inherently inferior – and that’s the opposite of empowered.

 

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You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby

September 21, 2016

By ALI CUDBY

ali

Wow.

I looked at the blurry, faded Polaroid again, and that’s all I could think…

Wow.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you realize your memories were just plain wrong? Opening a box last weekend, I had one of those moment. Inside the box was a photo of me – 13 years old, on a summer vacation with my family.

I remember that trip vividly. I even remember that crazy outfit.

I remember being that kid.

But in my memory, I was overweight. Constantly encouraged to diet.

When I think back to that summer, I remember the negative messages I got about my curves.

Back then, curves weren’t the fashion. Thin was in and everything else was out.

via Huffington Post 2015 Stop The Body Shaming Article on Lingerie BriefsHuffington Post 2015 Stop The Body Shaming Article

Fortunately, today’s media messages are shifting. There’s a much wider range of shapes that are being seen as beautiful in the mainstream media. And those messages trickle down to girls everywhere.

From Jennifer Lopez to Nicki Minaj to Ashley Graham – curves are being accepted and even adored in mainstream media. The MTV Awards Red Carpet showcased women flaunting their curves right along with the size zeros that usually get the accolades.

Today, girls with and without curves have role models in celebrity culture to emulate. There’s no longer a single fashionable body type – the spectrum represented in the media is more inclusive.

In Pitch Perfect (one of my all-time favorite guilty pleasure movies) both Anna Kendrick and Rebel Wilson are positively portrayed as confident, sexual women.

Now, before you start with angry comments, let me be clear – in NO WAY am I suggesting that the body images war is won. Even in the Pitch Perfect example, Fat Amy’s sexuality has to be portrayed as comedic to be believable. I get it. Women are not being fairly or evenly represented in the media. There are still plenty of issues at every part of the spectrum.

AND there’s progress.

Having some “junk in the trunk” is no longer an insult.

In fact, some suggest that in the modern era of post-2008 financial crisis that women are gaining more confidence along with their financial independence. They are no longer willing to quietly stand by and be objectified.

via Lane Bryant 2015 #PlusIsEqual CampaignLane Bryant 2015 #PlusIsEqual Campaign

This Huffington Post article even goes so far as to suggest that there is no longer a single ideal body image that women are expected to attain, saying, “As women approach equal financial footing and refuse to be objectified, their body image becomes less significant and, subsequently, less defined.

Is that true?

Man, I hope so.

For the sake of every girl who snapped a photo on a family vacation this past summer.

 

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She Did What?!? Olympic Madness

August 24, 2016

By ALI CUDBY

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Swimming!

Gymnastics!!

Track & Field!!!

In the past few weeks, everyone has had Olympic Fever.

The Olympics always makes some amazing television…young people in the prime of their lives, at the peak of their performance, battling it out in epic dramas featuring clear winners and losers – with a dash of nationalistic fervor for flavor.

Like many folks, I found myself getting excited about sports I barely knew existed. (Coming up next, competitive trampoline? Sign me up!)

And I do love the Olympics – BUT – I definitely didn’t love some of the media’s gender bias that came out of Rio over the past few weeks. In case you missed it, here are a few lowlights:

A man awarded the gold in a women’s swimming event

After Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu’s glorious win in the 400-meter individual medley, the camera panned to her husband/coach. NBC’s Dan Hicks commented, “And there’s the man responsible.”

Well, no, Dan…that’s not how it works. See, the person in the pool – the person who had the talent and endured the grueling training and prevailed in the actual event? That woman, swimming in the women’s event? THAT’s the person who’s “responsible” for the Olympic medal. Yes, the coach has an important role. A critical role, even. Maybe Hosszu wouldn’t have made it to the Olympics without the guidance and support of her coach.

On the big day, in the pool, going up against the best in world, it’s all up to the athlete. It was simply insulting to say the coach was “responsible” for the victory.

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Bronze medal winner defined by hubby’s job

Then there was the very unfortunate tweet by The Chicago Tribune after Corey Cogdell-Unrein won the bronze for trap shooting. The Tribune framed her achievement – and, in fact, her existence – by the role of “wife” and her husband’s high-profile job rather than focus on her amazing accomplishment.

Some in the Twitterverse have played defense, suggesting that Tribune readers would care more about a local story given the connection to the almighty Chicago Bears. Maybe that’s true – but don’t define Cogdell by her husband in her well-earned moment of glory.

olympics

When does a silver beat gold?

There were other, similar stories from this summer’s Olympic games in Rio. The bold headline from the Associated Press proclaiming Michael Phelps’ silver medal in the 100m butterfly over a smaller subhead, sharing the news of Katie Ledecky’s world record-crushing gold medal win in the 800m freestyle.
Maybe the AP couldn’t find any other Michael Phelps related stories to cover in Rio?? (Yes, that was a joke.)

These stories are not a cluster of isolated events. They’re part of a bigger, systemic picture of how women are covered in athletics. A recent UK study found that “men are three times more likely than women to be mentioned in a sporting context [ie ‘strong, big, real, great or fastest’] while women are disproportionately described in relation to their marital status, age or appearance [ie ‘aged, pregnant, or unmarried.’]”

The study specifically revealed that “language around women in sport focuses disproportionately on the appearance, clothes and personal lives of women, highlighting a greater emphasis on aesthetics over athletics.”

Why does the language bias matter?

How women see themselves is filtered through the lens of the media. Good or bad, we’re all shaped by the messages we get from our screens. So when those messages are systematically skewed in a particular direction, we can’t help it having some impact on how we see ourselves.

When women are shown as extensions of men, secondary to them, or defined by anything other than their achievements in their sports – that’s a problem.

Understanding that this is happening in 2016 gives us a chance to shine a light on it. It means we can be more aware when women come into our businesses. In the fitting room, when we listen to women’s self-talk, we can help subtly shift those messages. By highlighting the absurdity of the examples coming out of Rio, we can take steps toward reframing the conversation.

Because, let’s face it…Michael Phelps winning silver in the 100-fly is awesome. But Katie Ledecky obliterating the world record and winning her race by eleven mind-melting seconds? That’s badass.

Ledecky – and all those women – deserve their own headlines.

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Daring Greatly with Brené Brown

July 20, 2016

By ALI CUDBY

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown on Lingerie Briefs

A couple weeks ago I might have binge watched Catastrophe, the very fun, quirky English sitcom.

Sorry, not sorry.

So last week, when I found myself pointing the remote blankly at the screen, I decided I needed to ease up on the TV junk food and feed my brain some protein.

I turned on the Ted Talk channel and watched the amazing offering by Brené Brown on Listening To Shame.

In this talk (which I HIGHLY recommend – way more than Catastrophe) Brown makes an observation that goes directly to the experience of every woman in the lingerie fitting room.

Namely, she talks about the difference between guilt and shame. According to Brown, guilt is the belief that “I did something bad,” while shame says “I am bad.”
Guilt is an error – I made a mistake.

Shame is the internalized feeling that when something goes off the rails, it’s because of who you are, instead of what you did. I am a mistake. Shame “drives two big tapes. Not being good enough, and if you can talk yourself out of that one, ‘who do you think you are?’”

We know that the fitting room is a place of extreme vulnerability for any person who wears a bra – woman or man, young or old, straight or gay, thin or curvy.

Too often, when people walk into the fitting room, they internalize messages about their bras, their breasts and their body and drive the express bus past vulnerability and straight to shame.

According to Brown, shame withers in the face of empathy, and empathy is best expressed by the words, “me, too.”

Getting real with “me too” means sharing some part of your vulnerability story with every customer. It’s a lot of work. It’s exhausting and hard and requires Herculean levels of consistently managing your people.

You may not successfully help every customer beat back the shame gremlins every time – but you can dare greatly.

 

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Lingerie Retailers ~ Own Your Power

June 20, 2016

By ALI CUDBY

Own Your Power

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“Own Your Power” — that was the title of the conference I attended last week in Washington DC.

The line-up of speakers was tremendous – from Congresswomen and Commissioners to CEOs and leaders in both the public and private sectors. All of them women.

While the panels covered a wide range of industries and topics, the message was remarkably consistent.

Be clear about what you love to do, and do it.

In business, most of the time we focus on the second half of the statement – the doing. We choose inventory, hire employees, create marketing campaigns and merchandise. The grind of doing is a hungry beast that chews away our time without allowing a lot of room for stepping back and thinking, let along taking the time to strategize.

And yet…

The clearer you are about your business, the easier it is to grow and flourish.

Women need lingerie, sure. But why do they need it from YOU? What makes your business the place they will flock to? After you make the first sale to a new customer, how can you get them to come back for more? Finally, how do you reach the pinnacle…turning customers into such huge, loyal, raving fans of your business that they come to you for what they WANT, not just what they need?

In other words, how do you create that all-important connection with your customers?

The answer is simple, but not easy.

It all comes back to clarity. The better you define your business, the easier everything becomes.

Imagine the difference between buying for:

“a lingerie store” vs.

“a lingerie store that specializes in luxury European lingerie for the D-G woman” vs.

“a lingerie store that specializes in luxury European lingerie for the fashion-savvy, fit-forward D-G woman.”

With each statement, you get a clearer view of exactly which brands you’d consider. Now, imagine your customer. Sure, there may be more folks who can buy at “a lingerie store” but imagine how much more clearly customers who buy in “a lingerie store that specializes in luxury European lingerie for the fashion-savvy, fit-forward D-G woman” will feel at home. It’s much easier to see how you’d convert those women into loyal, raving fans who buy again and again.

And when women find that place, they do “own their power.” Part of empowerment comes from a foundation of how a woman feels about herself.

When your business helps women own their power, you become part of her foundation – and that’s good for your customers and good for business.

Do you have a clear view of the exact promise your business provides? Get more steps to clarity by downloading the free eBook White Hot Loyalty by going to www.whitehotloyalty.com

 

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Empowerment Begins With You

May 30, 2016

By ALI CUDBY

Women-Empowerment on Lingerie Briefs

The work to empower women comes in many forms, especially in the world of lingerie. For retailers, manufacturers, and everyone else, your success ultimately boils down to one thing.

You are only as good as your team.

And yet the nature of lingerie is that employees can be transient. Sometimes employees come on board and can’t handle the intimacy of lingerie – particularly in a retail store. They come into a business, are confronted by all the emotions that women have in the fitting room, and they bail out. Some, on the other hand, start working in lingerie, thrive on the opportunity to help women step into their best selves.

Sometimes even these successful retail employees don’t stay – for all the right reasons.

Helping your employees find their best selves in a retail store is a powerful way to view the transitions that some retailers see as a plague of the business.

Kiersten Ballman, owner of Coup de Foudre in Washington DC recently shared the story how she sees her role as manager of people in her lingerie boutique.

Coup De Foudre Lingerie in Washington DC on Lingerie Briefs

Laura* had moved to America from France and needed a job. She knew nothing about lingerie and had little experience with retail. She quickly fell in love with the opportunity to serve women in the fitting room. She loved both the intimacy of fitting and the quest to help each woman discover her value in Coup de Foudre’s fine selection of luxury European brands.

Over time, Laura grew as an employee and got more involved in ordering and even managing the shop solo in the mornings. A busy Saturday was no longer cause for being frazzled, because she was tuned into the customers and solid in her foundation as a fitter. Tasks that had seemed nerve-wracking at the beginning, like fitting and up-selling, became second-nature.

Ultimately, the day came when Laura received an offer to transition from her retail post to a corporate job.

While some retailers might see this as a frustration or even a betrayal, from Ballman’s perspective, it was an important step in Laura’s journey.

“Sometimes it feels like pushing the baby bird out of the nest – because they’re ready,” she shared.

Not all employees are destined to stay in retail for the long-haul. Some, maybe many of them, take a retail position as a means of transition.

Ballman says, “This job gives employees the self-esteem and confidence they need. Being with customers and getting positive feedback from them empowers THEM to go out and get the next thing.”

In the same way that retailers strive to help customers shift into a better view of themselves, they do the same with employees. Shifting how you think about the transition of your employees can make a big difference in your engagement with your team, which melts into your team’s engagement with their customers.

Laura keeps in touch with her Coup de Foudre teammates, and refers colleagues from her new job to the store. She understands exactly how empowering an experience in the store can be, because she experienced that for herself.

How a leader manages her employees can be as powerful a platform for transformation as any moment in the fitting room.

How are you managing the transitions of your employees?

*Name changed

 

 

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she buzz

 

 
SHE BUZZ is the place to go to tune into the world of women. From news stories and trends to the issues women uniquely face in the world by virtue of being women. It may be fun and festive, or sad and serious. This column will be guided by current events and personal opinion – all on the topic of women’s experiences.
 
The lingerie industry is about more than fittings and finery. It’s about connecting to women and creating an environment that’s supportive – both physically and emotionally.
 
Ali Cudby will bring you a range of topics as diverse as women themselves.
 

 
 

ALI CUDBY teaches a proven method to transform the customer culture for businesses that sell to women. With Ali, businesses lay a strong foundation for building the deep relationships customers crave as the antidote to isolation in the modern economy.
 
The result? Customers are inspired to buy more often and refer like crazy, while businesses thrive and change customers’ lives.
 
Ali is a bestselling author and has been featured in TV, print and online for publications such as Cosmopolitan and Essence Magazine, among others. She holds an MBA from Wharton Business School and spends her spare time in her pottery studio.
 
GUEST CONTRIBUTOR:
 

 

Ellen Lewis, editor/publisher of Lingerie Briefs