Recently there has been much ado about what the ladies are wearing to work.
There was the whole heels fiasco across the pond involving Nicola Thorp, a temp worker for PricewaterhouseCoopers (holy tricycle, that’s one word now) who said nah to the heels and then got shooed home because, apparently, failing to elevate her lady feet violated her temp agency’s dress code.
And then there was the sweater incident at KTLA in Los Angeles. Apparently the weather lady was too fresh for the camera? Producer? Doppler? I don’t know, but she was handed a cardigan on live television.
These incidents served as a not-so-subtle reminder: Ladies, it’s all about the uniform.
I happen to be a self-appointed expert on this subject. Why?
Because I have violated the unspoken but very loudly enforced lady uniform code since, well, birth. (Sorry, Mom, I know you tried.)
It began, as I said, early on.
As a grade schooler, I forwent the racks of pink and drifted my gaze unto anything resembling a T-shirt emblazoned with a skateboard logo. Or, if I was really amped for a formal get-up, I would wear my T-ball uniform.
The entire thing, including the orange stirrups.
I was a fly 6-year-old on the runway of rural Illinois.
This was all well and good until puberty came along.
In the early ’90s, teen girls were salivating over the latest Caboodle chock-full of makeup and Love’s Baby Soft. And crimpers. And curling irons.
But I was still out in left field, wondering when my uniform had become the ultimate symbol of fashion gone wrong. This continued without pause as I grew into my teens and 20s.
Then it came to a screeching halt when I chose a career in a “visual medium” deliciously full of women who understand those Caboodles and curling irons.
All I wanted to do was tell stories. But that didn’t seem to make up for my lacking presentation as a lady.
And so I focused on writing. Or at least I tried. I continued to field countless “suggestions” about my hair, clothing and every other exterior category.
The suggestions came from inside newsrooms at first. Then came the advent of social media.
That’s when I discovered the very first jingle I ever memorized was a lie.
“Sticks and stones may break my bones but words could never hurt me.”
What a bunch of bollocks.
Here is a sample of some of the insults hurled my way via the internet: “Do you shop in a dumpster?” “My dog has better hair than you.” “Your clothes are so hard to look at my TV broke.”
It hurt. Even worse, these words caused me to max out every department credit store credit card I could find. I just wanted to find the me everyone wanted. So I could focus on telling my stories again.
But the truth is, the pressure was not just external. It also came from within. Something in me chose to listen, something in me wanted to conform to viewers’ expectations. And that’s how I lost a part of myself, a part of my identity. When I looked in the mirror I no longer saw the real me.
Here’s the “it gets better” part.
Last fall KARE 11 gave me a permission slip. It’s a new show called Breaking The News. Our mission? Tell stories differently. Do things differently.
During the six months we rehearsed the show off-camera, I found myself coming into work wearing my own clothes, the kind of clothes I wore in my “real” life.
And I starting wearing my hair curly — that’s how it naturally rolls.
As the date of the show’s launch approached, I started thinking: Maybe I can break more than the news. Maybe I can break the mold of what a woman on television is supposed to look like.
And so, on the eve of our very first show … I still wasn’t sure. Could I really button my shirts up all the way? Could I really rock a pocket square? Could I really, really be myself?
No. No. And I went to bed.
And when I woke up, I glanced at the news on my social media feed.
That’s when I learned David Bowie was dead.
I wasn’t the world’s biggest Bowie fan. I knew only a handful of his songs. But I’ve always been a huge admirer of his bold personal style. It was because he so fantastically embraced his oddity. His otherness was his likeness.
So in homage to Bowie — but really in homage to the girl I was, the girl I kept shooing away — I got dressed. In my own clothes. Not in the uniforms I had collected, but in the pieces that made me feel like me.
And I went to work.
It only took 16 years of working in TV news — and Bowie — to teach me the simplest truth: I had the answers in my closet.
I just had to come out of it.
A full dozen. That’s how many years Jana Shortal has worked as a reporter for KARE 11 News. Other tidbits: She is from a town you’ve never heard of, but it’s a 40-minute drive from St. Louis. She once sold her 10-year anniversary gift from KARE 11 to an ex so she could buy some Air Jordans. And her dog is named Vivian Ward. Find her on Twitter: @janashortal.
ABOUT 10,000 TAKES: 10,000 Takes is a digital section featuring first-person essays about life in the North Star State. We publish narratives about love, family, work, community and culture in Minnesota.