by Sharon Williams
Real Beauty A to Z
I was recently presented with a wonderful opportunity to spend an hour chatting with Sylvie di Giusto! For those of you who aren’t familiar with her, Sylvie is a professional Image Consultant and Corporate Trainer. She has more than twenty years of corporate experience, educating and inspiring thousands of clients across Europe and around the world. She has long been fascinated by the power of image and the way people can use their personal brand to positively influence their own career. Having spent years observing, supporting, and influencing people’s career paths, Sylvie has witnessed how important the role of a professional image is in setting a person apart from the competition and projecting his or her unique selling points. You can get more in-depth details about Sylvie and her accomplishments here: http://executive-image-consulting.com/#about
Aside from gleaning from her vast expertise and deeply sincere wisdom, I found myself drawn in by her enjoyable, transparent personality and the rich accent which we seldom get to hear in the South. When I asked about her origin, she giggled and said that it was a “bit complicated.” She said that it all started with an Italian Grandfather, a French father, an Austrian mother, and a German husband. She and her family now reside here in the United States.
Enjoy the delightful Q&A session between two women who share experiences in the field of Human Resources and the need to help people embrace and make the best of their uniqueness:
RBAZ: After reading your amazing bio, we see that you have more than 20 years of experience in your field. With such a vast array of career choices available today, what exactly got you into the profession of Image Consulting?
Sylvie: I spent many years in Human Resource (HR) related positions; management development, executive development, training & development. I saw unqualified people given positions because they knew how to present themselves. In the end, sometimes there would be performance issues because the person was not qualified; but, because they knew how to present themselves, they were given the opportunity. On the other hand, I saw many young, aspiring, and ambitious people denied positions because they did not know how to present themselves. When it came to Image Consultants, I was the person who would hire them to come in and work with individuals to help them be successful. I was on the other side and one day decided to change sides and became a consultant.
RBAZ: During those 20 years, what are some of the major shifts that you have seen (if any) in your field? Have you seen a demand or decline in any particular area?
Sylvie: In general, the industry of Image Consulting has kind of drawn a bad reputation. There are those who claim to be experts, and are not, that are giving it that reputation. I have noticed that many Wardrobe Consultants, Color Consultants, and Personal Shoppers are marketing services stating that they are Image Consultants, but they are not. Wardrobe is a major piece, but if you are only helping a client pick out clothes, you are a Wardrobe Consultant or a Personal Shopper and should say so, for marketing purposes. Image consulting is so much more than color draping, deciding if you are a cold winter, or determining what body shape you are. Overall, I look at what I call your ABCD’s. The ABCD’s are your Appearance, Behavior, Communication, and Digital Footprint. (This is what I mean by Digital Footprint: unfortunately, first impressions are no longer made in person. On the internet, before people meet you, chances are they have already Googled you and looked at who you are. Digital footprints leave and impression.) I will be invited out and expected to give colors.
The shift that we need is for our reputations to go back to excellence. Every client is like a puzzle. Every client wants to tell a different story. Image Consultants are the experts that can help them tell that story. One easy check to determine if you have a true Image Consultant is the study by Mehrabian (Albert)—most people think it’s not important what you say or how you behave. (The study indicates a message is communicated by: words 7%, tone of voice 38%, and body language 55%)The study has been misinterpreted and the numbers are misused. A true image consultant understands that what you say and how you behave are just as important.
RBAZ: One of the things that I talk about in my book, The ABCs of Real Beauty, is what I call the “un-written” rule. When you look at various forms of media, our society seems to dictate what a woman should look like. As a result, you have many women turning to surgery and other altering methods in an attempt to fit in. How does what you do help women to shine as well as reclaim their true identity?
Sylvie: Confidence is the key! Know and love yourself. Accept your limitations. Love yourself more than everybody else does. Feel confident about your body, your age, your gender, your color. Show that confidence through your appearance on the outside. Be confident about your body, accept the size and shape that it is right now. If not, change it. If there is a health issue, it is important to change it. Dress for the body that you have right now. A closet filled with clothes waiting for you to lose weight is not confidence. You have that body right now, be confident in it.
If you have an age right now of 50, confidence does not mean looking like you are 40 — or 60. (Some women make themselves look older.) No, be confident at 50. A plastic surgeon might give you a few years right now, but in the end it will begin to look artificial. People will know. I often get asked the question: “should I dress more masculine to fit my environment?” (working around all men.) If you are a woman, dress like a woman. You should not hide behind masculine suite, but you should not overdo it. If you are a man, dress like a man. The same goes for color—be the very, very best you can be, right now. If you do this, success will find its way to your door. If you need to fix a minor something, for you and your own confidence, do it! If you do it for others, then, it is wrong! If you want to make a teeny-tiny change, that’s one thing. If you come to me with a long list of things that are wrong with you, I would say that the plastic surgeon is the least of what you need, you need help.
RBAZ: I see where you have worked with clients in both the United States and Europe. Do you find one culture more forgiving (or accepting) than the other when it comes to appearance?
Sylvie: Yes and no. The United States is the most wonderful and diverse place in the world. In the workplace, it’s more challenging–facing culture diversity that they don’t face in Europe. No matter where you are in the world, respect is what’s common. The choices you make for your appearance is simply is a sign of respect. Respect is done all over the world in different ways. You want to show respect. I grew up in a culture where fragrance is part of the culture. My Father sprayed himself from head to toe. In the United States, too much fragrance is a no, no. In France, the more the better. Corporate Europe is more structured, where some things in corporate US are more casual. In Europe, it is acceptable to wear the same outfit two or three days in a row. If something goes awry in those areas, all the stories have a common theme of respect. As a sign of respect, I follow rules that are true here; it depends where you are. I consider the people I work for, clients, and the audience. It’s all about respect. Why do we wear black at a funeral or wear a suit for an interview? Show respect for different religions and different cultures.
RBAZ: A lot of women are sensitive when it comes to body image. For many African-American women, our hair is always a hot topic. I would say that more women are comfortable wearing their natural hair, but many are still resorting to harsh chemical processes or covering it up completely. From your vantage point, what advice would you share to women of color about hair styles and how they are perceived?
Sylvie: Two different perspectives. How you perceive yourself vs. how others perceive you. I tell people how the world sees them. When you look good, you feel good. When you feel good, you look good. Confidence is the key. If you decide to straighten your hair, do it. If it harms the health, it brings a risk to the table that you should be aware of.
From the perspective of people who see you, there is a difference between stereotyping and judging. Stereotyping is seen as bad, but it’s not bad—here’s the difference: overweight leaders and people have a stereotype of being underperformers. Saying that all overweight leaders and people are underperformers is judging and that’s bad. If you are a Black woman with curly hair, I let you know that a perception exists. Judging is very bad. Understand the difference between stereotyping and judging. I have encountered people who use one photograph on-line, and it’s totally different from who they are in person. To me, the on-line profile photographs hide the personalities of who the people really are. You are who you are and there is no reason to try to be someone else.
RBAZ: I am sure you’ve heard Lupita Nyong’o now famous speech which included these words written to her by a little girl: “Dear Lupita,” it reads, “I think you’re really lucky to be this Black but yet this successful in Hollywood overnight. I was just about to buy Dencia’s Whitenicious cream to lighten my skin when you appeared on the world map and saved me.” What words of wisdom can you share with the world to help us get past the point where little girls and women don’t have to wish that their skin was a different shade?
Sylvie: If you don’t mind, I would like to answer this one from the perspective of being the Mom of a five-year-old,little girl.
This is a call to the mothers! It is important the values that we share. Children are a reflection of the parents. If it’s in the mind of my daughter, it has already gone through my mind. I encourage my child to speak to your own values, always do what makes you happy. Dream big and always do your best. Respect yourself and everyone else. I help her understand that she can do her best. With a diverse background, in our home, we are eager to explore other cultures, food. I want her to understand there is a wonderful and colorful world out there. I give her many opportunities to explore. If I don’t plant the seed, it’s my issue not hers.
Children observe. If I change the color of my lipstick, she knows it. if I buy a new pair of shoes, she knows it. Today she does not know there are different skin colors. It’s so normal for her, she goes to school with people from all over the world. A call to all moms of the world, we plant the seeds! If she is not confident, it’s not the little girl, it’s the mom.
RBAZ: I feel that everyone has an innate desire to standout. If you could share just one quick tip on how each of us can enhance our own presence, what would you say?
Sylvie: For an entertainer, standing out from the crowd will always be good, regardless of the reason. If an entertainer gets press, on the news, or sells one more record, they have won the game. However, in corporate, standing out can be terrible. You can stand out, but it must be for the right reason. If you don’t stand out at all, no one sees you. If you must, it must be the right reason. Wrong reason—an ABCD that distracts others (hand gestures, what your wear). You want to be known for the great things you do. Right reason – performance. Do something unusual. It’s fine to dress up to go to McDonald’s, wear sneakers with your suit. Don’t sacrifice yourself just because someone has a problem with it. Now if you wear dirty sneakers just because you are in a hurry and did not have time to dress properly, that is not a good reason.
RBAZ: Congratulations are in order for the launch of your new book: The Image of Leadership! Tell us what we can expect and where can we can get a copy?
Sylvie: Yes. This book will cover the HR world and Image Consultant world. True leadership manifests in what’s seen vs. what’s unseen. Your professional imprint is established in the first seven seconds. Within that seven seconds, eleven major decisions are made about someone. This book will provide a step by step explanation of the professional imprint. It is not a one size, fits all formula and covers being confident, authentic, professional, and respectful. It depends on your career aspiration and you will have to put together that puzzle. Only you can choose.
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