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I don’t know about you, but looking good is not a priority for me in the mornings. It’s all I can do to get out of bed and get dressed before I stumble out the door.
But presentation specialist Constance Dunn says it’s actually not that difficult to look your best, even if you have a limited budget, and that looking your best isn’t just about how you look.
Dunn is a research analyst and writer focused on all facets of presentation: grooming, nonverbal/verbal communication, style, etiquette and manner. She has a BA (radio/TV/film) from Temple University and a master’s in communication management from the University of Southern California.
Dunn is a regular on-air contributor, columnist, speaker and lecturer. Her book, “Practical Glamour: Presenting Your Most Beautiful and Polished Self to the World,” is called “a handy, relatable resource for women everywhere who want to look and feel their best.” A second book, on the art and gift of being civilized, is due out in 2012.
We sat down with Dunn to find out more about what she does and get some tips on how we can look our best – even when it’s the last thing we want to think about in the morning.
How did you get started as a presentation specialist?
I saw a colossal hole in mainstream style and beauty information, which is really focused on hustling products. Telling a girl to blow her paycheck on a ridiculous designer bag, or buy an $80 jar of moisturizer, for instance, is lost on me. And, by itself, it will do little beside lighten one's wallet.
Projecting the most satisfying version of you, cultivating that unique spark, and reaping all the rewards that come with it involves variables beyond clothes, shoes and makeup. These are important, yes, but they're empty without the other half of the equation: manner -- how a woman (or man) moves, speaks and communicates overall. How you treat yourself, how you treat others. Beauty is indeed a package deal.
Plus, I wanted to challenge the idea that a woman or man needs a lot of cash to look and feel excellent.
So, I fused together a background in research and communications with experience in beauty and style to present usable, comprehensive information on how a woman or man can optimize their everyday presentation, no matter their age, budget or position.
What is your typical day like?
I do media and lectures, consult, do an occasional column and have written a book (“Practical Glamour") on the subject. I'm currently writing a follow-up book on behavior and communication. I've also begun doing more TV, which I enjoy because I get to reach more women and men than in a lecture hall or bookstore.
No matter the project or the medium, though, the goal is always the same: how a woman or man can present her or his most attractive and authentic self to the world.
What are the biggest grooming, style or manner missteps most people make?
Following the herd. That's why trends should, by and large, be ignored, because most are not going to optimize their figure or project those personal characteristics they wish to communicate. When enhancing your presentation, it is vital to understand and work with your unique canvas -- your face, figure and personal charms. Perhaps it’s a nice resonant voice, generous smile or other aspects of your bearing. How can you draw out your powers and obscure, alter or re-think those things you are less jazzed about?
This level of self-reflection can take some work, because we are not in the habit of consciously, actively observing ourselves -- others, yes; not ourselves.
Another misstep is not capitalizing on the power of good posture. It doesn't cost a thing and instantly creates a stronger, better-looking physique. It also projects purposefulness, and communicates to others that you are engaged in life. Slumped shoulders are among the worst accessories on Earth!
What are one or two things that people on a limited budget can do to improve the way they present themselves?
First, get divorced from the idea that looking and feeling your best has anything to do with hauling home bags of stuff. Think of the most captivating creatures who have crossed your path -- positive figures, male or female. What was their allure? Most likely it had more to do with how they treated you and how you felt in their presence than the labels they wore on their back, or the shade of their lipstick.
Identify your top attributes. Which of your characteristics or physical features have others consistently praised? What are your personal favorites? Make a list, and don't be modest. Brainstorm creative ways to maintain or improve the items on the list.
I'm a tip hound, so you can find others at PracticalGlamour.org.
How much do entertainment and media influence people's understandings of proper grooming, style and etiquette? Is this good or bad?
I doubt things could get much more depraved in terms of some of the current portrayals of men and women in popular culture. It's like an inverse triangle, where vice is virtue, and the most obscene, mean-spirited behavior is handsomely rewarded. Reality shows are a blur of women dripping in tacky costumes and behaving like atrocious gnomes.
The most unfortunate impact is on young women and men who are forming their identities and don't have alternate models of behavior or style in their home, schools or communities. In other words, nothing to challenge the sleaze. Those who adopt this coarse media model in their lives will face a tougher reality, internally and out in the world. At its core, etiquette is really about demonstrating a positive regard for the environment and people around you. But its greatest gift is what it does to those who practice it. Dignity, whether in grooming, dress or behavior, is transformative, and yields positive rewards in every corner of your life. And it doesn't cost a dime!
Do you have a favorite story involving a client you instructed?
A woman attended a lecture where I talked about people perception and ways to define what I call one's "personal style brand." The information helped initiate some major changes in her look. It started with her hair and her clothes and daisy chained to other aspects of her presentation, which is the beautiful inevitability of this type of self-improvement. She kept in touch, telling me about how her confidence increased, how she carried herself differently, and experienced more ease and pleasure interacting with others. She had tapped into her personal glamour, that ideal projection of her individual spirit. I loved her reports. On a professional level they made me want to get up from my desk and dance a little jig. Actually, I'm pretty sure I did.
Anything else you'd like to add?
The worst is when a man or woman has been told somewhere in their life that they are ugly or not attractive, and they believe it. When I hear something along the lines of, "Oh, I've given up trying to look nice," I cringe, because I know that looking good is largely a function of grooming, personal style and manner. And the rewards of feeling your most attractive and authentic on a daily basis are not to be missed.