The Pretty Woman Effect


I changed my clothes from my professional attire to my work out clothes. Before I went to the gym I decided to do a little shopping. As I walked through each and every store I was invisible. No one spoke to me, no salesperson approached me, not a person acknowledged my existence. The previous day I also walked through the same stores just browsing, but I was still dressed in professional attire. On that day I was approached, spoken to, asked if I needed any help, and even thanked for coming. It was a completely different experience.

It hit me that my appearance greatly impacted the way I was treated. It’s the Pretty Woman effect; you remember the scene where Julia Roberts goes into the high end boutique and they wouldn’t help her because she was dressed in worn out clothes. THAT was what I experienced. I was surprised because I thought we were beyond such judgements especially in the starving world of retail sales. I figured sales people had been trained to treat all customers with respect no matter what they looked like. And in this time when we wear more casual work out clothes than other types of clothing, I would have thought sales people would not judge someone by their attire. My experience negates all of those assumptions; I guess I was wrong.

As I ate banana ice cream to soothe my wounded pride, I thought about my own snap judgements. When have I judged someone by their appearance and the clothes they wore? How often do I make assumptions about people because of an instant interaction, glance, or clothing choice? I shook my head and realized I was guilty as charged. I still make judgements about people by their appearance. I hate to admit that I am the same as the sales people who ignored me. If I had been in their shoes would I have spoken to me, or would I have focused my attention on other shoppers who were better dressed? If I am being honest with myself, I might have treated me the same way…gulp!

This experience for me was a reminder to look beyond the external and delve into what is underneath, the real person within. It takes time to do that, it takes energy, and it takes a willingness to go beyond what we see. We are conditioned and subliminally taught to focus on what is on the outside – the right hair, makeup, shoes, outfit, ‘style’, how well the person put themselves together. And that fits right into human nature. We can do that without thinking. This Pretty Woman experience reminded me to fight the natural tendency and give someone a chance. I know how invisible I felt in those stores and how it made me feel about myself. I would hate to think that my own behaviors and assumptions would leave someone else feeling that way. To quotes Julia Roberts’ character from the movie. “Big mistake – HUGE!” Lesson re-learned and time to change my own assumptions and get back to the golden rule.

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