Having second thoughts


As women we are trained to constantly doubt ourselves and it’s time to stop the over-thinking, writes Katrina Petrenko 

It was a lovely sunny day in Dubai, much like any other, but something felt special. They couldn’t quite put a finger on it, though from the get-go they sensed that something was amiss. It wasn’t visible to the naked eye, but it was palpable. Stranger things have happened, but perhaps not quite like this.

It all started at about 8am when a colleague in the office showed up to work looking especially fabulous. Perhaps it was her dress, not out of character for her to wear, but quite a stunner. Perhaps it was the heels that accompanied
the outfit. However, eyebrows really started making their way to receding hairlines when another colleague walked in, also looking suspiciously… good.

Something of a strange pattern was emerging. It seemed that most, if not all, of the women in the office simultaneously decided to dress up. Well at least that’s what the guys thought.

The coincidence was remarkable. And it got
us thinking.

This industry is quite varied in terms of how women are expected to present themselves at work. Every workplace has its own fashion culture and dress code expectations, whether explicit or not. In my experience, the creative industry is pretty embracive of the right to self-expression; women dress up or down when they feel like it.

But at the same time, I have friends who feel pressured to ‘look good’ in order to assert themselves as women because their work environment or – and I’m just going to come out and say it – because patriarchy demands it. Where I work, there are no such expectations and as far as dressing up goes, it’s about 50:50, some days the women dress up and some days they don’t.

Needless to say, our collective turning up ‘looking good’ caused quite a stir. “Why are they doing this?” “Is there a secret wedding happening?” “If only every day was like this!” “All the girls look great today; did they plan this?” “Why are you wearing a dress?” “You MUST be doing something after work, because that’s the only reason you’d dress up.” Not to mention the awkward stares. You would think we were going to a high school prom.

Yet the funny thing is that we weren’t even that dressed up. Sure, some were wearing heels, some had dresses. That was it. 

That morning when I woke up and chose to wear heels, I thought twice. “Are people going to comment on the fact that I’m wearing heels?” “I don’t want the extra attention, but should I just go for it?”


I bet I wasn’t the only one to think twice about how my outfit would be perceived.

As women, I believe we think twice, thrice or more about a lot of things that men don’t give a second thought to. We think twice about speaking up for fear that our opinions will easily be quieted. About expressing emotions for fear that we’ll be labelled as overly emotional. About standing up for what we think is right. We think twice about complaining. You can argue that everyone does, and should think twice about these things. But what might be a passing thought for a man is often the weight of the world for a woman. We think too much.

Maybe we’ve trained ourselves to be afraid. It’s fear that makes us think double; fear of failure, fear of judgement and fear of comparison. But why don’t we give ourselves the opportunities that risk provides? Why do we grapple for a place in the shadows and shy away from the light?

The answer lies in how we see ourselves. Forget what the world expects of you, or even what the region expects of you. Forget the cage you think you’re in and don’t think twice. 

By the end of the day, the women began to own it. We played ping-pong in heels, we laughed about how our wardrobe choices affected the office, we discussed the comments and the looks and why we wore what we did.

So why did the women dress up the way they did? Because they felt like it. Did they plan it? Let that be something men can think twice about.

Katrina Petrenko is Content lead at Digitas LBi