Can You Be Both Professional & Sexy?

Just before Thanksgiving, I met with my photographer friend Monique Feil, who is responsible for taking pretty much any great photo you’ve ever seen of me on my blog, book covers, or hanging in my home.  Hay House needed a photo of me for the cover of my upcoming book Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself, so I knew Monique was my girl.

The visual feel of the photo we needed to shoot was made clear to me. I needed to appear approachable, friendly, trustworthy, attractive, yet professional, distinguished, intelligent.  So I wore relatively conservative clothes, but tried to still look pretty and feminine. I made sure not to show any real cleavage, and although I had my hair and makeup professionally done, I was instructed not to appear too glamorous, because if I was too beautiful, it might detract from the content of my book, which contains serious science and a powerful message about self-healing I’m dying to spread far and wide.

The people on my marketing team tell me I’m “the brand” when it comes to my book and my business, but I must say, it’s weird to feel like a commodity that must be arranged just so during a photo shoot. Perhaps my resistance to being commoditized is what inspired me to do what I did just following my cover photo shoot – strip naked and let my freak flag fly during my first ever boudoir photo shoot.  (After all, at 43, I figure things aren’t getting any perkier!)

Girl Gone Wild

Monique is super creative, so before I knew it, she was wrapping me in fur and posing me on pink velvet, then asking me to stand naked behind a glass window pane while she spritzed water on the glass and photographed me through it.  I got dolled up in black lace lingerie and high heels and she shot me through a wrought iron bed headboard, and then I took it all off, adorned myself with long strands of pearls, and started dancing the S Factor moves I learned at Sheila Kelley’s S Factor retreat.

Because I feel super comfortable with Monique, I didn’t feel self-conscious or the least bit uncomfortable. If anything, I must say, the whole thing felt pretty empowering and hot.

Can Professionals Be Publicly Sexy?

Right after the boudoir photo shoot, I posted on Facebook about what I had just done, and I was delighted with how much support I received. Many women shared with me their own stories of how they had been similarly daring, and others said they hadn’t, but were inspired to schedule just such a photo shoot. Others asked me to be sure I shared a photo when they were available.

So when Monique sent me the photos a few days later, I thought long and hard about whether I would share the tamest of the photos on social media.  Trust me, the raciest of these are for private viewing only, but one photo, while sexy, revealed less of me than you’d see in a bathing suit, so I considered sharing it, but the Gremlins went BALLISTIC when I thought about doing so. The dialogue between The Gremlin and my Inner Pilot Light went something like this.

The Throw-Down

The Gremlin: Why in the world would you put a sexy photo of yourself out there on the internet? Don’t you want people to respect you and the important work you’re doing? You sure don’t look very respectable wrapped in fur without your clothes on. People are going to think you’re some sex object, not a doctor they can trust to teach them. You know you can’t be both professional and sexy.

You’d be a fool to post this photo.

Inner Pilot Light: Lissa, don’t listen to the Gremlin. I understand your motivation for sharing it publicly. You want to demonstrate to women that we shouldn’t have to fragment ourselves, that we can be both successful, respectable professionals and sensual beings. By sharing your photo publicly, you’ll inspire others to be brave enough to strip off the masks we wear and be more authentic in our interactions with others.

The Gremlin: But people will think you’re a total narcissist. I mean, why else would you post a naked photo of yourself on Facebook. Plus, then it will be out there in the public domain FOREVER. Like you might be ninety-five and someone will print it out and bring it to your funeral.

Inner Pilot Light: It’s not narcissism, Gremlin. It’s confidence and being comfortable in your skin. And yes, someone might bring this photo to her funeral, but won’t it be lovely to give people a memory of how Lissa looked when she was younger? I think you should do it, Lissa. Put it out there. Be a role model for how women can be both professional and sexy, all in one whole package of strong, powerful, radiant femininity. Buck the nonsense that suggests that women have to appear masculine in order to be taken seriously. Your message is serious. Your work is solid. If people dismiss your work simply because you present your image as both a working woman and a sensual one, it speaks more to how effed-up our culture is than to anything the Gremlin’s mouthing off about. Do it.  Shake up the status quo, not because you’re trying to be a rebel, but because it’s what’s true for you. You ARE a sexy, feminine, sensual woman, and there’s no reason to hide it. Posting this photo will be an invitation to others to tap into their own Inner Pilot Lights about what is true for them regarding the intersection of their professional and sensual life.

So I Did It

To see my photo visit my blog.

I listened to my Inner Pilot Light and posted this photo on my public Facebook page and got over 200 unanimously sweet, supportive comments from people telling me they actually respect me more for being brave enough to take the risk.  Take that, Gremlin!

Will there be backlash? I have no idea. I had a moment of “Oh jeez, my publisher might have just seen that” and “The PBS producers my publisher is pitching about the PBS special he wants to produce about me and my work are probably eyeing me on social media.” But really, why would they judge me for just being who I am?

What Do You Think?

Does your professionalism get in the way of your sensuality? Has your sensuality ever hurt your professional image? Do you think people take sexy women less seriously than those who dampen down their sensuality in the name of being serious and respectable? How do we navigate our way in a culture that simultaneously pressures women to be sexy and beautiful but then objectifies and diminishes them as mere sex objects if they express their sensuality?

I’m dying to hear what you think! Share your thoughts in the comments.

Trying to be all of me, uncensored,



Perla Serrano Matesanz
Laszlo Kovacs5 years ago

Using fur is not sexy but disgusting... do you feel sexy while posing in a dead animal's skin who suffered a lot before dying? As a woman seeing that photo I am not proud of it at all... I am ashamed and feeling objectified, like the poor animal whose life has been taken because it did not have right to live. Not speaking about your make-up which caused blindness to rabbits who has been experienced on. This photo makes me think you are just as a dumb superstar who cares a shit about anything.

Richard B.
Richard B5 years ago

Private blog: OK, Facebook: No.

Richard B.
Richard B5 years ago

Real fur or synthetic?

Richard B.
Richard B5 years ago

Leave the vixen at home. No sense sacrificing career over it.

Sheri J.
Sheri J5 years ago

Women, if work with men, you gotta act tough and be one of the guys because not doing so may construe it as being interested. Men are different and so is their train of thoughts.

Mari Garcia
Mari Garcia5 years ago

That is what bothers me about society. Professionals seem to be defined by nothing but their job and heaven forbid if they express themselves in a more liberal way. If you are good at your job and are professional while on the job, why should it matter what you do in your free time? Most importantly, why should you be judged? People are mutli-deminsional, why shouldn't we celebrate that, regardless of who the person is?

Tinamarie Bernard

I'm not surprised by the strong reactions all around. I think the answers to your questions will come when we can finally own our sexuality in all areas of our lives without it being a big deal at all.

Right now, it's still a big deal. Women are objectiified, and sexy in our country is a double-edged connundrum. I bet if you'd posted that to another audience (say the French version of Care2), you would receive a different set of responses...

Wendy Kobylarz

Shell S, she is hurting someone else. She's using fur.

Also, the objectification of women may not affect her directly, but there are a lot of us out there who are judged on little more than our looks, for good or bad. This kind of thing -- that sexiness is paramount -- seems to reinforce the notion that a woman's primary purpose is to be sexy and desirable (usually in ways that men appreciate more than other women). It's some hard shit for other women to live down. And for girls growing up now, I can't imagine the mixed messages.

It's like saying "I'm getting breast implants for ME," when often that defense masks an unhappiness with one's body in comparison to what we are sold about what makes a real (read "desirable") woman.

We are not products to be consumed and used, and yet that's what we are continually told, particularly at a subconscious level, we are.

Wendy Kobylarz

Wow. Like I needed another reminder of the sexualization and commodification of women. I can understand wanting to feel sexy for your partner, but holy shit -- what happened to feminism? What happened to not mattering what you look like as long as you do good?
But I admit, my reaction to this would have been less angry if the author hadn't admitted to posing on fur.
Fur doesn't just magically appear; animals suffer intense agony before being skinned alive, gassed to death, trapped...
ALL for the sake of wanting to look glamorous?
That is decidedly unsexy.

Leslie R.
Leslie R5 years ago

I think I have benefited from my sexuality working in the finance world but I have also worked hard to suppress it because it seems that eventually whatever man I work with will misinterpret our relationship to mean that I am interested. I have come to accept that is life and how men operate and as I mentioned I think it has helped me more than hurt me (I have never been put in a bad situation), but it does get old to be propositioned regularly, especially as the majority of the men are married.