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Monica Cummings

Being a diplomat was about managing perceptions the whole time. ­I wore fairly feminine attire on the military base. I was an elegant misfit and told I didn't belong there. So I tried to dress as frumpily and corporate as possible, and wear clothes that were for someone much older than me. This was in the workplace of course; out of the workplace I wore whatever I wanted. But at work, I wore pearls and twinsets just to be accepted. Forget the make-up. Be conservative.

I’m baby faced and petite. Working in war zones such as Libya and Iraq it was quite challenging as a woman to overcome the fact that I was smaller than everyone else. Being small means you don't command a presence: people would assume I was an intern.

That feeling affected my attitude to beauty. I can’t have my hair curly or big because I feel it comes across as childish, even though I’d prefer to wear my natural textured hair. I have it blow-dried poker straight. Strong lipstick helps, too. I think that we take a lot of our cues for how strong women look from people like Hilary Clinton. If you want to look older and you want to be taken seriously – command a presence – those are the references to use to bolster your confidence.

I’m baby faced and petite, but don’t let that fool you. As a diplomat working in places such as Libya and Iraq I overcame people’s expectations of me based on how I look. I’m tough, and I’m big hearted and yes, you can be both. - Monica