makeup at work: professionalism or stereotypical?

By Molly Christie

In today’s society, there’s an extreme controversy around the impact social media has on our lives, but how much can we really blame social media when the ruthless expectations of the working world can be just as detrimental?

There’s no doubt that in today’s day and age, checking over Instagram, snapchat and other social media’s have become part of routine for many people, where we’re subjected to the “ideal” appearance which consists of being extremely good looking with a physique equally as outstanding. Over the past few years, there’s been a substantial amount of research carried out towards the impact that social media can have on self-esteem. However, what if some insecurities are caused by a matter which we turn a blind eye to? Perhaps the demands of our 9 to 5 jobs are influenced by outdated traditions and expectations which should now be obsolete, yet continue to exist.

Growing up, I had noticed that the girls working in retail were always heavily made up and glamourous. Yet I’d always assumed this was a choice of theirs. Nevertheless, I learnt otherwise when I began working in a public-facing role and was politely asked to wear more makeup in order to appear well presented. I had questioned to myself how I couldn’t resemble a smart appearance without the use of makeup. I believed by ensuring my personal hygiene, that my hair and uniform were tidy, I was still able to achieve this without contemplating what difference the products I chose to put or not put on my face would make to my performance and ability to carry out my job. This opened up my eyes to the pressure which we face and how we can be judged solely on our appearance. Yet, I queried whether a male colleague would face the same criticism?

Like I said before, I had ensured my personal hygiene, hair and uniform was intact, just as a male would be expected to do, therefore if not wearing makeup has no impact on a male colleague’s competence, why does it impact mine? Yes, this is frustrating. Yes, it is clear that these perspectives have stemmed from a patriarchal society where women were ‘to be seen and not heard’, did not have the right to work and when they finally did gain the right to work, often became sexualised.

For example, a bartender was more often or not an attractive female in order to bring in a male audience or a sales assistant was to be attractive in order to charm a customer in to purchasing an item. But who do we blame for this misogyny? Who influences these societal attitudes, the employers or the customers? Like any other social matter, these outdated rules and perspectives will not just fade out of society unless we question it and remove it from our professions.

It is argued by some that wearing makeup makes you look as though you care about how you present yourself and that you are making an effort. A makeup-free face is simply put down to laziness according to society. Yet, to play devils advocate, the decision to go without makeup may be in order to utilise time to be productive elsewhere. For example, using that extra time to go to the gym, or maybe reply to a few work emails or even simply have some extra sleep that morning in order to ensure they were fully energised in order to work better.

A survey taken in 2014 showed that 67% of bosses would take a dim view of female staff not wearing makeup at key business meetings or working in a public facing role (Daily Mail 2013). How can this be the case when, in actual fact, attending an important meeting or facing the public with a fresh face may show confidence and honesty, two key values which both employers and clients strongly admire?

Furthermore, how can we distinguish the difference between self-care and the stereotypes around beauty which suggest that anyone who spends too much time on their appearance in order to have a pretty face has an empty head with a lack of knowledge and common sense?

Often, females who choose to wear an excessive amount of makeup are seen to be shallow and self-centred, suggesting their focus may be less concentrated on their job and that they’re insecure about themselves. Despite someone with no makeup being looked down on also. This is perhaps illustrating that the world of work is falsely judging people’s ability to do a job by their appearance, rather than their skills and capability to carry out a specified task. For example, a girl who’s able to show she cares about what she looks like might not be able to demonstrate her knowledge of how to handle difficult situations, whereas girls with little to no-makeup might be more competent in taking power over situations and guiding others through smoothly; needless to say, these stereotypes don’t fit all. A girl who is very conscious of how she looks may also able to show intelligence and work ethic. Therefore, we should quit assessing how capable an employee is based on their image and instead focus on their skills, time management and ability to follow the criteria given.

A psychology professor at Barnard College of Columbia University in the USA found that the impression given by a woman who wears some makeup is that she takes care of herself. However, a woman who wears no makeup signals a level of self-neglect in comparison to too much makeup which is said to imply an extreme self-focus. Should this come as a relief that society has made a compromise or should this spark a concern that the expectation has become even more unambiguous and specific?

In my opinion, this should be challenged and the next step is taking action. While many speak out about these cases, very little is done to prove a point and make the change, so the question I ask is, how can we wipe away these stereotypes and create an environment which focuses on the characteristics in the work place rather than the eyeshadow and lipstick which one chooses to wear?