What, no make-up?

// 29 November 2007

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I’ve never been one to wear make-up. More often than not when I do venture into a bag of cosmetics I end up looking like a Labrador that’s eaten a pink lipstick. It’s not a good look. It was interesting, then, to read an extract in The Times today from Lesley Everett’s new book, Drop Dead Brilliant. According to Everett, slapping on a bit of the old blush is likely to lead to professional success:

“It is a fact that women who wear make-up in business generally get better jobs, get promoted more quickly and get paid more. Whether we like it or not, we live in a very visual world and we get judged on appearances. In fact, in a survey, 64 per cent of directors said that women who wore make-up look more professional and 18 per cent of directors said that women who do not wear make-up ‘look like they can’t be bothered to make an effort’.”

So, there we are then, let’s all go out and stock up on mascara and bronzer because, obviously, a woman’s ability in the workplace is directly proportionate to the diligence with which she curls her eyelashes. OK, granted what Everett is doing is commenting on social conventions – it is true that once a woman reaches a certain age people are more surprised if she doesn’t wear make-up than if she does. But why comment on something when you can question it? Surely this does nothing but consolidate the dominant belief systems that we should be trying to undermine? For some reason, a woman changing her physical appearance is considered illustrative of pride, whereas if she decides to go out sans the gloss then she is nothing more than one of life’s drop-outs.

I can understand that a woman may feel more confident when wearing make-up. On the rare occasions that I do slap on the…err…slap I do feel different, more acceptable. I can understand why a woman may become accustomed to painting her face of a day, and secondly why she may feel naked when she decides to go without it. I could easily develop a dependency on make-up – being bombarded daily with images of flawless, air brushed celebrity beauties does invest one with a desire to “enhance their own appearance,” something that is obviously capitalised on by the cosmetics industry. Plus it’s something that most women my age do, certainly those I encounter every day, and I’m seen as transgressive. Either that, or a lesbian (gotta love those stereotypes).

Women, true “feminine” women, are supposed to wear make-up and so if you don’t you are made to feel inadequate and unattractive. However, what does make up do exactly? It doesn’t change those aspects of our appearance that we feel uncomfortable with – it doesn’t give us flawless skin (not really, anyways). And so in the long-term does this just perpetuate out insecurities, force us to feel more conscious about the way we look, wearing more and more make-up in pursuit of an ideal that we can never fully reach?

Although Everett warns that men should be wary of cultivating a bushy uni-brow and a beard to rival Sherwood Forest, there is little emphasis placed on this – there is certainly no empirical information used to suggest that this could hinder a man’s career prospects. Unfortunately a woman’s appearance is considered so integral to her personal attributes and skills that she will be discriminated against if she doesn’t fit a rigid criterion. What I can’t understand is why Everett would offer this information as advice rather than to completely undermine what is nothing more than a childish, immature professional system intent on keeping women down. If you’re a woman, it’s never just about ability. You have to have the whole tight pretty little package, and if not, tough, someone else can have the job you deserve instead. It’s a sad state of affairs.

Photo by Carol Esther, shared under a Creative Commons License.

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