Women face many obstacles in the workforce. Research reports and powerful anecdotal stories illustrate how we often struggle to get paid equally, are less likely to ask for raises and to ascend the leadership ranks, and are more likely to do unpaid volunteer work around the office, like organizing office parties or ordering weekly catered lunch. Women also face sexual harassment, judgment of their family lives (whether they have kids or not), and unconscious biases.
But one of the most silly (and annoying) expectations women deal with on an everyday basis is the expectation that we will spend our personal time making ourselves up for the office, especially when wearing makeup in the professional world can seem to be a lose-lose proposition in the first place.
A 2011 study found that women who wore makeup were deemed more competent than those who did not. However, the same study found that women whose makeup was described as too “glamorous” by their peers were deemed untrustworthy. In short, women are judged for wearing too much makeup and are also judged for wearing too little.
As a CEO, I choose to not wear makeup at work for a host of reasons, including this ridiculous double-standard.
I have three young children, a business, personal goals and relationships to keep up with; I don’t have much spare time, and when I do have free time, I’d rather not spend it in front of a mirror, priming and primping. Moreover, I often work out during the day; if I did this while wearing makeup, I’d have to run through this routine twice.
Wearing makeup every day is not only impractical for my schedule; it also doesn’t align with my belief that people should be valued for their substantive contributions rather than their appearance. I help guide the culture for my company. I want Fairygodboss to be a comfortable space that is inclusive of everyone, no matter their physical appearance or fashion sense. If I cannot be makeup-free in my office as the CEO, I worry I set an example that might pressure other employees to wear makeup when they’d otherwise prefer not to. And if a mission-based company like Fairygodboss isn’t a space where all people are comfortable in their own skin, where is?
Despite my personal beliefs surrounding makeup, I am not blind to the fact that appearances can be important to others, particularly when it comes to making first impressions. I wear makeup for certain first-time meetings, media events and some other engagements because I know I can expect to be judged by my looks. No matter what I wish, women are still evaluated based, in part, on their appearances in many professional spaces.
I know that makeup can be a source of power and confidence for many professional women and a creative form of self-expression for others. And I’m not here to tell women that they shouldn’t do what makes them feel best.
After all, the workplace is already hard enough for us all to navigate without judging each other for our lip gloss (or lack thereof). We should all be advocating for individual choice at work, whether it means putting nothing on our face or wearing blue lipstick. The best workplace is one where everyone feels comfortable being themselves.
Georgene Huang is the Co-founder and CEO of Fairygodboss.