Thirty minutes of Facebook stalking and I feel sick. Girls younger than me from school, with a full face of makeup, looking older than I am, sexier than I am. 100 likes, “stunner” comments and love-eyed emojis. It makes me sad to see young, well-educated girls grow into doll-like women posing suggestively on Facebook, seemingly living their lives poised for the next opportunity to take a hot selfie.
My personal suspicion is that most women who say they wear makeup for themselves are lying. If they are anything like me, they will forget they are wearing it when at work and could just as easily not be wearing it. Let’s be real, we don’t work in a shop full of mirrors. I think we do it to make ourselves a little more sexually attractive to others, in a way that is a lot more subtle and socially accepted than wearing short skirts or revealing tops. The question is, why would a woman want to do that at work?
The answer is, of course, pressure to fulfil the gender role and even as a feminist who recognises it, I’m not completely immune. I wear makeup once a week or so at work, for presentations to directors or after-work parties. Years ago I conducted a psychology experiment to test the much-researched ‘halo effect’ of cognitive bias, specifically whether attractiveness is linked to perceptions of positive attributes — which on the surface seems contrary to logic. I enhanced the model’s attractiveness using makeup, and the study corroborated the results of the existing literature. Attractive people will be perceived as more intelligent and as possessing more socially desirable personality traits than unattractive people. Perhaps because of this I think that wearing makeup at work could contribute to my success in my career. I therefore flit between the two states, mostly not wearing makeup so as to make my own private stand against the patriarchal standards of beauty that make many women genuinely feel like they can’t be seen without their “face on”.
Another writer on Gender and the City once argued that we need to stop condemning women who get plastic surgery, and instead try to change the patriarchal structures of society that tell us we are evaluated on our looks first, intellect second. Saying I condemn women — including myself at times — who succumb to it by wearing makeup to work every day is too extreme. However, we need to resist becoming perpetrators of gender stereotypes. I believe that by consistently choosing to sexualise yourself in the workplace, however slightly through makeup, you could be inadvertently perpetuating the objectification of women. On balance, receiving compliments for being a competent professional does a lot more for feminism than receiving compliments for your looks. Which of the two do you currently receive more of? And if you wear makeup everyday, are you prepared to change your morning routine?
So I’ve got a little challenge for you.
Take the 15 minutes or so a day you usually spend putting your face on, and spend it on something else: breakfast, more sleep, exercise, reading, work. In that, you could even become a role model for other women for something other than looking pretty.
I promise you — the world will not fall down.