Make-up or not? Authenticity or compliance?
Make-up and authenticity
Professional women are always urged to wear make-up to enhance their executive presence. Wearing make-up supposedly conveys a message that we are more trustworthy, competent and likable according to research. But we women all know that a woman wearing make-up could equally be a nasty, incompetent bitch, covered in cosmetics. Not unsurprisingly, this research came from Proctor and Gamble a make-up manufacturer, but I do believe that the results are a probably an accurate predictor of expectations.
[Tweet "What it tells us is external signs of femininity is key to the route to career success."] The application of make-up is part of a feminizing process. Professional grooming for men and women, one would have thought should be related to hygiene and tidiness, rather than the enhancement of certain features. Not forgetting eye make-up makes the eyes look bigger in proportion to the size of the face (more childlike) and lipstick conveys arousal. [Tweet "So it's a pretty messed up message."]
Most companies have office dress codes. Some organizations specify that women should wear make-up and heels, although after the high-profile case in London, that may soon change. There are generally no rules about wearing makeup which for the most part is optional everywhere. Although a small number of some men do wear makeup, the majority of make-up is bought and worn by women.
But even within the make-up code there are fine subtleties to be observed and heaven help you if you get it wrong. No make-up makes you look like an untrustworthy professional loser.[Tweet " But like Goldilocks and the porridge it has to be just right."] Too much glamour and you are a tramp and you still won’t earn that elusive trust. Make-up if not correctly applied looks terrible and particularly when the weather is hot, it can smudge and look messy. Then you will be judged again. If you put on your make-up too well and look too pretty, then you are a distraction. More judgement.
So why bother and what to do about it?
Executive presence is made up of all the messages we send out about ourselves. They are key to vital first impressions. We want to look healthy and vibrant and convey the sense that we can do our jobs well. Read: The power of cosmetics. This can be achieved via body language, posture and our personalities, as well as our excellent skills and achievements. It’s important to create a personal style that aligns with the expectations of your own business environment, while at the same time feeling comfortable.
Any decisions you take will be related to your personal make-up policy. Being true to myself is to wear make-up. My colleague's idea of what is authentic for her is quite different. But she does have fucia hair. How you go about the decision-making process will depend on basic coloring, skin tone and type and the features that mother nature gave you. Your political position could also be part of it. Age is also a factor. Our skin thins as we age and some, especially fair skins, can look sore and fragile, without some foundation for protection. Sometimes creating a glowing, healthy natural look takes as much effort as throwing on some slap. I have a blonde, Swedish friend who doesn’t wear make-up other than a coating of foundation. She does however, dye her fair eyelashes and eyebrows to give her face a stronger structure.
We have a long way to go before we will be able to turn up at the office exactly like a man, without the constant assessment of our appearance, rather than accomplishments. How long will it take before all women can be authentic and true to themselves, whatever that authenticity means? For some it will be a glamorous full make-up look, rocking smoky eyes. For others it may mean looking completely natural. And let's make no bones about this - some of the harshest judgements are likely to come from other women.
The most important think is to look healthy and vibrant and be able to inspire confidence that we are competent and can do our jobs well. Exactly the same as for a man. The final irony is that men are penalized for wearing make-up.
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