Looking Pretty Isn’t Part of the Job Description

“Why don’t you wear makeup?”

I can’t think of a situation in which this question would be super appropriate, but if I had to make a list, while at work would probably be toward the bottom.

But as I was standing in front of a group of adults at my previous workplace, I was asked this very question. I used to teach English to adults, and while I enjoyed the job, it wasn’t incredibly uncommon for me to receive comments or questions like these.

Women should wear makeup. You should change your nail color more often.

These statements didn’t have a huge impact on me, but I can’t really imagine people expecting a man to be attractive while doing his job (unless he is a model or something like that). If men faced this expectation, it would be equally ridiculous.

The thing is, dress codes can make sense. The expectation that people will look professional at work is fair. But when that is extended to “women should wear makeup to work,” the message that sends is “women should be physically attractive at work.” It makes it seem that women might be valuable employees, but also something to look at – and their value decreases if they’re not pretty enough.

In addition to the pressure that women feel to look pretty in a context where it shouldn’t matter (also, in what context should it matter?), women also face a lot of pressure to conform to Eurocentric beauty standards at work. As a white woman, I am privileged in this sense. Though some people might make comments about how I should straighten my hair, a lot of the time, my curly hair is viewed as “beautiful,” while a woman of color’s natural hair might be deemed unprofessional. This is simply not OK.

When women go to work, they’re there to do their jobs – they’re not there to look pretty or be attractive. It’s fine if women choose to wear makeup to work or straighten their hair. I in no way intend to shame women who wear makeup. I sincerely hope they’re “doing it for themselves,” because in the event that I wear makeup or straighten my hair, it is never something that I am doing for myself, without any external pressure. When I make choices for myself, unconcerned with what other people think, I walk into work with a bare face.  People might not find that attractive – but I don’t go to work to be attractive, nor do I exist to be attractive.

“Why don’t you wear makeup?”

“Because I don’t like it,” I always said. My students never seemed satisfied with that, but it should be enough. Women don’t owe a pretty face or a perfect body to anyone. If the fact that I don’t wear makeup makes anyone uncomfortable, let it. Let it make them uncomfortable until they’re uncomfortable with the unrealistic, patriarchal and Eurocentric beauty standards that follow women everywhere they go.

by psheffield

I'm an American writer, teacher and aspiring cat lady who is currently based in Shanghai. I enjoy talking about feminism, exploring art exhibits, reading and discovering different areas of the city.


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