Women: A Manifesto for How We Groom Ourselves at Work

Join us in The Revolution: We’re not going back to makeup or to clothes that hurt

on etsy

When I started my new job, I was very worried about this idea of being on camera for zoom meetings. I have used Skype in previous jobs, but we were never on camera – we just talked. Like in the old days, when people talked on the phone and sometimes had no idea what the person on the other end looked like.

AND THAT WAS FINE.

People used to just call people on the phone without warning or an appointment and we thought that was normal

(Also – remember when people would call you and you hadn’t planned for them to call? Or you would call them and they weren’t in the office so you had to leave a message with the receptionist?)

(People used to just call. That seems so bizarre now. If I get an unexpected phone call from a family member now, I expect to hear that someone has died.)

(And even when my uncle died, my cousin texted me.)


ANYHOW.

I was worried about being on camera because I hate being on camera, most of all, but also, I was worried I would have to change my 14 months of unemployment habits, which were to shower – eh – whenever.

I mean, it’s not like we were going anywhere.

And it’s not like Mr T was showering any more frequently than I was.

It’s amazing what you can get used to.

Showering – whenever – and wearing gym clothes every day.

Those were the upsides to unemployment.

Oh – and not having to get up to an alarm clock.

However, unemployment also meant not having money and paying $1,200 a month for health insurance, which was not so great.

I thought, I guess I can wash my hair for money and for health insurance.

When I started the job, I took a shower every day. Every day, y’all!

And I dried my hair! With a hairdryer!

And I put on makeup.

I put on makeup after throwing out the old mascara, which I had not used in a year, and had dried out.

And I wore presentable clothes.

And I gritted my teeth and turned on the camera and there you go.

But then I realized something.

Other people were in gym clothes.

Almost every woman I talked to had her hair in a ponytail or bun.

And almost nobody was wearing makeup.

I asked my new work friend, Lyla, what she thought.

“I haven’t shaved my legs in months!” she said. “I asked my husband if it bothered him and he said he hadn’t even noticed!”

And she agreed on the makeup with a comment about screw the patriarchy we should be evaluated on results, not on our appearance, which made me love her even more than I already do.

And we agreed that when we return to the office, we are going to normalize not wearing makeup and not doing our nails and maybe even wearing sleeveless clothes, which is Not Done in the corporate environments where I have worked.

What’s wrong with sleeveless clothes?

I used to be against Sleeveless At Work.

Why? Why is it so bad?

Much of it of course is that it’s usually too darn cold to expose much of my skin.

But the other was The Rules.

The Rules that certain parts of a woman’s body are off limits.

And I helped enforce those rules.

Holy smoke I have been part of The Patriarchy.

But now – after over a year of THERE ARE NO RULES, I think, yeah, whatever. Just wear clothes.

I am not going to be an Agent of the Patriarchy anymore.

If they don’t like it, let them try to fire me for it.


However.

And you knew there was a however.

If we do not put time and money into our appearances, we will be putting our incomes at risk.

I read about this in Soraya Chemaly‘s FABULOUS YOU HAVE TO READ IT book, Rage Becomes Her.

(I am even more furious after reading this book. And I was already pretty angry.)

(Ha. “Pretty” and “angry” are mutually exclusive, according to how the world sees women who are expressing their anger.)

Chemaly wrote,

Few women, particularly those living in the United States or other industrialized countries, escape the press to be eternally dewy and lineless. Indeed, they are rewarded for conforming to standards, in other words, being “good.” According to a recent study in the journal of Research in Social Stratifications and Mobility, the more time and money a woman spends on grooming, the higher her salary at work, regardless of how well she rates on job performance. Prior theories have focused on the benefits of being attractive, but this study teased out the difference between attractiveness and investment in appearance. Researchers speculate that women who use makeup signal that they are responsive to social norms, gender stereotypes, and society’s greater propensity to police women’s behavior, “in ways that keep women distracted from really achieving power.”

Research in Social Stratification and Mobility

Here’s the TLDR:

Physically attractive individuals have higher income than average individuals.

This relationship is reduced when controlling for grooming.

Surprisingly, the attractiveness premium does not vary by gender.

Grooming explains all the attractiveness premia for women, but only half for men.

Research in Social Stratification and Mobility

And this, from the Washington Post:

Like past studies, the research showed that attractive people tended to earn higher salaries. But that wasn’t all. Their research suggested that grooming – practices such as applying makeup and styling hair and clothing — was actually what accounted for nearly all of the salary differences for women of varying attractiveness. For men, grooming didn’t make as much of a difference….

However, the researchers did find a big difference between men’s and women’s salaries when it came to grooming. Controlling for factors such as age, race, education and personality traits like agreeableness and conscientiousness, they compared how interviewers rated people on attractiveness, how they rated the same person on grooming, and that person’s salary….

They found that a substantial amount of attractiveness was the result of grooming, and here’s where they found gender differences, Wong says. “For women, most of the attractiveness advantage comes from being well groomed. For men, only about half of the effect of attractiveness is due to grooming.”

In other words, the study suggests that grooming is important for both men and women in the workplace, but particularly for women. Changes in grooming have a substantial effect on whether women are perceived as attractive, and their salaries. In fact, as the charts below show, less attractive but more well-groomed women earned significantly more, on average, than attractive or very attractive women who weren’t considered well-groomed….

One is that these gender differences are the result of a cultural tendency to monitor women’s behavior more than men’s, in ways that keep women distracted from really achieving power. Wong quotes Naomi Wolf, a third-wave feminist who argues that unrealistic standards of beauty that women are encouraged to pursue – an ideal she calls “the beauty myth” – is ultimately a way to control and constrain women’s behavior.

Washington Post

So. We can do as men do and not worry about makeup and elaborate hair and spend our time, as men do, accumulating power.

But if we do, we might sacrifice income.

My house is paid for. I’m in. I don’t judge any woman who decides differently – and of course wear makeup and clothes that hurt if you want to! – but I hope there are enough of us who are at a point in our careers where we don’t care about (we don’t want!) being promoted that we can effect change for those who come after us. So that getting yourself fancy is a choice, not a requirement.

Join me. Cast away your chains of makeup and join me.

9 thoughts on “Women: A Manifesto for How We Groom Ourselves at Work

  1. Leave it to the patriarchy to construe good grooming in women equates to submission to social norms. Wanting to look your personal best does not mean all you are thinking of is being sexually attractive, aka upholding the patriarchy. Currently we live in a social infrastructure that was formed conceptually by men, and it is no wonder that women’s looks/grooming are reduced to the transactional level. Marketing firms are quick to capitalize on this quid pro quo mentality & try their best to program us to feel insecure if we don’t buy their product. I think women have to stand up and say, I wear eyeliner for me, not for you – and let’s be clear, there is no chance in hell I’m going to sleep with you. I have a lot of faith in the young women of today; older women (like myself) need to be role models and use what power we have to right the listing ship. In my role at work I insist on pay parity for people. In my team, women earn as much as their male counterparts. I report to a woman, and she gets it too. Women stand on each others’ shoulders. Your blog gets me thinking – thank you for your voice and razor sharp insight.

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    1. Yes! Just because I get my hair highlghted, it’s not because I am trying to please men. That one, I really am doing (or will be doing on May 5, my Immune Date), for me and for nobody else.

      Good for you for using your power to help other women! We should all do that!

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  2. I’ve never been able to figure out the hair/makeup/clothing thing, and sometimes I wonder how that’s affected how I’m perceived. I work in academia, where the beauty standards are lower, but still, I probably come off as less professional. Then again, I have a good job that pays the bills, so who cares? Now if I could just get away with not wearing a bra, my in-office life would be peachy.

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  3. Hooray! (and I am beyond entertained that I got here via Beth Moore’s Twitter replies and saw amidprivilege’s comment. Two women I look up to in mostly-different ways!)

    It’s definitely rage-inducing, and thank you for Opting Out, and I hope it goes well. (also: “reduce wrinkles” ad needs to learn how to read the room.)

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      1. (And I have gotten to meet amidprivilege in person, which is one of the joys of blogging – I meet so many cool people and some of them, I get to meet in person!)

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      2. Glad to be here! (you are now in my Feedly collection…)

        And yes, meeting delightful people [and sometimes even getting to meet them in person] is one of the wonderful things about the internet!

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