This Woman’s Viral Story Has Us Asking: Do You Need Makeup at Work?

This Woman’s Viral Story Has Us Asking: Do You Need Makeup at Work? featured image
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Is wearing makeup a necessity for a job interview? When Melissa Weaver, 30, took to TikTok to ask this question, she’d just been informed she wouldn’t be moving forward in the interview process for a job she was after. The reason? She hadn’t put enough “effort” into her appearance. With a fresh salon hairstyle and curated business attire, the only piece missing was a face of makeup. And it made us think. With a thousand interview makeup tutorials and tips, what are the expectations for women in the workplace? Is makeup at work a necessity? What about the makeup style or look? Is pretty privilege a factor?

We had to know.

Buckle up, because we’re diving in deep to take a look at exactly what the workplace expects of women.

The Viral Story That Shook TikTok

In case you missed it, Melissa Weaver went viral on TikTok for sharing her recent job-hunting experience. Though she was told her qualifications and skills made her a perfect fit for the role, she was not invited to continue. When she asked for feedback, Weaver was told that her appearance was the cause, saying she “hadn’t put enough effort” into how she looked.

With a new style, a blazer and earrings, Weaver was left with one conclusion: It was the fact that she hadn’t worn makeup that had cost her the interview. “Does not wearing makeup, for women, to job interviews or to jobs make it seem like they aren’t putting as much effort or care into their job?” she asks her audience.

What Commenters Had to Say

Many netizens chimed in to urge Weaver to get a lawyer and potentially look into employment discrimination, while others clamored to know which company was behind the interview. Weaver herself made it clear she has no intentions of doing either.

While gender-based discrimination is illegal in the U.S., there are no rules against using your appearance as a factor. How you appear in terms of grooming and cleanliness is fair game. She also clarified she has no plans to name and shame the company she interviewed with.

The comments are also unfortunately filled with similar experiences. Women report being labelled as “stressed” or “under performers” when not wearing makeup and find pretty privilege to be a barrier in the workplace.

Though not all is doom and gloom.

One commenter noted that a shift in her workplace dynamic had to be intentional. “When our company was moving back in office after Covid my female coworkers and I made a pact to not wear full makeup when we all went back to help set a new ‘standard,'” user @wildpoppy says.

But if it seems like those comments are full of women have the same experiences, it’s because data shows that they are.

Data Shows Makeup at Work has Benefits

Back in 2016, sociologists Jaclyn Wong and Andrew Penner collected data from more than 14,000 employees and found a lot. Not only did they confirm our worst fears about pretty privilege, but also some sobering facts about how women are viewed.

“We find that attractive individuals earn roughly 20 percent more than people of average attractiveness,” the study explains. Grooming, they found, plays a major role in that perception of attraction. “Grooming explains all the attractiveness premia for women, but only half for men.”

That means that men are judged only partially for their grooming habits. But for women, it matters a lot more.

A 2020 study by Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute examining the reactions to the level of makeup women wore found that a lot rides on the look we choose. Using photos of 25 models (White, African American and Hispanic women aged 25-50) in varying makeup styles (“natural,” “professional” and “glamorous”), they found that women who wore a “professional” amount of makeup were regarded as “capable, reliable, and amiable,” and “more competent.”

What Is Professional Makeup?

According to makeup artist and founder of eponymous brand Bobbi Brown, a professional look can vary. “Your office makeup routine should be appropriate for your specific workplace,” she explains in her Masterclass. “If you’re someone who works in a law office, there’s probably a look. If you’re someone who works at a magazine or a more creative office, there’s probably a look.”

Conventional wisdom online leans towards a neutral color palette. The idea is to go for an obvious enhancement without going into glitters or glamorous looks. It’s not quite the no-makeup clean girl look we’ve all been obsessed with. That’s because the perception of how hard you’re trying seems to be part of the equation.

The Other Side of Makeup at Work

And like you might expect, going too much with your makeup has consequences. That same 2020 study found that participants rated the attractiveness of “glamorous” makeup highly. But ultimately, “the glamorous look had a significant negative effect on trustworthiness.”

Another study published in Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences confirmed women who wore more makeup were seen as less trustworthy to peers. “Because the benefits of beauty are rewarded based on superficial qualities rather than on merit or performance, women may perceive same-sex others who use appearance enhancement to gain advantages as being dishonest or manipulative,” explains the research.

Researchers in Scotland even found that women wearing makeup designed for a night out were viewed as less competent than their peers. “Regardless of the participant’s sex or ethnicity, makeup used for a social night out had a negative effect on perceptions of women’s leadership ability,” it concludes.

What Now?

Just like @wildpoppy shared, change has to be intentional. You and your coworkers can arrive to this conclusion together and work together to make a new normal. And in a post-Covid world, it might be easier to accomplish.

That said, those of us with client-facing jobs aren’t going to see a shift to no-makeup overnight. It’s 2024, and we know that women should get to choose how much makeup they wear on a given day. But the reality is, it can have a significant impact on our status at work and our paychecks.

Making positive strides forward towards a healthier workplace should be a goal for all parties. But sometimes it’s hard to be the change you want to see while your salary is on the line. That’s why it’s important for company culture to cultivate that healthy environment for workers. Then, they can focus on what they do best, their job. And to us, that sounds like a positive change for everyone involved.

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