Posts Tagged: beauty

Makeup and Professionalism


Over the past few months, I’ve read several essays linking makeup and professionalism. Written by stylish women working in corporate America, these articles insist that daily makeup application is a must for working women, and that going without it may degrade your image of competence and reliability. They inevitably cite a recent study, the results of which indicate that women wearing just the right amount of makeup appear more trustworthy and likable to most observers. And they send readers scrambling to Sephora to upgrade their stashes.

I never experimented with makeup as a girl and didn’t even learn to pluck my eyebrows until I was 30. The older I get, the more I find myself relying on cosmetics to define and conceal, shape and highlight my features. And although I’d rather spend my precious minutes reading or sleeping or kissing my husband, I don’t actively resent my ever-expanding makeup application routine.

I do, however, resent the implication that a woman without makeup doesn’t belong in the workplace, or that applying makeup is essential to career success. And here’s why:

Laws versus policing

I encourage my readers and clients to select clothing that fits their figures and broadcasts their confidence and self-respect. I believe that dressing is a social contract and that understanding the norms surrounding appropriate dressing choices for various life situations will ease human relationships. But I am also aware that there are laws about clothing. Actual laws that apply to both men and women. To go about in public and not be fined or arrested, humans must be clothed. And in my opinion, since we’ve got to get dressed anyway, we might as well do it expressively and in ways that feel good. Since dressing is social, we can also make style choices that will make us appear polished, impressive, and self-aware. So, in my view, acquiring an understanding of how to dress is both beneficial and required.

There are no laws about wearing makeup. Makeup is entirely optional everywhere. Although some men wear makeup, the majority of makeup consumers and wearers are women. And to tell these women that they should feel obliged to apply makeup on a daily basis in order to garner the respect and admiration of their colleagues is to police their behaviors based solely on social norms. To say that makeup is essential to workplace achievement is to promote the belief that the performance of traditional femininity is the only route to professional success for women. To insist on a set of grooming-related behaviors that doesn’t remove dirt or odor, doesn’t make something that is naturally messy look neater, and really only serves to “enhance” or “amplify” certain facial features is to remind women that their physical selves are never going to be acceptable in their natural state.

I understand that there are plenty of voluntary behaviors that human beings engage to further their personal goals, plenty of things we do because they’re beneficial though not required. And yet this case is so focused on forcing women to be and look one specific way, I can’t help but feel it is more about reinforcing existing social norms than it is about ensuring the professional success of women as a group.

The fine line

But what about that study, you ask? Well, first off, it was funded by Procter & Gamble, a company that manufactures and sells makeup and was undoubtedly thrilled to see results linking makeup and trustworthiness. But perhaps more importantly, the results emphasized that while barefaced is too little, “glamorous” is too much. If you apply just the right amount of eyeshadow and blush, you appear more capable, reliable and amiable. But overdo it and “there may be a lowering of trust.”

So not only are you being asked to spend money on cosmetics and spend your time and energy applying them, you must be very careful not to apply too little or too much or you risk ruining everything. Without makeup, you’re unprofessional, inexperienced, a hippie or a child or a socially oblivious loser. With too much makeup you’re unprofessional in an entirely different way, still socially oblivious but more on the sexualized diva end of the spectrum.

There are parallels to dressing, here, of course: Women are expected to dress in ways that aren’t too dowdy or too slutty. Fall too far on either side and you risk ridicule and censure by the lady-policing machinery built into modern society. This is nothing you’ll ever hear me defending. But again, wearing clothing is required by law and since you’ve got to get dressed anyway, choosing to align your lawfully required garments with social expectations may work to your benefit. Makeup is optional. And if you aren’t naturally interested in it and you ARE going to be judged negatively should you fail to apply the exact right amount of it, why bother at all?

Focus on accomplishment

I give presentations on professional dress and grooming to college seniors and women’s leadership programs, so you’ll never hear me say that how you present your physical self in professional situations is irrelevant. But here’s a tidbit that goes into every single lecture I deliver: Comportment, demeanor, dress, grooming, and overall appearance constitute the first levels of information about ourselves that we offer to the observing world. They may not be the most important, but they are the first, which makes them worthy of effort and attention.

What I hope to convey to my audience members is that blending personal style and comfort preferences with environmental expectations can help you create looks that feel great and allow you to forget all about what you look like so you can focus on your message, your work, your passion. I also remind them that badly applied makeup is generally considered to be worse than no makeup at all, and that it’s completely fine to skip it. I want them to feel confident and empowered, and I want them to think more about their goals than their shoes.

By telling women that a perfectly applied face of makeup is a prerequisite for career success, we are telling them that how they look is more important than what they know or what they have achieved. We are telling them that their natural faces will distract people, that being pretty is necessary regardless of circumstance, that performing femininity in exactly the right way isn’t just helpful, it’s essential. Insisting that makeup become integral to a professional woman’s daily life subtly tells her that if she doesn’t look right it won’t matter how smart or creative or innovative or capable she is. And that is patently untrue.

Since I’ve admitted to being a makeup novice myself, I realize I may sound defensive. And maybe I am. When I read this spate of makeup-career articles, the underlying message I got was, “If you don’t wear makeup, you don’t look like a grownup to other grownups.” And that sentiment makes me want to break things. Some adult women wear makeup and others don’t. Learning to apply makeup is a rite of passage for many, but it is not a skill set required for acceptance into the Grown-Ass Woman Club. Any more than having children or going to college or losing your virginity or working outside the home or any of the other arbitrary markers of so-called “real” womanhood are. Being a woman can be done in infinite ways, and forging a successful career path can play out in infinite ways. Accomplished, professional, grown women can take on the world at any age, at any stage, and in any way they see fit.

And they can do it with or without lipstick and foundation.

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What Makes Someone Photogenic?


It took me too long to realize that I don’t take good pictures
‘Cuz I have the kind of beauty that MOVES
Ani DiFranco, “Evolve”

Two of my most gorgeous friends – one a man, one a woman – are also two of the least photogenic human beings I’ve ever encountered. And THEY KNOW IT. Years of mugging for the camera only to be confused and disappointed by the results have made both of them extremely shy of photographs. And, of course, the anxiety of anticipating every shot to be a bum shot makes both of them feel stiff and uncomfortable in front of the lens. These two people prove that it is definitely possible to be beautiful in motion, yet have a beauty that cannot be effectively captured by still photography. Another example? Mind-bogglingly talented actress Toni Colette, pictured above. This woman frequently looks stunning in her movies, and can do glamorous stunning, untamed stunning, and natural stunning with equal ease on film. And although she occasionally hits just the right smile and angle, most of her still photos just don’t do her justice. At least, in my opinion. She’s a knockout, but she’s just not terribly photogenic.

Sometimes being photogenic seems like a trait that a lucky few inherit genetically  … and yet some folks appear to improve over time. Celebrities and high-powered executives often start out looking terrified and stiff in their photos, but after a few years in front of the lens they appear more natural and poised. So can photogenocity be learned and practiced? Does it just take time and about 60 bajillion shutter clicks?

Hard to say, of course. I have certainly become more comfortable in front of the camera myself, after nearly seven years of posing for blog and media photos.* My guess is that looking great in photos can be traced back to confidence and relaxation: If cameras make you nervous, you’ll involuntarily cringe, like my two friends do. And even an infinitesimal cringe will be magnified in a still image. If you don’t mind cameras, you’ll just grin and be yourself. And in the latter case, you needn’t be drop-dead gorgeous to take drop-dead gorgeous photos. I couldn’t say how, but I think cameras can capture – and even magnify – confidence. Confidence in a photographic subject is what makes an image compelling and mesmerizing. Lack of confidence makes an image strangely upsetting, and often causes the observer feel uncomfortable in sympathy with the subject.

Of course, it can be a bit of a chicken-and-egg situation. If my two friends looked better in their photos, they might start to relax and feel confident in front of the lens, and their photos would improve further. But instead, they’re stuck in the negative feedback loop of posing anxiously, disliking the results, and posing even more anxiously the next time. Also just flat-out telling someone to relax and be confident? Especially when a camera is involved? Not typically very effective. A little like telling someone to think about anything besides zebras. You can do your best to fake relaxation and confidence by breathing deeply, rolling your shoulders back, and thinking of something truly funny or joyous when someone hauls out a camera. But can you fake it till you make it all the way to being wildly photogenic? I honestly don’t know. Since every phone is also a camera and every image likely to be shared across several media, many of us are hoping so.

I’m curious about your thoughts, especially since I know many of you are bloggers and photographers. In your opinion and experience, what makes someone photogenic? Is it tied directly to beauty, or confidence, or relaxation? Are YOU photogenic? Any pointers for someone who wants to look better and more natural in photos?

*My coworker Amy laughs her butt off at me when we do photos for Corset’s Instagram. I go into “pose mode” the second she holds up my phone to take a shot without even realizing it.


Image source // This post prompted some great discussion in the past so I wanted to revive and refresh it for any new readers. I’ve been struggling with professional balance lately, and will be bringing back the occasional archived post until things calm down a bit. Thanks for your understanding.

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Loving What You Hate

K112625TITIAN 3

For eons, my body image hang-ups have centered on my little belly-pooch. Why is it there? Why won’t it flatten? Will doing the “wrong” kind of sit-ups really make it MORE prominent? Were low-rise pants designed specifically to create a small, uncomfortable shelf for it? Do other women have similar bellies and just disguise them more effectively? Why, oh why, will I never look like Blake Lively in a Herve Leger bandage dress?

I fretted and stewed, moaned and groaned, cursed my lot and tried my damndest to change it. And yet, through weight fluctuations of more than 50 pounds, my tum has remained. I’ve been a size 6 and a size 16 and everything in between. The tum abides.

And I can say with confidence that focusing some intentional love and affection toward the body part I hated most was KEY to moving myself further down the path toward self-love and acceptance. It wasn’t until I forced myself to celebrate what I’d spent so long loathing that I felt capable of continuing my own body image journey. Writing this post about minimizing my pooch, and very intentionally including some tips for clothes to enjoy when minimization is NOT a priority, was therapeutic in ways I can barely express. I don’t gravitate naturally toward tum-highlighting styles, but incorporating them intentionally (if sporadically) has proven both rewarding and fun. I feel more in-touch with my physical self, more alive, more grounded now that I have taken this step toward accepting my body’s organic form. And although I still experience the occasional burst of frustration at it, and although I certainly dress to conceal it more often than not, I now feel almost protective of my little belly-pooch. It’s got staying power. It defines me. It’s a very natural part of me, and attempting to eradicate it is both futile and foolish. It is mine.

I will admit that making peace with my tum has caused me to redirect my personal body scrutiny elsewhere: I fret about my upper arms more than I’d like to admit, and still struggle to give them the same loving grace as my belly. But every summer when the temps rise and I let the panicky exposed-arm thoughts creep in, I am better able to push them out again. I may still be working to love my arms, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to suffer through a hot, humid Minnesota summer in long sleeves in an attempt to disguise them. And I know that’s because I spent some serious time and energy breaking down my hatred for my tum. It’s not a done deal, but I’ll muster up some arm-love one of these summers.

Forcing yourself to love what you hate most about your body is a tricky task, and may not work for every woman. But my personal experience has led me to believe that many of us focus a good 85% of our self-loathing on one specific body part. Dedicating some energy to creating a better relationship with that body part may not be a cure-all, but it certainly can’t hurt. And that kind of intentionality makes room for untold personal growth.

Do you have one body part that bears the brunt of your frustration? What makes you hate it so much? Do you think forcing yourself to reevaluate its worth and importance to defining you could help you heal that rift?

Image is Venus of Urbino by Titian. Give me some flowers and a blonde wig, and this is me, people.

*This is an updated post from the archive.

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