Posts Tagged: makeup

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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This Week I Love …


Fresh Sugar Lip Treatments.

So, I do love my red lippy. And I do know how to make it stay put. But I am LAAAAAAZY and far more likely to just slap it on and go than line, fill, apply, blot, apply, and blot. Which means that an hour or so and a glass of water later, I have what I lovingly refer to as “Scary Clown Lips.” I don’t actually know any scary clowns, and if I did I doubt they’d have a dark ring of lipstick around their mouths and zero pigment elsewhere … but the phrase has stuck somehow.

I will apply and blot on occasion, but even my favorite lipstick dries out my lips after a couple of hours. And I’ve tried a billion tinted balms, but most of them sit on top of my lips like icing and never sink in. I shake my tiny fists at Kiehl’s for discontinuing their tinted balms which I used and loved for years, but am thrilled to have discovered an even more richly pigmented replacement.

These Fresh Sugar Lip Treatments are aggravatingly expensive at $22.50 a pop. BUT. Unlike Burt’s Bees and Blistex and even the now-unavailable Kiehl’s that I loved, they truly add color to your lips. Quite a bit for a product so sheer, but not as much as an actual lipstick. (Although with enough coats you might get something approaching lipstick-level coverage.) And they fade off slowly and naturally, preventing Scary Clown Lips. In my opinion, they are the perfect balm-lipstick hybrid: Relatively moisturizing and super comfy to wear but also pigmented and rich.

I’ve got the berry color shown above, which has just the right mix of purple and red, and the cherry color which is bright red and surprisingly strong for a balm. One swipe usually does me just fine, and leaves my lips looking subtly red.

So yeah, it’s a lot of money for a lip balm. But if if it allows you to stop buying balm and lipstick and merge them into one? Maybe?

Anyone else a fan of these guys? Any favorite shades to share? Other tinted lip balms that actually moisturize and ALSO give some real color? Let us know in the comments!

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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Reader Request: My Makeup Routine


Reader Lydia e-mailed me this request:

Since you’ve been posting about the use of cosmetics recently, is there any chance you’d do a post on a gentle beginner intro to starting to wear make-up as an adult?

I’ve been back through the beauty tag and looked at the individual posts on cosmetics, especially the one about falling down the rabbit hole, but was hoping that you might do one that draws all the threads together. You made such a great transition from not wearing make-up to really understanding how to use it for the effect you want, and your posts on individual products have been really detailed and clear.

I’ve been trying to start wearing make-up as an adult, but, when I’ve tried going to a store’s beauty counter for help, I end up looking like a clown and being given a long list of products. Most online information seems to be aimed at the experienced make-up wearer, with even novice tutorials calling for three brushes and sixteen products.

I pointed Lydia to Sonja’s Makeup 101 series, which is really fantastic … but does go pretty deep into techniques. And uses an awful lot of brushes. So even though I STILL feel like a laughable novice when it comes to anything makeup-related, I will take a stab at this. Because I remember feeling just like Lydia as a 30-year-old woman, having those same experiences and frustrations, and wondering where to turn.

Of course, all I can really share is my own routine. It’s fairly simple, works for me, and doesn’t require loads of expertise or fancy tools … but I would never say it’s the ideal set of practices for anyone. Still, I hope it’ll be helpful for those of you just beginning to play around with cosmetics.


So first, the general:

  • I have become fanatical about skincare, and I feel like having healthy skin makes for a great canvas. When I’m broken out or sore, applying makeup hurts and irritates, but more than that, it feels like a chore concealing stuff that I don’t want seen instead of highlighting stuff that I love. My skincare routine includes oil cleansing (posts here and here), using a Clairsonic every other day (info and review here), and many other tactics to manage my hormonal acne (full post here). I do NOT believe that my methods will work perfectly for anyone besides me! But I definitely recommend finding a cleansing and moisturizing routine that feels good and works for you. Any makeup you apply will work and look better on clear, happy skin. (Or as clear and happy as you can get it. Some of us struggle more than others with skin-related challenges.)
  • I have had my makeup applied professionally and plied the artists with questions. I have paid for makeup tutorials. I hang out with Beauty Bets on the regular and am constantly hounding her. But as a hands-on learner, I STILL have had to do a lot of playing around and experimentation to find products and techniques that work for me. This just sucks. I wish I could say that this book or that class will help you find exactly what you need, but in all likelihood, you’re gonna have to spend the occasional evening trying out eye makeup techniques. In front of a mirror. And then wiping everything off and trying other techniques. Nothing beats trial and error, friends.
  • I put a lot of stuff on my face to achieve the much-lauded “no makeup” look. This drives me up a wall. Just had to mention that.
  • All of the makeup I use for the Sally version of a “full face” is shown at the very top of this post (minus BB cream and eyebrow fillers). All of the tools I use are shown below.


Next, the blow-by-blow:

Base layer: I don’t use foundation, have no idea how to apply bronzer or highlighter, cannot contour, and apply my entire base layer with my fingers. I do two things to make my freshly-washed skin look even in tone: I apply BB cream all over my face and under my chin, and I dab on some under-eye concealer. You can read my review of my BB cream here, a post that includes before and after photos. For concealer, I use the Glo Minerals palette shown above. I apply a thin layer of under-eye cream first to plump the area and prevent the concealer from settling into my winkles. Then I dab the light color on with my ring finger, and add a tiny bit of the darker shade to blend the edges. Ages ago, I was taught to use this wedge shape for concealer, and it is KEY to making my under-eye area look lighter.

Eyebrows: I get mine threaded every so often to keep them in shape. I’ve gone to fancy spots, but now I go to a gal at Ridgedale Mall who has a kiosk and she does a great job for $12. I pluck strays with Tweezerman tweezers, and generally have to do this daily, being a gifted Hair Farmer. I use a pencil and light strokes to create a rough outline, then brush some brown powder in there to fill any gaps. I actually use an eyeliner pencil and eyeshadow powder. Many makeups can multitask!

Powder: I use Neutrogena Healthy Skin. I get a little on my finger, and apply it to my undereye areas. Then I apply all over my face with a compact puff. I get very shiny without powder, and also keep a Neutrogena Shine Control compact in my purse and oil blotting sheets handy for touch-ups.

Cheeks: I tried powder blush for a while, but I really, REALLY prefer cream. (My favorites here.) I generally use the Elizabeth Arden shown above, so I’ll run my finger around the compact to get a thin glaze going, then dot it along my cheekbones, and blend upward toward my temples. Using my fingers. That’s it.

And that’s also it in terms of what I apply if I’m working at home or seeing friends or doing anything other than a TV or press appearance, event, or other fancypants activity. I don’t do eye makeup on a regular basis. I know it looks nice, but it makes me feel delicate and smudge-able and cranky so I am yet to make it a daily ritual. Considering how much stuff I use now and how little I used six years ago I won’t say “never,” but for now, eyes are a special occasion thing.


When I do eyes I do this:

Curl eyelashes: Une Femme taught me this one. Even if you hate mascara, curling your eyelashes can help those lashes look longer and opens your eyes considerably. I curl mine pre-mascara. I have no special technique. I grab as close to the lid as I can without hurting myself, and hold for 20 seconds. Do the other eye. Then another round of 20 seconds on each.


Apply “liner”: Audi taught me this one. When I attempt to apply actual eyeliner – especially in dark colors and black – I look like I’ve allowed a drunk toddler to do my makeup. So I use matte black eyeshadow and an eyeliner brush. I press the powder along the top of my lash line where liner would go, making it darkest where my lashes are thick. It creates a soft, dark line that is much more forgiving than eyeliner. The powder migrates throughout the day (even if I apply some sort of lid primer), and for much of the time it just looks soft and smoky. After 5-6 hours, it looks like a splotchy, greasy, weird mess and needs a touch-up.

Sometimes I will also use a black pencil to apply VERY light liner to the outer 1/2 or 3/4 of my lower lid, then blend with a finger or Q-tip. I’ve heard that doing liner on top only makes your eyes look bigger but my eyes can look a bit odd to me without a hint of lower liner, so I apply it, “rules” be damned. This also feathers and needs a touch-up after 5-6 hours.

Apply mascara: I apply to upper and a tiny bit to lower. Usually just one coat, but sometimes two. I use the brush on the far right above to separate my lashes if they stick and get rid of clumps. Right now I’m using Lash Domination. It is the second type of mascara I’ve ever used and it is better than the first (Benefit Bad Gal), in that it is more lengthening. The physics of this mystifies me.

And that’s it for eyes. My deep-set eyes mean that eyeshadow is meaningless so I just skip it.

Lips: For formal lips, I use Make Up For Ever in Rouge Artist Intense 44 (story here) and occasionally Bobbi Brown Creamy Matte Lip Color in Crushed Plum. Both of these are SUPER pigment-rich, which means that if I apply and blot, they will basically stain my lips for several hours. I can eat and drink and some color will remain. If I’m going to an event that is many hours long and involves eating/drinking, I use Sonja’s lip liner layering trick. Otherwise, it’s apply/blot/apply/blot. My lack of lip liner means that, if I don’t blot, the lipstick bleeds. But most days, I just use some combination of gloss or tinted balm and skip true lip color.

And we’re done.

I’m absolutely happy to answer questions about my choices and techniques, and will do my best to field other questions! But I definitely recommend talking with friends whose makeup application techniques you admire, poking around Pinterest for other simple tutorials, and lots of hands-on experimentation. Especially if you’re a novice and feel overwhelmed by beauty blogs and magazine tutorials. And I truly hope this was helpful!

**Disclosure: Actions you take from the hyperlinks within this blog post may yield commissions for See Already Pretty’s disclosure statement for more details.

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