Please Explain to Me Why I Have to Look Unrealistically Perfect at Work

It’s six am and you’ve slept for four hours. You have an 8 am meeting, an hour commute and you still need to put on all your makeup, blow dry your hair and iron your designer skirt suit. Then carefully put on your pantyhose (without causing them to run), your heels to run to work, and then try not to sprain your ankle or spill your coffee on the way. 

We can all agree that our daily beauty routines before work are a joke. Especially when compared to your male counterparts. For them, it’s wake up, shower, get dressed and go. Shave? Nope, beards are in fashion. Put on a suit and tie? Nope, all the cool execs walk around like Steve Jobs these days and still get the same level of respect they would wearing a suit and tie. For women, studies show that this is not the case and it’s why we strive to look perfect at work every day. It’s that innate survival of the fittest feeling we feel in our work-jungle that revolves around how well or poorly a woman grooms herself.  

Not only are we as women spending more time and effort on our beauty routines to gain a little more Aretha Franklin style r-e-s-p-e-c-t at the office, we´re spending a lot more money, too.  Our monthly grooming expenses surpass those of men, sometimes 15 times more in fact. And Latinas spend more on beauty products than anyone else according to 2018 Mintel Research. Whether everyday or special occasion makeup look, it seems Latinas who perform a beauty routine “are more likely to experiment and adopt multiple steps into their routines, with two thirds (66%) saying they create complex makeup looks, compared to 51% of US women overall. When it comes to the latest beauty trends, America’s multicultural women seem to be the most enthusiastic. Hispanic women who perform a beauty routine are more likely to be interested in multi-purpose beauty products (49% vs 41% women overall), in-shower body products (36% vs 27% women overall) and online beauty tools (31% vs 16% women overall),” reported Mintel

Worth Equal Pay Pink Tax Artist Alice Skinner
Photo Credit IG @thisisaliceskinner, London Artist Alice Skinner

Yet when it comes to tax time, personal finance websites and accountants tend to wave off beauty and grooming expenses as “nonessentials” unless you are Kendall Jenner.  Our society still fails to consider the financial losses many women would pay if they reduced their personal grooming expenses. In fact, studies show that there’s a proven penalty for not looking pretty. A 2016 study conducted by sociologists Jaclyn S. Wong and Andrew M. Penner, and published in Science Direct, found that attractive individuals out-earned their peers by about 20%. But not only must you be beautiful, but only up to a certain point, ladies. Don’t push it because the 2019 study, “The Femme Fatale Effect: Attractiveness is a Liability for Businesswomen’s Perceived Truthfulness, Trust, and Deservingness of Termination” found that “attractive businesswomen are judged as being less truthful than less attractive women.” So in order to be taken seriously at the workplace, we must walk a tightrope of looking attractive, but also trustworthy, because if you are too hot, you are hated. 

I Love You, Makeup — I Hate You, Makeup

Most career women have a love-hate relationship with make-up. Deep down they know that people treat them differently when they make more of an effort to do themselves up for work than if they roll out of bed and go all “nature girl.”  Of course, there are plenty of women who in turn view looking perfect at work every day as a form of self-expression and pure enjoyment. They’d rather spend their money on top brand makeup and clothes than say a weekend in the mountains. 

But ultimately it’s a burden having to spend extra money on makeup and clothing and not get reimbursed for it at tax time. It’s yet another pink tax we pay and have to pay for beauty. Why do we feel as if our appearance, and not our intelligence and accomplishments, mean more in the end to the people we are looking to invest in our ideas or our business? What makes it worse is that most men can pitch an expensive enterprise in jeans, a T-shirt and a five o’clock shadow. With women, we have to look the part of the profitable market that we’re serving and that means dressed to the nines, not nature girl. 

In an interview with Fast Company, Kara Perez, founder of Bravely, a financial community for women, suggests that a way to opt-out of the burden of adhering to these beauty standards is by being a self-employed entrepreneur who works from home. “For me, personal grooming is not mandatory in my professional life, unless I’m at a conference or on TV. I’m able to opt-out. for big chunks of time because of [my] specific lifestyle,” she said in the interview. She also acknowledged that not all women are so lucky and that if she were required to go into an office every day that she might feel less able to opt-out of the grooming burden.

Women like Perez who are in privileged positions and who are passionate about being catalysts for change in our society can slowly begin to change the world with their behavior. Like wearing flats instead of uncomfortable heels for starters. Perez told FC:  “I do feel very strongly that traditional Euro-centric beauty standards are harmful to many people. The more we can move away from those and discuss that with nuances, the stronger everyone’s finances — and, frankly, professional output — will be.” This unrealistic expectation of looking perfect at work has to change. Then maybe we concentrate just on the work and not the run you just got in your brand new stockings.