I didn’t wear make up to work for the week to see how the professional world would handle it
I’ve never been more unproductive
by Lucy Woodham
One day, way back in November, I didn’t wear any make-up into work. It wasn’t because I was sad, tired or stressed. Nothing bad had happened – I just couldn’t be bothered.
It was winter, and half the office were bleary-eyed, chugging up phlegm into tissues leading to a PSA for everyone to be careful, wash their hands, stay at home if it was too much.
The next day I wore my usual makeup, which takes me no more than ten minutes to apply. Foundation, powder, bronzer, blusher, mascara, filled in eyebrows and a bit of highlighter – pretty simple, nothing major, but clearly a massive make-over according to one co-worker, who pointed me out in front of the whole office to use me as a shining example of someone who managed to get over the office plague in 24-hours.
He genuinely thought I was ill because I didn’t have make up on.
There’s an expectation for women to dress and look a certain way at work. In this environment, how you appear from your hair, face and clothing impacts how people perceive you and your work ethic.
Studies have shown that in the working-world, your appearance can mean the difference between getting a job or even a promotion. A 2013 survey by Escentual.com found that almost half of company executives would discriminate against female staff who did not wear make-up to work. Nearly two thirds claimed it would impact a woman’s chance of being promoted.
I didn’t wear make up for the week to see how the professional world would react to me, and whether I would see a change in my work ethic.
I received zero comments regarding my new appearance, it was only me who noticed my lack of bronzer or fuller brows.
Although other people didn’t necessarily see a change in me, I noticed a change in my own work ethic. Catching my reflection in the computer screens or the mirror instantly made me feel more tired. I didn’t feel as productive. Because I looked sluggish, I felt sluggish. I was slower at reading articles and responding to people, I wasn’t fully motivated to get the daily tasks done – but I thought surely this wasn’t purely down to the way I was looking? I put it down to being Monday blues.
However, this didn’t improve and I definitely didn’t feel my normal proactive self throughout the day or the evening when I went out to a work social. I was more self-conscious as to what my fellow employees would think of how I looked and felt. In the mirror I looked worn out, shattered, as if I didn’t want to be there – but I was genuinely having a really good time. It was slightly nerve-wracking thinking that everyone who I work with might potentially think I was finding them boring.
I was looking forward to seeing whether yesterday’s shift in work ethic was down to it being a Monday, or if it was down to me going bare-faced.
But it was the same as the day before. The inherent drive to get up and go in the morning wasn’t there again.
Although no one questioned my appearance that day, possibly at the expense of saving face, I did wonder what everyone was thinking, if they were at all. Dr Judith Mohring, one of the lead psychiatrists at The Priory told the Guardian that co-workers have an expectation for women especially to ‘look the part’. Dr Mohring says that men in particular have expectations that women should look presentable, wear makeup, have brushed hair, basically not look like they’re adopting the ‘can’t be bothered’ appearance – which was exactly the unintentional vibe I was giving off.
On hearing they randomly give out coffees, usually either for people who look upset or are overly friendly, I went to Pret in the morning expecting to get a flat white on the house. Being super polite teamed my winning grey complexion and dead-behind-the-eyes combo seemed like a sure-fire way for me to get a free drink. But even Pret didn’t think twice.
At work I continued to feel lazy. At no point was I working to one hundred per cent, or giving off a ‘put together’ appearance, as Beauty editor of Escentual.com, Emma Leslie, says. She claims that “women feel that they need make-up in order to impress at work” adding there is a “psychological element” to women wanting to wear make-up to make themselves feel more “poised confident and ‘put together’.”
My email response time was slower, I had a general cba attitude to calling up people to discuss articles, I even felt like I was talking less in conference. I was starting to believe that wearing cosmetics had some kind of placebo effect where it would make you feel great even if you had the bubonic plague.
My parents were down in London and took me out for lunch. After two minutes of stepping into the office, my mum cupped my face in her hands and in a mumsy, concerning tone, went, “what have you been up to, why do you look so grey and tired!”
AKA you look shit. It showed that first impressions count for a lot. The last time I saw my parents was Christmas and two minutes in I was already been judged on my appearance, particularly my face. If my own mother thought this, what would someone who I didn’t know think, say if I was going for a job interview. Would they think “Jesus, she looks like she’s on death’s door, don’t employ her!” Probably.
It was the end of the working week, and I wasn’t rejoicing because it meant the weekend, I was happy as it meant it was the last day I had to look young, scruffy and tired resulting in me feeling like I hadn’t accomplished anything.
In the evening I went to The Tate Modern for Tate Lates. People say it’s a really good place to go for a date and or socialise. Being single, it seemed like the prime place I could bump into someone over a piece of art I know nothing about. But being surrounded by Central Saint Martins babes and glamorous people made me want to get round the galleries without being noticed. It was the final straw to my lack of confidence/no make-up week.
True, maybe five days without makeup isn’t enough time to assess productivity. I’ve been wearing it since I was 16 and rarely go without it.
Although no one treated me differently or made remarks, I didn’t feel professional or at my best.
It’s wrong but understandable why in rapid response surveys both men and women find pictures of made-up women more appealing, and strangely employable. Although appearance alone isn’t enough to qualify whether someone is a hard worker, productive, a team player, or any other attributes assigned to an employee, wearing no make-up made me feel less confident. In an interview up against someone looking more ‘put together’, on the surface I bet they’d probably get the job over me.