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No, Women Shouldn’t Have to Wear Makeup to Work

no makeup company culture
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When celebrities left and right started announcing they’re off the makeup train in favor of more natural (read: less obvious but still made up) looks, I rolled my eyes. I simply couldn’t muster any feelings about the performative unburdening of it all—cloaked as it was in superficial empowerment. (Celebrities: I know you are still wearing makeup. You aren’t helping anyone).

My personal relationship to makeup can only be described as “whatever”: I typically don’t leave the house without some undereye concealer and a bit of mascara, even if I’m just going to get coffee or go for a walk, but a usual day is pretty limited to exactly that. Some would call that low maintenance, others would say that’s ludicrous. Whatever.

But things change if I’m in a work environment. No matter how laid back the office—open floor plan, nap pods, coworkers who bring their puppies—I’m in full makeup. Not the fun, creative kind of makeup, but boring, workhorse makeup: concealer covering the shadows under my eyes, some powder toning down the redness of my nose, and cheek tint so I don’t look quite so pasty. If anything, I’m going for that look all the celebrities are pretending is so noble: I just woke up this way, perfectly unblemished, vibrant, and inoffensive.

It’s not the look I might try on the weekends when I put on some winged eyeliner or red lipstick. This makeup is to appear ostensibly “professional,” or in reality, to pretend not to be a human person with flaws. This routine hasn’t felt like a choice.

One day on the way to work, it was so humid and gross out that my makeup fully melted off of my face, and I wiped it off before I got to the office. Three people asked me if I was feeling ill or if I needed to go home. They looked uncomfortable when I deadpanned, “This is just what my face looks like.”

At another job, a cut on my eyelid prevented me from wearing makeup for a few days and my boss told me to go home because I looked unprofessional. Never mind that a male colleague a few seats over had obvious undereye shadows and unkempt hair. The message was clear: In the office, men are fine as they are, imperfections and all. Women, on the other hand, must be improved.

I hadn’t given this much thought—radical feminist as I am—because it was simply so deeply ingrained in my consciousness. But everything came into sharp focus when I started working at Skillcrush, where we’re all remote and working from home offices on multiple continents. We have video meetings all the time—and when I joined the team, I would wake up, do my hair and makeup, and walk ten feet to my computer. Then I rolled my eyes at how ridiculous it all was to wipe off my makeup at the end of the day after not even leaving the house.

About two weeks in, I realized that I was squarely in the minority of employees putting on the ritz to sit in their own house—if not the only one. My coworkers looked happy and comfortable in their work environments, while I was squirming in my “professional” bra.

I couldn’t figure out why everyone felt so comfortable being themselves, and I envied it until it finally dawned on me. Our CEO—everyone’s boss—doesn’t wear makeup most of the time when she meets with us from her home office, and culture starts at the top. It seems small, but it means that we don’t have to, either. She offered us flexible jobs we could do from home and then demonstrated what it actually looks like to fit in your job around your life.

It’s not enough to have an employee handbook full of platitudes about how cool your company is—if your boss doesn’t take vacations, you won’t, either. If your boss encourages risks but won’t take them herself, you can’t be expected do the same.

When culture starts at the top, it’s a way for companies to walk the walk, and in our case, it instills gender parity when it comes to how we define “professionalism.” And for a company that allows us to work from home on our schedule, it makes clear that we don’t just have to trade the commute—we can also ditch gendered expectations about how we should present.

The idea of choosing whether or not to wear makeup to work might seem trivial, but I’d argue that the way women are expected to look at work is one of the many ways in which all women are held to a double standard in the workplace (not to mention the discriminatory, racist ways in which Black women are held to BS definitions of “professionalism” that don’t include natural hair). It’s not as simple as picking up the lipstick or not—it’s about how women are perceived as professional or not based on something as silly as how they look.

Makeup is fun and anyone can and should wear it whenever they want. Even in my liberated new working world of undereye circles and air-dried hair, I sometimes dab on some lipstick for an afternoon pick-me-up. But exactly zero of my coworkers have ever asked if I’m tired, sick, or questioned my ability to do my job, especially while high-fiving a bro in a hoodie at the next desk. About damn time.

Want your own remote job where you’re not expected to wear makeup every day? Check out the Ultimate Guide to Getting a Remote Job You Love for all the insider info on how to land your remote dream job.

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19 comments

  1. Debi Replied

    Love this and the comments. With all the hate and crazy usually featured in comment threads it’s reassuring to read that we may be capable of further evolution after all..!

  2. Komal Jain Replied

    Love it. Agreed – tired of putting on a mask for everyone else when all we collectively want to do is make a company successful. However only thing I’d disagree with is the no makeup please caption! I am uncomfortable with mandating others’ self expression. That’s me though but thank you for writing this!

    • Komal, you make a great point! It’s not about make up vs. no make up, it’s about being able to have the freedom & flexibility to do what feels right to you. Thanks for your comment! – Adda

  3. Doug Replied

    This is a great article and surprisingly one that hits closer to home than I thought it would before reading it.

    I’ll never forget the look of incredulity that greeted me when I explained how fast my facial hair grows into an early 5 o’ clock shadow as early as 8:00 am. Apparently, her man’s didn’t grow that fast and since all men are the same, that must mean that mine didn’t grow that fast either. It was off to the bathroom for a shave.

    I chalked it up to just extreme professionalism until she actually shouted at me one day accusing me of not doing work that I had already completed (and even earlier than scheduled). I could hardly believe this was happening!
    How should I respond? I just looked her in the eyes and told her that would be the last time she ever raised her voice at me and it was. I never went back and I have achieved so much more success without the need to put up with hassles like that. Couldn’t let you naturally beautiful ladies have all the fun. :-P

  4. Daniela Replied

    As women, our sexual market value depends mostly on our beauty and youth. There’s a reason beauty is so important in women: there’s a strong correlation between beauty and health. This is also true for men. However, women have evolved to feel more attracted to men’s resources than to their looks but in the case of men, who have been the providers of these resources for hundreds of thousands of years, they have evolved to place more importance on women’s beauty, not resources. Personally, I wear lots of make up and I find that it gives me a great advantage over my coworkers since it helps me be perceived as healthier, smarter, more professional and trustworthy.

  5. Daniela Replied

    The reality is that both women and men are expected to look presentable. While men are not expected to wear make up, they are still expected to present a clean-shaven face or a well-kept beard as well as appropriate attire.

  6. Anna Replied

    I work at a job now where I am the “face of the practice” and I am required to wear makeup to work and do my hair or I am at risk of being written up. I look forward to the day when women don’t have to hide their faces behind makeup if they choose not to.

  7. Jennie Replied

    I’ve been un-made and bra-free for many years! I salute you for cracking this wide open! :) 

  8. Jennifer Replied

    Thank you for writing this! I am absolutely with you!

  9. Betina Lynn Replied

    This article highlights just one of the many reasons I look forward to going remote. I gave up wearing make-up to my current day job months ago because things came up in life that I had to deal with and I just didn’t have time for both make-up and sleep for a while. Even after life calmed down, I haven’t gone back to wearing make-up as a daily routine and doubt I will. I’d rather sleep in a little longer or have extra time for breakfast. If men can go into the office with no make-up wearing a boring shirt, slacks, and a tie… there is no reason for me to carve precious time out of my life to paint my face before heading out the door each morning. Next up, going remote and working in stretchy athletic or lounge wear of some sort. Woo hoo!

  10. Juvon Replied

    I love this! Thanks for sharing. And many praises to you for mentioning the “discriminatory, racist” ideals and practices that Black women endure. So often we are overlooked in the feminist fight.

    • Yes!!! It’s so important, we’re not perfect on this front, but we push ourselves to always think about how these issues affect women of all races, orientations & sexes ;) – Adda

  11. Maryse Replied

    Seriously? This happened? “At another job, a cut on my eyelid prevented me from wearing makeup for a few days and my boss told me to go home because I looked unprofessional. ” That kind of pissed me off that in this day and age, women still have to put up with that s**t! Thank goodness for intelligent women in charge! Let’s make a world with more of them in it :)

    • Maryse Replied

      I should say that I’ve been working for myself from home for many years now, so I’ve not been exposed to a corporate office environment for quite a while. Had no idea it was still this way. I don’t even expect my two employees (who work in a “real” office) to wear makeup at the office, and most of the time, they don’t. So there!

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