“Are you alright Radhika? You look quite tired. Are you ill? Late night?”
These are the responses I tend to elicit when I walk into the office wearing no make-up. On the occasions when I do decide to stick on a bit of powder and mascara, the reaction is quite different.
“You look nice today. Did you have a relaxing weekend? It really shows.” People have even remarked (in surprise):
“You look quite pretty.”
Welcome to the politics of wearing make-up (or not) in the workplace.
Chances are if a woman has a totally bare face, she’ll be told by both male and female colleagues that she looks exhausted, hungover or ill. Tired and pale. It doesn’t matter if she’s actually healthier and happier than she’s ever been; people are so used to seeing made-up women at work that an au naturale face seems anything but natural.
Foundation, mascara, blusher, lipstick – these are the things that apparently make us seem ‘well groomed’. Shockingly, a senior female consultant told me recently that some of the positive feedback she’d received in her annual review was to do with make-up. She was praised for coming across as “smart” and “well-presented” – comments her bosses would never think to direct towards male employees.
The problem is that employers now expect women to wear make-up in order to seem ‘smart’ and ‘professional’.
For some it’s even compulsory. This week, actress Nicola Thorp raised awareness of one such sexist dress code at temping firm Portico.
When the 27-year-old was sent to a temporary receptionist job, at City firm PwC, she was told she had to wear high heels and make-up. She was even given a colour chart of the various nail varnish shades that were considered ‘acceptable’ in the office. When she turned up to her job in flat shoes, she was sent home unpaid – and believes if she’d turned up with no make-up on, the same would have happened.