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(Courtesy of Jael Calloway)

Before the pandemic, I would wake up an hour before any professional event to put my makeup on. I broke out my brushes for any event, ranging from a shift at work to class presentations to any type of interview. Since masks have become our newest accessories, that routine has been altered — and so has my mindset regarding makeup. As I re-examined how I measured my self-worth throughout this year, I came to the conclusion that women shouldn’t have to wear makeup in order to be seen as professional.

Now, this isn’t an article bashing makeup. After a year of isolation, I get extremely excited to get dressed up no matter where I go, even if it’s just to the grocery store. Makeup continues to boost my confidence, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Instead, I want to focus on why I came to feel I needed makeup to present myself as capable, rather than presenting my knowledge and initiative as my qualifications. I used to put makeup on, not to boost my confidence, but merely to present myself as a professional woman. I feared that without makeup, others would label me as lazy, not adept.

Unfortunately, that’s a valid fear for women. A study found that traditionally “attractive” individuals earn nearly 20% more than “average” looking individuals; and grooming accounts for “the entire attractiveness premium for women, and only half of the premium for men.” It can be daunting to know that concealer and blush could be a ticket to more pay and more respect. It’s a dangerous social expectation that places women in a competitive hierarchy based on who’s considered more “attractive,” not who’s most qualified. This competition and societal structure can form the belief that physical appearance should trump intelligence as the deciding factor for a job.

So it’s important that women remember that we are here for a reason. You won that job by beating out the other applicants. You earned that award through your own hard work. You’re working your ass off, and physical traits don’t diminish your competence and achievements. That realization is felt in an environment that embodies it.

A blog by Julia Sonenshein talks about the idea that “culture starts at the top.” Her new CEO didn’t wear makeup frequently, and, as a result, Sonenshein felt the environment looked comfortable and happy. Another blog by CEO and founder of Fairygodboss, Georgene Huang, talks about why she doesn’t wear makeup at work and the change it’s had in her work environment. Not wearing makeup to work may seem like a small change, but the effect it has on people is anything but. By opting not to engage with compulsory makeup, these CEO’s redefined what professionalism looked like.

Makeup can be a source of confidence and power and, if that’s what makes you feel ready for the day, all the power to you! Makeup or not, women can be professional and deserve to feel respected in the workplace. What matters is breaking down the stereotype that makeup defines qualifications. 

I encourage everyone to do what will make them feel the most comfortable in their skin. Some days I need a pick-me-up in the form of a 45-minute makeup routine with old Disney songs blasting. Ultimately, what it boils down to is this: all women deserve to be recognized as equally competent as those around them — regardless of how much makeup we decide to put on.