Dare to be Bare: What Does Going Makeup-Free Mean for Women?

Women are held to different standards when it comes to grooming. We call BS.
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As a woman in a very public-facing professional role, I always put a lot of effort into my hair, makeup, and dress choices so that I show up well and represent myself and my employer like a boss. 

A woman holding makeup and using a brush.We’ve all heard advice that to be successful we need to ​“look the part” but we don’t talk frequently enough about how the social norms regarding grooming and appearance for women can be inequitable compared to the requirements for men.

For men, looking the part often simply means donning business casual clothing and a short haircut. Don’t get me wrong—I know a number of men who invest quite a bit into their grooming habits, custom suits, and high-end shoes, but those men are typically going above and beyond traditional norms. 

For women in a professional setting, it can mean hours invested weekly on makeup, hair styling and maintenance, and curating an outfit that’s attractive and professional. 

A recent study found that overall, men and women who were considered more attractive earned more money than less-attractive counterparts. When grooming was factored in for men, the numbers evened out, while well-groomed women showed higher incomes than poorly groomed women, regardless of their natural level of attractiveness.

“For both men and women, grooming matters more than attractiveness: Being attractive is not enough; it is doing attractiveness appropriately [being well groomed] that proves one’s deservingness and is what gets rewarded in the labor market,” the authors of the study wrote.

No-Makeup Days

While I typically enjoy the process of getting ready each morning, this can take me up to 60 to 90 minutes every day, if you include a shower and a blow dry in addition to styling and makeup. 

So, on a snowy Indiana Friday, when I was working from home and didn’t have any face-to-face meetings, I enjoyed what I call a No-Makeup Day—no makeup, hair in a high pony, and wearing casual and comfortable clothing.

Tiffany HansonI shared it on my social media accounts to call attention to the inequitable expectations that women face about how they show up physically at work, and it was also a great reminder about how hybrid work-from-home arrangements benefit women in the workplace. I probably shaved at least an hour off of my morning personal prep time and saved about an hour of drive time by working from home that day. 

I received a lot of comments and engagement on my bare-faced post, which fueled my interest in sharing the conversation more widely.

One female CEO commented, “Amen! It’s exhausting to always be prepped and on. I get excited for a work day where I don’t have to be ‘on’. It’s only about once a month that it happens for me but I hope to have more.”

Another female professional shared, “I love this. It reinforces the fact that women contribute substantively whether they wear makeup or not. When we accept judgment on how we look and let others combine that with what we contribute, we diminish our own value.”

And a male colleague pointed out, “I’ve thought a lot about this as I’m raising my 7-year-old daughter. Right now she’s so pure-hearted and doesn’t expect to be rejected for any reason. I’ve learned not to villainize make-up because some women really enjoy it, but it’s hard for me to think that someday my daughter will feel like she’s somehow diminished without it.”

I now try to keep at least one day a week free from in-person meetings so I can have regular No-Makeup Days and it’s definitely affected my emotional health in a positive way.

Makeup-Free Maven, Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is well-known for going makeup-free and she wrote an incredible piece in Lenny called Alicia Keys: Time to Uncover about her decision. 

She pointed out that in her song “When a Girl Can’t Be Herself” she says, “In the morning from the minute that I wake up / What if I don’t want to put on all that makeup / Who says I must conceal what I’m made of / Maybe all this Maybelline is covering my self-esteem.”

In the piece Keys went on to write, “No disrespect to Maybelline, the word just worked after the maybe. But the truth is … I was really starting to feel like that — that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.”

In 2016, Keys showed up to a photo shoot for her upcoming album and had just come from the gym, wearing a sweatshirt, a scarf under a ballcap, and no makeup. When she arrived, the photographer said “I have to shoot you right now, like this! The music is raw and real, and these photos have to be too!” 

Keys was uncomfortable and nervous about the idea and decided to lean into it. “I swear it is the strongest, most empowered, most free, and most honestly beautiful that I have ever felt,” she wrote. 

“I felt powerful because my initial intentions realized themselves. My desire to listen to myself, to tear down the walls I built over all those years, to be full of purpose, and to be myself!”

After the shoot, Keys decided to go makeup-free indefinitely and inspired women around the world to embrace their natural beauty.

Dare to be Bare

So, my message today is for women and employers.

Ladies, dare to bare your natural features and embrace your authentic self. Other women can certainly appreciate the vulnerability it takes to be fresh-faced at work, and we need to continue to encourage a standard that women don’t have to wear makeup to contribute in a meaningful way or find success in the professional world. 

Employers, consider what your expectations are around grooming for men and women and evaluate how equitable that might be. Also, when continuing to consider in-person versus remote work requirements, remember that building in work-from-home days can provide women a break from some of these grooming standards and create more equitable and productive work environments for us.

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