The Makeup-Free Meeting

makeup brushes and eyeshadow
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As Halloween comes around, it’s a time of year to think about costumes, masks, disguises. About being other than what we are. About trying on an alternate identity, even if just for a night.

The opposite of that, I suppose, is using nothing that alters the way we naturally appear. Earlier this summer, I was challenged to attend a business meeting at work sans makeup. I accepted.

It was a fearsomely hot day in August, the kind that swelters before the sun even rises above the horizon. I’d already walked my two dogs and was back in my air-conditioned home, gulping coffee while frantically running a blowdryer through my hair and wondering just how much more the thermostat was going to rise. I opened my cosmetic bag to begin my usual routine…and I just couldn’t. Too. Darn. Hot.

So I slathered on a little moisturizer and checked my face in the mirror. I hesitated. I looked again. And then, I cheated. A little bit. I dabbed a bit of pore minimizer onto my T-zone and swiped some chapstick over my lips. Then I was out the door before I could second-guess myself any further.

All day I waited for someone to make a comment that I looked tired or ask if I was feeling well. But no one did. During my afternoon meeting, business proceeded as usual.

For a decision that felt bold and daring, an act that flew in the face of workplace conventions, it was stunningly anticlimactic.

Despite the fact that I suffered no ill effects (and a remarkably shortened morning routine) from my makeup-free experiment, I haven’t repeated it. I’m still beholden to cosmetics to allow me to create my workday face.

But as for the weekends – those are the days you’ll find me barefaced, heading to the supermarket or out to hike in the Shenandoah Mountains.

As far as Halloween, I love a good costume, the chance to disappear into a role. And maybe, just maybe, by expressing a dimension of our personality that isn’t part of our day-to-day life, we actually become a bit more honest about ourselves.

 

 

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The Timesuck of Being Female

You could make the argument that a woman’s worth is measured by her face – perhaps literally. A recent survey reports that women in the United States spend $300,000 over the course of our lifetimes, just on products that go on our faces. There is some regional variation: on the East Coast, women have more expensive faces, wearing  an average of $11 worth of beauty products each day. In the Far West, in areas like Montana, the average cost drops to around $5 a day.

Amy Arden hiking with a backpack in the grand canyon
Barefaced hiking out of the Grand Canyon in 2009.

By the time I walk on the door on a workday morning, I’ve applied no less than thirteen products. The idea, I suppose, is to look like me, only better. The tally doesn’t count shampoo, facial cleanser, body wash, and shaving cream in the shower.

They are:

  • Hair volumizing spray, applied while hair is damp to coax it into having some body
  • Facial moisturizer
  • Facial primer
  • BB cream with sunscreen (I mix two tubes to get a shade that better matches my skin)
  • Blush
  • Eyeshadow shade #1, base color
  • Eyeshadow shade #2, contour color
  • Mascara
  • Eyebrow pencil
  • Lip balm
  • Lipstick
  • Hairspray

You could say that it is my choice to do this. No one is forcing me. And yet.

I work as a consultant. There is an unspoken but no less potent expectation that women in my field will dress according to a certain standard and arrange their physical appearance accordingly. Every woman in the management chain, from project managers through vice presidents, wears makeup. I have only seen a single exception (and even she highlights her hair.)

I did the math. If I spend 15 minutes on an average workday styling my hair and putting on makeup, for 250 workdays per year (roughly) = 62 ½ hours go into looking better.

That’s over 1 ½ workweeks. And this calculation is only scratching the surface; it doesn’t count time at the gym, time getting haircuts, the occasional manicure or pedicure. All of this is time I’m not researching or reading or building new professional skills. All of it is time I’m not writing.

Applying makeup before my wedding in July 2012.

So comes the double burden for women in the professional space – and arguably, anywhere that women work in Western culture. We must not only be competent, but also attractive – or at least take steps to enhance our attractiveness. There are real financial costs if we don’t. According to a landmark study by Cornell University, attractiveness, and specifically weight, have measurable impact on promotions and wages.

So we are in a bind, spending our time putting this stuff on and then spending our hard-earned wages on buying more of it.

I don’t know if Jane Austen reached for the rouge pot before setting off for a local dance, or if Charlotte Bronte plucked her eyebrows before her meetings with her London publisher. And while I’m bold enough to spend most Saturdays bare-faced, I’m not ready to brave a client meeting in such a state. Yet I can’t help but wonder what would happen if I did.

 

 

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