Thursday, 2 June 2016

Lipstick to success

The real reason women spend so much time and effort getting ready is that we are more likely to succeed if we look attractive, whilst for men it makes little difference. So says an article in the Washington Post this week.

It's not what you've got...

The article is based on a research paper. It showed that:
  • Pretty people (men and women) earn more money (no surprise) than not so pretty people
  • Grooming has a bigger affect on women's salaries than men's
  • Less attractive but more well-groomed women earned significantly more, on average, than attractive or very attractive women who weren’t considered well-groomed.

So it's not just what you've got - it's what you do with it. So long as what you do with it is expensive clothes and mascara. It's a sad finding. But it probably doesn't come as much of a surprise to most of us.
Bad Hair Day by Shena Tschofen via Flickr Creative Commons
I'm not the kind of girl who can't answer the door without three coats of mascara and a full manicure, but I do wear makeup, every day. I want to feel I go out of the door looking my best. As I put on my eyeliner before heading out to Tesco, I joke (to myself) that you never know who you're going to run into in the frozen veg aisle. Prince Charming could just be waiting for me to pick up my peas, and I want to look my best, as our eyes lock over the Mexican beanburgers, and our finger brush across the Quorn. But enough of my supermarket fantasies.

Creative self expression?

I think there probably are women whose main aim in life is to be beautiful and stylish, who love nothing more than shopping for new clothes and beauty products, and piling them all on. And there are some women who feel happiest in jeans and a fleece, with no interest in makeup, who don't want to be bothered with worrying about what to wear every day. Like most of my sisters, I'm somewhere between the two.

This research into the links between personal grooming and success poses the question, is the greater effort, in time and money, that women spend on their appearance a form of 'creative self expression' or is it something more sinister - that women work at looking attractive if they want to succeed, while men can just focus their efforts on the work?

A lot of women, myself included, really enjoy the act of getting ready for a night out, putting together an outfit and painting our faces to project a particular image of ourselves. Are we doing it because we want to feel good about ourselves, to look younger, to compete with other women, to look alluring to men, to look pretty, sexy, rich, smart, successful, or even a bit dumb?

Behind the lipstick

I've heard all sorts of theories about makeup, including that putting on lipstick makes our mouths look vulva-like and put men in mind of sex (as if men need reminding of sex). And I've written before about beauty product manufacturers blinding us with bad science, telling us we need more "particles" (seriously).

I think the truth our compunction to beautify ourselves is vastly more complicated, incorporating a range of social, cultural, personal and genetic factors. And what's true for one woman isn't necessarily true for all of us. The motivations behind these acts of personal grooming are complex. And wearing more or less make-up isn't the key to shattering the glass ceiling.

What would happen if we all threw away our lipstick and went to work with full facial nudity? For years I went to work slap-free so the thought doesn't bother me, but it's unthinkable that women as a group would do this, makeup is such a central part of feminine culture.

There's no panacea, and wearing more mascara certainly isn't the answer, as it's only likely to perpetuate the problem. Our challenge is to wear as much or as little as we want, and still succeed at whatever we want to succeed at. It would be good for female success to be about success, and not just looking pretty.

Read The real reason that so many women have to spend so much time getting ready.

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