DISCLAIMER: This post is not about Pokemon Go. Sorry to disappoint.
A couple weeks ago I accepted my first survival job as a full-fledged adult. I am living in Los Angeles to those unaware or living under a rock, and needed to find a way to pay my bills. I was hired as a hostess in an upscale restaurant in Century City. It’s a decent job, and I like all of my coworkers. However, something struck me as odd before I even began my first day of training, and has now devolved into something that is constantly on my mind. So, of course, I decided to write about it.
Under the section titled “Attire” in my employee handbook was a sentence that caught me off guard. It stated that all women MUST wear mascara and lipstick while serving guests. Additionally, I have to wear a dress as my required uniform. If I fail to comply with this attire, I will be terminated.
Growing up, I’ve prided myself on the fact that I never felt the need or desire to wear much makeup every day. I never cared what other people did, but I just didn’t feel like it was necessary. That isn’t to say that I never wear makeup; there are days when I want to wear something simple, but for the most part I just throw on some chapstick and call it a day.
That’s why it threw me when I read that it is required of me to wear makeup for my job. I mentioned it to my roommate after I had stared at my computer screen blankly for a few minutes after initially reading the handbook…she replied that when she’s at work at Starbucks, if she’s not wearing makeup or looks a little tired, management will move her to making drinks rather than working the cash register simply so she is further out of view of the customers. This floored me. It made me reevaluate if I was hired for my skills alone or if beauty was an additional factor.
This type of “professionalism” that is expected of women isn’t limited to the workplace but to society in general. We have grown up in a world where women are supposed to wear makeup and dresses/skirts/heels and men wear pants. So often women are considered “less beautiful” if their face is clean and bare or if their hair is short instead of long. Women are seen and judged based on their physical appearance way more than they should. In most rape cases involving women there’s at least one comment about how she was dressed.
Of course, I always want to look professional, but why does makeup and gendered clothing have to factor into that equation? I would feel so much more confident if I could wear pants and no makeup. And I know some of you will be thinking “so what, it’s just a little bit of mascara and some lipstick?” but it’s not something that makes me feel comfortable in my own skin.
A lyric keeps jumping out at me from the Tony Award-winning Broadway production of Fun Home. (For those unfamiliar with the story, you can find a summary here.) Small Allison is getting dressed for a party where her father requires her to wear a party dress. She sings, “I despise this dress / What’s the matter with boy shirts and pants? / This dress makes me feel like a clown, I hate it!” Her father then tells her that people will judge her for wearing pants, so she reluctantly leaves the dress on.
All of this made me take a good long look at the world we live in today. I distinctly remember a phase of my life where I felt the need to have makeup on every time I left the house. I felt ugly without it; that I would be judged or less popular if I didn’t learn how to contour my face or define my eyes with black eyeliner. But as I got older I started to realize that I wasn’t wearing that makeup for me, I was wearing it for everyone else. It took me a while, but slowly I began to leave the house with less and less product on my face. Shockingly enough (not), my confidence began to grow significantly as I decided what appearance made me feel the best.
As I was writing this, I noticed a friend on Facebook post about how she grew up thinking being blonde was her only asset physically. Then as I kept scrolling through my feed I noticed a post from Kathryn Gallagher (if you don’t know who she is, look her up, she’s a gem) discussing body image and how she was bullied for not being thin. You can read that article here. And I keep coming back to my roommate telling me about Starbucks.
Additionally, this past week our boss’s boss paid a visit to the restaurant. He was there to make sure that everything was running smoothly and to make sure that we are doing everything we can to boost revenue (basically, he just wants to put butts in seats to make more money…which is fair). However, during his visit MY appearance started to evolve. He wanted to make sure all greeters/servers looked “date ready,” so pretty soon I was wearing more lipstick, and am now required to wear jewelry and put product in my hair for all of my shifts.
All this to say, I think society as a whole needs to take a serious look at how we define beauty and gender in this country and beyond. I want to wear makeup because I want to, not because customers will be more enticed by me and the services my employer offers if I adhere to society’s standards of what beauty is. If I ever have children, I want them to grow up in a world where they can wear whatever the hell they please and be considered beautiful no matter what clothes or products they have on. These gender roles we have today are archaic…let’s try to remember that it’s 2016. Let me wear pants and keep my face naked.
Shoutout to my Technicolor Tree Tribe family for giving me the courage to write this out and share it publicly.