For women entrepreneurs, the no makeup trend represents a potentially intriguing shift in workplace culture. Recording superstar Alicia Keys jumped on board many months ago saying, in essence, that it was liberating when she wore no makeup to a red carpet event last August. Several other notable celebrities have posted no makeup selfies on Instagram since that time, including Gal Gadot, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Adele. However, what if you are not a well-established celebrity, but instead a working woman or entrepreneur who is lured by the call? Can such a trend be detrimental or helpful to the building of one's career?
Historically women have had to deal with various forms of discrimination. Even last week, the Harvard Business Review published powerful research statistics about the difference in questions female founders were asked by venture capitalists versus their male counterparts. (In short, the study determined that women were asked more questions about potential loss while men were typically asked questions about potential gain) Implicit bias is ever-present when it comes to gender. And throwing something like the no makeup trend into the mix could have very intriguing results. For example, some women who have adopted the trend have said that they have felt more confident, though some co-workers have labeled them as lazy for not applying make-up.
Taking The Plunge
Indeed, Kelsey who is an account executive at a sports marketing and public relations firm, says, "After an annual review, I was told my appearance was inconsistent. I reflected on what was inconsistent and realized some days I didn't wear makeup, so I decided to stop wearing makeup altogether. Since then, my boss has made comments about my face, going out of her way to compliment me on the rare occasion I do wear makeup, including one time where she wanded her hand around my made-up face and said, 'This--much better'."
Dr. Tara Well, a professor of psychology at Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City is not surprised at such comments. She explains, "when researchers show people photos of the same women with no makeup, some makeup, and a lot of makeup, they find that people generally prefer women with some makeup on." She continues, "We may make the inference that if a woman wears some makeup, she takes care of herself and, therefore she'll take care of other people, projects, etc. While no make-up may signal self-neglect and a lot of makeup might make a sign of an extreme self-focus that can negatively impact one's working relationships. We often make snap judgments about others based on first impressions. These judgments aren't really fair or necessarily accurate, yet we make them all the time. We commonly associate beauty with likableness, social status, and competence; psychologists call it the halo effect."
Dr. Well explains that from an evolutionary perspective, the qualities we consider beautiful are related to signals of reproductive fitness, such as sexuality, health and youthfulness. Makeup that gives women red lips, flawless skin, and captivating eyes, reinforces a subconscious biological check-list that spills over into the cultural and professional side of our lives today.
The Flip Side
However, the newfound confidence that many women embracing the no makeup trend say that they have could tip the scales in their favor. One's own self-perception sends out very powerful signals. Indeed, Dr. Well is also currently conducting laboratory studies on how mirror meditation influences our self-concept, emotions, and self-judgments as well as its relationship to narcissism, self-objectification, and the development of empathy. She explains, "Based on my research on mirror meditation and working with individuals, when women do the practice over time they become less concerned with wearing make-up. I imagine they have a strong desire to be seen and loved for who they truly are -- letting themselves be seen without make-up may be accepting and expressing that desire." And this such self-understanding could be a true source of power for any woman, professionally or personally.
Certainly, healthy skin is key for going no make-up. And serums that have created a cult following such as Vinter's Daughter are high on the list of women who are taking this route. April Gargiulo, founder of the active botanical must-have says, "My favorite emails are from women who joyfully explain that they are going 'foundation free' after using our products. The no makeup trend is beautiful and one that we embrace. We hope everyone feels confident enough in their own skin to go without heavy makeup." She adds with a wink, "However, we also understand that life can get in the way of a great night's sleep, diet, movement or any of the factors that go into beautiful skin. In those cases, it is always nice to have a few makeup tricks up your sleeve, too."
No doubt, the debate will continue around the shunning of make-up and the part it plays in the dynamics of office culture, deal negotiation and more. As women's voices begin to grow in terms of equal pay, balance in venture funding and other vital aspects around employment; perhaps the freedom to decide what works best for one's own lifestyle and values, as it pertains to one's image, might be the most valued gain.
Editor's note: This column has been revised to remove Kelsey's last name and employer name at the request of the source.