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Beauty Unmasked For All To See

Publication Date: 
May 07, 2014
The New York Times
Bee Shapiro

The New York Times quotes Professor Deborah Rhode on the differences in standards of appearance for men and women in the workplace. 

One is accustomed to seeing celebrity profiles beginning with avowals that the subject is wearing “no makeup,” and rolling one’s eyes. Yet, for a few seasons, either on the catwalk, sidewalk or information superhighway, a no-makeup look seems to be emerging as the gold (or beige?) standard.

In what is perhaps a bid for that modern buzzword “authenticity,” celebrities like BeyoncĂ© and Gwyneth Paltrow post selfies, proudly barefaced, sometimes with the hashtag #nomakeup. Slate suggested the no-makeup “trend” may be linked to normcore, a questionable fashion movement inspired by a suburban aesthetic, while other commentators think it’s a balance between pragmatism and feminism.


Deborah Rhode, a law professor at Stanford and author of “The Beauty Bias,” has made even stronger statements on the topic. Makeup expectations, particularly in the workplace, are “about gender subordination,” she said.

“Women are subject to much more rigorous standards for their appearance,” Ms. Rhode said. In Silicon Valley, top male tech entrepreneurs can get away with shoddy grooming, jeans and T-shirts, she said, while women like Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer appear in full makeup. “There’s an assumption that a woman is somehow less professional if she doesn’t wear any makeup at work,” Ms. Rhode said. “But it’s really women being subject to a double standard. They are faulted for caring too much or not enough. Either they ‘let themselves go’ or are ‘vain and narcissistic.’ ”

Ms. Rhode hopes that makeup or lack thereof will one day be separated from competence. “I gave a lecture today and I want to be judged by my content and not the color of my lipstick,” she said. Ms. Silverman, who wears little makeup, but admits that she may boost her mood by slicking on a bright lipstick, is more lenient. “For me, I can be a good director and run a Broadway show without having to wear makeup, but I’m also behind the scenes,” she said. “Maybe someone else feels different. It’s really a choice.”