July 26, 2002
By Lucy Chabot Reed
Associate Editor, South Florida Business Journal


I posed the question recently to a friend in public relations. Her bluntness startled me. "Do you think I'm hurting my career by not wearing makeup?" I asked.

"Yes," she replied.

I was speechless, so I changed the subject, but her honesty never left me. I called her the other day to ask her to elaborate. After couching her comments with her affection for me and her belief that she thought I was adorable, she told me that, without makeup, I do not present a professional picture. Ouch.

In her world of public relations, where professionals are called on to represent companies to clients and the media, image is everything. Even something as simple as leaving off the lipstick means you are too rushed to bother, that it's too much trouble, she said. "If you don't bother with lipstick, it makes people wonder what other details you can't be bothered with," she said.

She recounted stories of qualified, talented women she's known who she would never refer to clients or for business because of their appearance - long, unstyled hair (like mine), more-casual-than-professional clothes (like mine), no makeup. It got me thinking.

I searched the Internet for other opinions, looking for other renegade professionals who didn't ink up each morning. There weren't any. What I found instead were interview tips and how to compete in the boardroom, each one with advice on how to be groomed.

Without fail, they advised keeping makeup use to a minimum. A Wall Street Journal article about how much appearance rated when headhunters call on women - about 85 percent, one recruiter said - urged "discreet makeup." But none of the tipsters suggested not wearing makeup at all.

I found a column on by Sherry Maysonave, an author and the founder of Empowerment Enterprises, a communications-image firm. She said women who wear makeup earn 20 to 30 percent higher incomes. That's according to a Hamermesh-Biddle study that says attractive people make more money than unattractive people.

Not that I want to get into a debate about what constitutes attractive, but I've been fighting this makeup convention my whole life. And after all the stories on the struggle women have gone through to be paid fairly, I'm beginning to wonder if I'm just giving the bad guys more ammunition.

The corporate playing field for women isn't equal. Welcome to our world. I'm a grown-up now. People judge me on my appearance, and in this society, makeup is part of that image. It's only a non-issue if you wear it wisely.

Maysonave wrote that women who wear no makeup or too much makeup communicate low self-esteem. Well, that's not me. I went to the store that night and bought a new mascara, powder and lipstick.

I came into the office the next morning to compliments on my appearance, despite having donned an outfit I'd worn a dozen times before. And within an hour, I'd received a phone call from the Small Business Administration. About six months ago, I was nominated for the Small Business Journalist of the Year award. I won for the South Florida district and the state.

Coincidence? Now I'm waiting for my 30 percent raise.
Lucy Chabot Reed is an associate editor at the South Florida Business Journal.

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