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Beauty Is, Apparently, in the Eye of Your Boss

Misogyny in the workplace is manifested in many issues, from pay gaps to sexual harassment. But recent studies have explored another nuanced form in which women face the crushing standards of a patriarchal system: appearances. According to two studies – “Gender and the returns to attractiveness” and “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful: Acknowledging appearance mitigates the ‘beauty is beastly’ effect” – women in the workplace must be attractive, but not too attractive.


In an article by CNN, University of Chicago professor Jaclyn Wong said that there are two parts of what people consider attractive: “the things we’re born with (symmetrical features, height) and the things we work on (grooming, makeup, wardrobe selection).” Through her research, she revealed that the aspects of beauty we have active control over “makes the biggest difference in how women are perceived.”

Wong explains that because focus is on the controlled part of appearances, it’s implied that such strict attitudes intend to control women’s behavior. Additionally, the bias towards attractive women changes throughout women’s careers. Though coming off as attractive may benefit a woman professionally, the same beauty might discredit her abilities or intelligence in a higher position. An example would be the classic “dumb blonde” stereotype, which forces women in leadership or managerial levels to worry about something as trivial as the perception of their hair color.

The influence of women’s appearances on their careers is not a new issue. Past studies have shown that when a white woman puts on an additional 64 pounds, her wages drop by 9 percent. Many overweight or obese women report having positive phone interviews, only to meet a potential employer in person and be told that the job has already been filled.

The judgment doesn’t stop at weight either. A study done by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons revealed that 73 percent of women believe that appearing youthful plays a role in being hired or promoted. There have also been endless debates over how women should dress – not too sexy, not too authoritative, and feminine, but not enough to attract men’s comments or distract from the content of their work.

Double standards are still very much alive in the professional world. Throughout her 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton was criticized for her appearance in ways that Donald Trump – despite his tan and his dyed hair – was not. Clinton recently revealed that she had spent approximately 600 hours, or 25 full days, on her hair and makeup during the course of the campaign. When she made her first speech after her concession, during which she wore no makeup, many jumped on her look, either criticizing how tired she appeared or claiming her look was a staged act against the chauvinism of the election.

It seems that even when competing for the highest position in the country, women must deal with much harsher criticisms of appearance than men ever would. The fine line that women must straddle when it comes to appearance, simply to get a job and be taken seriously, are outdated, sexist, and ridiculous.

Featured Image by Josef Seibel on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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