LexisNexis Advice on Makeup and the Workforce


Posted on December 8th, 2011 by Vina Tran

Erin Meyer is a 2011 graduate of Columbia Law School now working in the litigation group at Hogan Lovells US LLP.  She was an active member of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law as well as completing the certificate in the study of Gender and Sexuality Law.  Below, she shares her thoughts on a recent article that was emailed to new attorneys.  She extends her appreciation to Didi Gosson (Columbia University class of 2010) and Jennifer Bernstein (Columbia University class of 2009) for their helpful insight and feedback on this writing.

As a recent law school graduate who is about to become a newly-admitted attorney, I’ve begun reading the “Lexis Hub for New Attorneys” emails which promise “insights and advice to enhance your career success.” Typically these emails contain a list of links to LexisNexis articles on topics such as how to get a job, how to be a successful associate, and how to achieve a healthy work-life balance.

In the latest email, a link to one article stood out: “Why Makeup May Increase a Woman’s Professional Credibility.” I clicked on the link to the full article, titled “How Makeup Can Boost Your Career.” The first words of advice? “Career women – if you want to be taken more seriously on the job or in interviews, wear makeup.”

I nearly choked, but continued to read on. “The right amount of makeup increases other people’s perceptions of a woman’s competence, trustworthiness and likeability,” LexisNexis advises, citing a Harvard study. “Women who wear makeup are perceived as more attractive and competent than those who do not.” Quoting one of the authors of the study, LexisNexis suggests that “women should be careful to assess the proper level of makeup for different work settings, noting that deeper shades of lipstick may offer a take-charge impression, while a lighter tone would help provide a more balanced, collaborative appeal.” Moreover, cosmetics “can significantly change how smart people think you are on first impression, or how warm and approachable, and that look is completely within a woman’s control, when there are so many things you cannot control.”

Indignant and frustrated with LexisNexis for encouraging women to conform to these gender stereotypes without thinking critically about the cost to women of doing so, my first reaction was a sardonic, “Wow, it’s great to know as I enter law firm life that I’m at least empowered enough to control the color of my lipstick!” Why should I spend my time and energy each morning deliberating about whether I’m wearing enough makeup to convince fellow associates that I’m competent or whether my lipstick will persuade partners that I can be an effective leader, while my male colleagues catch up on sleep or get a head start on meeting their billable hour requirements? Why are men privileged enough to show up to work bare-faced and still be perceived as smart and likeable whereas women who do the same risk losing their credibility?

Wondering what other women would think of this article, I reached out to two trusted friends from Columbia University, Jennifer Bernstein and Didi Gosson. They brought a different but important perspective to the article. Jennifer advised me not to be hasty in reaching the conclusion that encouraging working women to conform to certain standards of beauty necessarily disempowers them. What about considering women’s good looks and self-presentation as a form of “erotic capital”? Guiding me to an article on how women should capitalize on their looks because failing to use our erotic capital in the market shortchanges us economically, she reminded me of cultural feminist thinkers who urge us to value traditionally “feminine” traits and beware discrediting the power of beauty, a power more often wielded by women than by men.

Didi suggested we remain cognizant of the fact that our society in general is obsessed with appearances and men as well as women suffer from our superficiality, although the beauty industry targets women differently than it does men and the burden of living up to ideals of beauty may indeed fall disproportionately on women. With a worldwide beauty industry worth $160 billion per year and the average woman surviving on significantly less than the average man’s income and with proportionately less in investments and savings, women may be ill-advised in taking LexisNexis’ advice to purchase a few more shades of lipstick to boost their career and economic standing. In the words of Catherine Redfern and Kristin Aune, women need to “question whether ‘because I’m worth it’ might be better applied to savings accounts than to make-up” (Redfern and Aune, Reclaiming the F Word: The New Feminist Movement (2010), 23-4.).

I appreciate both Jennifer’s and Didi’s responses because they reveal the variety of feminist perspectives on a subject that LexisNexis has clearly failed to think critically about. Although it may be true that wearing makeup to work does increase others’ perceptions of a woman’s competence, we should question whether that truth is one that we want to wholly embrace without reservations. The ability to boost my career by wearing makeup is a troubled form of power – a means of gaining the respect and confidence of my coworkers and superiors in the short-term, but perhaps at the expense of the longer-term goal of giving women access to powers aside from the power of beauty, powers that have enabled men to advance their careers without having to devote time, money, and effort to purchasing and applying makeup.

12 comments

  1. Great article. When I started in the (non-legal) “business world” I was shocked by how much time we spent in orientation talking about appearance, and also by how much was devoted to women vs. men.

    The recommendations were more nuanced than seemingly presented by Lexis, but we still talked frankly about pants vs. skirts, tightness of clothing, straightened hair, necklines, jewelry, makeup, etc. for women. Guys pretty much only were told about facial hair and hair length.

    I think inherently women’s professional attire and appearance has far more permutations than men’s. Still, I think it would be beneficial to both sexes if competency were disassociated from things (like appearance) that are largely irrelevant. As long as a guy has ironed clothing, no (or well-kept) facial hair, neat hair and good hygiene (all of which are fairly inexpensive and not time consuming to maintain), he will be evaluated on his merits. It’s a pity that women are held to a higher, more expensive and more time consuming standard.

  2. New blog post from Erin Meyer, CLS '2011 on LexisNexis Advice on Makeup and the Workforce http://t.co/Tz3DP8B6

  3. New blog post from Erin Meyer, CLS '2011 on LexisNexis Advice on Makeup and the Workforce http://t.co/Tz3DP8B6

  4. Gender & Sexuality Law Blog » Blog Archive » LexisNexis Advice on …: In the latest email, a link to one articl… http://t.co/7DLZaojC

  5. Good perspective on a tricky subject. I’m 23 and started my first full-time corporate (non-law) job a year ago. I had never worn any makeup, but after a month on the job I caved to the pressure.

    I work near a university and everyone always assumes that I am an intern or student employee because I “look so young!” This results in clients/coworkers not taking me as seriously. Well, since I started wearing makeup, those comments have definitely decreased, and people are more willing to treat me as an adult. I hate the extra 10 minutes in the morning, though.

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