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Hiding Ourselves Behind Beauty Standards

Hiding Ourselves Behind Beauty Standards

I slept about two hours last night. Why?

Abortion is becoming increasingly inaccessible with the recent Dobbs decision. There’s been hundreds of mass shootings this year—and we still have two months to go. 11,000 of my colleagues at Meta were laid off on Wednesday. And along with many other Americans, I’m still recovering from a third bout of COVID.

I’ve been up late processing everything at once, but you’d hardly know it. Three layers of foundation cover my dark circles. Mascara widens my tired eyes. Brightening and whitening eyedrops, color-correcting concealer, and powders galore, ensure that the only redness on my face is a crimson lipstick. 

I’ve even put on duck earrings and a hot-pink, flower-patterned dress. I look flawless, energetic, and like my usual self.  

That can’t be further from how I feel.

It’s necessary that my appearance doesn’t reveal my circumstances. My past no-makeup days have elicited worried expressions from coworkers in Zoom meetings, who’ve seen me for two years in full makeup enhanced by ring lights and expert camera positioning. Bad outfit days and messy hair has caused family members and friends to insist I lose weight, or get plastic surgery, or simply “appear happier.” I’m not allowed to look like what I’ve been through. None of us are.

I grew up in the Internet Age, which makes me and my peers more vigilant about our appearances than members of previous generations. I’m used to a de-facto surveillance environment where I’m constantly photographing myself or being photographed. 

This means I have to look my best—even when I’m at my worst. When I was out shopping for Tylenol and tissues yesterday, I appeared in the background of a passerby’s FaceTime call, a few seconds of a tourist’s TikTok, and a self-checkout video that recorded my every move as I lethargically bagged my items. 

With so many cameras documenting my daily existence, how could I not wear eyeliner?

It’s true that I could ignore what people think about my looks. After all, with Omicron surging and a likely recession looming, there’s a lot of other topics on our minds. 

But even in tumultuous times, there may be people judging my appearance. And as a woman, I can’t ignore their beauty standards—the cost of that would be too high.

Without my beauty regime, there’s so many benefits I’d lose. Studies show that women who wear light makeup are inferred to be more likable, trustworthy, and competent. Physically attractive women—not only “natural” beauties, but also those who groom themselves to be more attractive—are more likely to be interviewed for jobs and hired, and may earn 20 percent more than average-looking women.

Of course, some of these findings also hold true for men: for example, handsome men also earn more than men with typical looks. However, attractiveness biases are stronger for women. A 2021 study found that women in highly ranked PhD programs are better looking than men in the same programs, suggesting that appearance played a greater role in women’s acceptances to these institutions. 

We also spend more time cultivating our appearances than men. Women spend an additional 100 hours per year on grooming activities, such as doing our hair and getting dressed. This is unsurprising, as women’s looks are more often scrutinized than those of men, particularly women in high positions. Female politicians such as Kamala Harris or Hillary Clinton can testify to this

Don’t get me wrong: I love my hours-long, morning beauty routine. I enjoy washing my face with pink, foamy, grapefruit-scented cleanser and smoothing it out with foundation. I adore slipping into a fancy dress, sometimes for no particular reason. My funky octopus earrings always put a big smile on my face. My lace-up heels make me feel on top of the world.

But some days, I’d rather spend my mornings checking in on a friend, who had to quit her job at an abortion clinic in Texas earlier this year. Some days, I’d rather use those hours to call my former Meta teammates, who also no longer have jobs or even visas to stay in the country. Some days, I’d rather use that time to rest, which is all the more important when I have COVID.

I’ll still do these tasks in addition to my beauty routine, and at the cost of other parts of my life. Today, the cost is sleep. Someday, I hope women can instead cut out the time-consuming, effortful pressure to adhere to beauty standards. This change starts with recognizing beauty-based biases, then counteracting them by valuing women for attributes beyond our looks: for our kindness, our intellect, and our strength during hard times like these. Maybe then we can all rest well. 

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