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Game Face On: Will Wearing Makeup Advance Your Career?

With celebrities like Alicia Keys shunning makeup at work, including red carpet events, will the Southeast Asian career woman follow suit?

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BY Melissa G. Bagamasbad - 16 Aug 2017

wearing makeup

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Will wearing makeup earn you the trust, respect, and affection of your co-workers?

Apparently, as a 2011 study conducted by researchers from Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute reveals, it does.

Wearing makeup “increases women’s likability, competence (provided she doesn’t overdo it), trustworthiness, and confirmed the obvious: It increases a women’s attractiveness.”

According to Dr. Tara Well, a professor of psychology at Barnard College of Columbia University in New York City in an article, “We may make the inference that if a woman wears some makeup, she takes care of herself and, therefore she’ll take care of other people, projects, etc. While no makeup may signal self-neglect and a lot of makeup might make a sign of an extreme self-focus that can negatively impact one’s working relationships. We often make snap judgments about others based on first impressions. These judgments aren’t really fair or necessarily accurate, yet we make them all the time.”

That may be so, but the recent band of celebrities shunning makeup, which include celebrities like Alicia Keys, Gal Gadot, and Adele, proves that going au naturel may just be as effective.

So what’s the picture like in Southeast Asia? Women in the region weigh in:

Reese Fernandez-Ruiz, founder and president of Philippine fashion and design enterprise Rags2Riches, says she hardly wears makeup to work. “The main reason was that I did not know how to put on makeup at all,” she says, “but eventually it became about efficiency. Don’t get me wrong, I think women should wear makeup if they want to, it’s just that it takes time and in my case, I don’t have much time to spare and not a lot of talent.”

Pia Lizares, a Manila-based entrepreneur of fashion brand, Deseo, says that it all depends on what the day’s work entails. She says that for tasks like closing deals and meeting with managers, makeup is a must. When sourcing materials, on the other hand, she prefers going barefaced. As a matter of preference, Lizares puts on makeup to look professional as she can look too young without it.

Baizura Basri, a journalist from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, only wears makeup at work occasionally. She explains that in her office, women aren’t required to wear makeup. For the Malaysian journalist, makeup should not be a factor when their work performance is assessed. Another KL-based journo, Amy*, prefers wearing makeup at work but says it isn’t a factor that contributes to work performance. “There should be no compulsion for or against wearing makeup,” she says, “because it is not a determining factor when deciding whether someone can do a job competently.”

Nguyen Thuy-Ha, a Vietnamese journalist based in the U.S., says wearing makeup makes her feel beautiful and confident—and it hides the fact that she lacks rest. She believes she receives better reception and treatment when she’s all made up. “I always attach importance to my looks. I believe people generally tend to be more welcoming towards someone who made an effort to look good ,” she says.

This doesn’t surprise Jonathan Yabut, motivational speaker and author of the book “From Grit to Great.” He says, “It is part of human psyche to gravitate towards beauty. As proven by science, we buy products on grocery shelves based on their packaging, and more good-looking or taller employees get promoted faster.” 

However, Yabut clarifies that it isn’t really a matter of whether wearing makeup will get you further up the career ladder. “It’s a question of how a person is willing to spend time and effort to make herself or himself presentable. If one feels more confident and empowered at work if she wears makeup and good clothes, then by all means do it.” 

It’s a sentiment echoed by the women interviewed in this article. Fernandez-Ruiz’s rule of thumb? To each her own. “I don’t have enough empirical evidence to suggest that makeup makes an impact on performance or effectivity. I think we all have our different ‘hacks’ to feeling better and performing better. Some use lucky shirts or bags; some use makeup. For me, if something helps you bring out your confidence, go for it.”

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