Professionalism is Skin Deep

October 16, 2011 § Leave a comment

This Friday marked the end of our Neuroanatomy block, and I celebrated by taking a day trip to New Haven to visit a few friends at Yale. Over some crazy expensive froyo, my friend Apoorva and I got into a conversation about her hair. In high school, Apoorva was my way-too-fabulous friend who I vividly remembered for her untamable mane – it was long and fantastically wavy, and as she puts it, sometimes caused a bit of confusion about her ethnicity.

“I got it all the time. The ‘Wait you’re Indian?’ with a look of incredulity,” she laughed.

Now her hair was shorter and straightened. It was seriously transformative. I told her about a conversation I once had with a classmate at Harvard about girls who wear makeup. My classmate, a total bro, told me quite seriously that he thought makeup was overrated and that he disliked it when girls ‘tried too hard.’

I pulled out my lipgloss and absentmindedly put some on. He continued opining – why do girls feel like they need all that makeup anyway? Chicks with the confidence to rock the barefaced look are so much sexier. And on and on and on.

I told him that men were the judgmental gender after all and he really needed to stop being hypocritical and blaming girls for trying to improve their appearance because this was all a very obvious double standard please and thank you.

Apoorva recommended that I check out an article in Wednesday’s NYT Fashion & Style section. A study released by psych researchers from Procter & Gamble (of CoverGirl and Dolce&Gabbana fame), BU, and the Dana Farber (umm ???) suggested that when confronted with four images of a woman with different levels of makeup (barefaced, natural, professional and glamorous), respondents almost universally judged that the woman with the most cosmetic application was also the most professional, capable and trustworthy.

That’s right. Levels of makeup that researchers themselves deemed glamorous enough for the dance floor won all assessments of competence and likability, whether by snap judgment or prolonged examination.

… Twilight dresses and twilight makeup?

I remembered a blog that I once stumbled upon, written by a fellow medical student, that distributed advice on all things relevant to medical school applicants – from anticipating interview questions to taking notes on the campus tour. The blogger firmly advised against dolling up for the interview day. “Don’t wear open-toed shoes, don’t wear jewelry, and don’t smell like anything,” she wrote. “Don’t do make-up and don’t paint your fingernails. I actually thought that men looked very professional everywhere I interviewed. Sadly, I cannot say the same about women.”

I ended up following only part of her advice, since I still wore earrings, put on makeup and got French manicures for most of my interviews. Did it ultimately help or hurt me? I can’t say. But if the results of this study are right, for better or for worse, us women are still continually being judged by our appearances (and more so than previously imagined), be it at a cocktail party or in the office. Less is not more.

Le sigh.

But again, why were researchers affiliated with the Dana Farber CANCER institute helping out industry beauty giants at all? makes no sense.

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