In a timely announcement (it’s International Women’s Day on Friday, if you didn’t already know – and surprisingly, a lot of people don’t know.
I just assume people are as bound up as me in the world of heavily-feminist quote-laden Instagram and I am left baffled when they are not), Virgin Atlantic has announced to its female cabin crew that they will no longer enforced to wear makeup whilst on duty.
As I read this in the paper (can you still say that? Or do you say “on my mobile app”? Tech-appropriate phrases still feel so clunky) on Monday, I almost spat out my morning coffee, providing an entertaining display of the ‘it’s-gone-down-the-wrong-way!’ arm flapping. As a late-twenty-something woman, I move in relatively progressive/millennial/self-inflated snowflake (I’m joking – this term frustrates me) circles where your choice in makeup isn’t dictated by your employer, or anyone for that matter. As it is not something that is at the forefront of my mind, I was shocked and appalled that this was still something that some organisations laid out as part of their company rules.
I shared an article a few years ago on one of my social media accounts, which described how more than two thirds of employers admit they would be less likely to employ a female job applicant if she didn’t wear makeup to a job interview. Women were also impacted by this: 64 per cent of female staff surveyed said they would always wear makeup at work.
Although this doesn’t apply to enforced makeup, this reminded me of the attitudes that I used to see in past companies, and the casually sexist, uncompromising attitudes of others. I was horrified to see that one male’s comment was ‘Girls should put slap on… It makes them more appealing’. What was even more horrifying was becoming more conscious of the fact that these attitudes were evidently still very much in place now when I was convinced that things had progressed; most notably on full-service airlines. Take Singapore Airlines’ ‘Singapore Girl’ – noted not for her work ethic but her ‘timeless beauty’.
Women’s rights have been gaining further traction in recent years, with movements like #MeToo and Time’s Up; we’re onto the fourth wave of feminism and it’s now ‘cool’ to be a feminist (you only need to step into Urban Outfitters to be immediately slapped in the face by one of their many slogan-emblazoned tees).
So why are we still subject to such entrenched beauty ideals? Why has Virgin only decided to make this decision now, in the age of the ‘equal opportunity employer’? Women are not being given an equal opportunity: the compulsory makeup not only makes a sizeable dent in their pay (along with the cost of other ‘pink tax’ items; try comparing the price of your pack of razors to the men’s version), it is also costing us our time (an additional half hour in front of the mirror in the morning). It’s a way of objectifying women and idealising their image. It’s forcing women to not only do their jobs, but also create a prescribed persona for their jobs. Not only are they conducting the required functions of their role, but they are playing up to an imagined character – the flight attendant, the glamorous and glitzy air hostess.
We deserve the right to choose whether we want to wear makeup or not. Not to be forced or encouraged to.
Virgin Atlantic have made a welcome change, allowing female cabin crew to make the choice of whether to wear makeup or not. But it’s still a choice the company has given to their male employees for decades. They’ve still got some way to go.
About the author
I’ve realised that trying desperately to come up with a punchy yet compelling bio is somewhat stressful. Please don’t check my Google history.
I’ll settle for a short sentence or two instead.
I’m your average city worker, coffee drinker, current affairs reading woman. Feminist, shameless sherry drinker and here to bring you my views on the world and its wife.