Two women in extremely powerful positions, Rebekah Brooks and Hillary Clinton, have been in the press a lot lately and instead of focusing on the fact that one of these women may have broken a law and the other is the foreign affairs leader for the most powerful country in the world, the press is focusing on their looks. This shows that a woman’s looks are always part of the focus, no matter how far up they are on the career ladder.
Last week there was a ton of attention on Secretary of State’s choice to not wear makeup during a public appearance. The Daily Mail wrote “Make-up free Clinton shows the strain of her busy travel schedule.” Rebekah Brooks, former News International CEO who is on trial for her role in a phone hacking scandal involving a murder, has taken even more of a beating for her rather untamed red, curly hair and her choice of dress. Never mind the murder, let’s talk about that woman’s split ends. One comment was “Rebekah Brooks. We get it. You have lots of curly red hair, but wearing Orphan Annie’s dress to the Leveson hearing? Seriously.” There’s even a Facebook page dedicated to Brooks’ hair, called Rebekah Brook’s hair is so big because it’s full of secrets.
It is no wonder women look in the mirror at least eight times a day, according to a new study. Another recent survey found that women would rather go on a job interview (torture!) than show up to work without makeup. And this isn’t just college graduates at their new job, this is women at the top of their games too. Earlier this year, a female CEO in the investment banking industry admitted she had 10 plastic surgery procedures.
“Whether you’re coming up the career path or at the height of your career like Clinton, we still see women, certainly more than men, judged on appearance not accomplishments,” said Nancy Mellard, general counsel for business services company CBIZ. There are no studies showing that how a man wears his suit will impact whether people think he is smart or not (unless he wears them on his head but in the right context that could be hilarious.) For women there is study after study telling us that if you do not wear the exact perfect amount of makeup, your career may be in danger. Rebekah Brooks is going through a horrible trial right now and her career has been destroyed so maybe she didn’t want to straighten her hair that morning. And because of that she was stoned by the press.
It would be great if we could all adopt Hillary’s attitude of ‘I’m a powerful lady and some days I don’t feel like futzing with my hair and putting my contacts in,” but most of us are not as brave as her. Because, the problem is, it is this focus on our looks that will never help us get into the C-Suite. It takes away from what we really want people to be focusing on. One study sponsored by the Women’s Media Center and She Should Run, a group advocating for more women in public leadership, found that sexist comments about female candidates, including critiques on appearance, lead voters to question how effective they would be.