my boss asked if I’m depressed

A reader writes:

In a recent one-on-one with my boss, she told me she thinks that I’m depressed and should take advantage of our company’s resources. Am I right in feeling like this was inappropriate? I was kind of thrown off and speechless at the time, so I didn’t say much. This was a meeting to talk about something else, and she brought this up pretty much out of the blue.

I’ve been going through a break-up, so it’s possible I’m not 100% “myself.” She doesn’t know that, nor am I comfortable sharing that, but I still don’t feel like it justifies the comment. She is very big on appearance, and I recently stopped wearing makeup to work (before the breakup). She one day said I looked sick and asked if I was okay, when the only thing different about me was lack of makeup. So I already felt a lot of pressure to look a certain way to her before this, and now am even more self-conscious.

Ever since this conversation, I’ve been extremely uncomfortable around her and feel like she’s judging my every move and facial expression to try and assess my mental state. Do you think this is something I should tell HR about? I wouldn’t want them to take any action, I just think they should maybe know that a manager is making mental health comments like this. I’m really not sure how to feel better at work or shake this anxious feeling around her now.

No, I wouldn’t take it to HR.

I don’t know exactly how she framed it to you and so it’s possible that her specific wording was inappropriate, but in general it’s okay for a manager to privately say to someone, “Hey, you don’t seem like yourself lately, and I’m worried about you” and to mention resources that might help, like the company’s EAP if they have one. In fact, in many situations, it can be a lot better to say that than to not say it.

On the makeup thing … It sucks, but definitely not uncommon for people to ask if you’re sick or tired if you show up not wearing makeup when you normally do wear it. It’s annoying (that’s your normal face!) but that’s a thing that makeup does — it makes you look more put-together and refreshed, so when it goes away, your face can end up reading as “less refreshed” by comparison, which to a lot of people’s brains apparently reads as “under the weather.”

Now, when you put that in the context of a boss who’s especially big on appearance, I can see why it’s more grating. And if she’s harping on it, that’s a different thing. But if it was a one-time comment, I’d try to shrug it off.

I think the big issue here is your broader relationship with your boss, where you feel judged and scrutinized and like you’re not meeting some standard she has for you that you might not even want to meet in the first place. If you were feeling like that before the depression comment and before the makeup comment, I’d try to figure out specifically what’s causing that, and whether (a) there’s anything you could do to mitigate that and that you’d want to do (two different things), and (b) how big of a problem it is for you — can you be reasonably content in this job with this relationship with your boss, or do you need to do something to change things? (If it’s the latter, that could be anything from a candid “hey, here’s something that’s troubling me” conversation with your boss all the way to changing jobs.)

{ 474 comments… read them below }

  1. Newby*

    Makeup gives you more color. I’ve noticed that when I don’t wear makeup I get asked if I am ok all the time because my face looks so pale. They mean well.

        1. BeenThere*

          OMG it’s not just me! I thought I was the only one. This makes me feel so much better.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        I have definitely done this when I had a boss who was a total jerk about taking sick days.

      2. Zombeyonce*

        Tip #2: Don’t wipe off the mascara shadow from under your eyes…instant dark circles that add to the illusion of sickness. Not that I’ve ever done this or would ever do this. Especially not to my parents when I was a teenager and didn’t want to go to school.

        1. Kit*

          You can also put a little foundation on your lips to make them look pale and dry, a sure sign of illness! Not that I have ever done this…

    1. VQ*

      I have a co-worker who never wears makeup. Not even to her own wedding. She doesn’t own any and never wears it. I know it’s wrong to think this and I would never say anything or treat her differently but she is otherwise well put together and dressed trendy yet professional and looks like a model. The no makeup thing looks so odd compared to the rest of her and how she is dressed. It’s wrong that society places those expectations on women but I can see why OP’s boss noticed that OP suddenly stopped wearing makeup.

      1. SometimesALurker*

        Yeah, it is wrong to think that. Please stop equating “makeup” with “put together,” unless you do that for men, as well.

      2. BWooster*

        When I read posts like that, it makes me feel so self-conscious. Is there someone I work with who observes and dissects my appearance this closely?

        1. Taylor Swift*

          If it makes you feel better, I really think most people aren’t paying this close attention to their coworkers’ appearances or judging them either.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          I wouldn’t worry. Most people don’t dissect their coworkers this way, and honestly, I think it’s awesome that VQ’s coworker doesn’t wear makeup. (And it would be awesome if she did—it really doesn’t matter because her face is her face.)

          If it’s good enough for Alicia Keys, it’s good enough for me ;)

          1. neeko*

            It isn’t good enough for Alicia Keys, as she wears a “no makeup look” with complete makeup and a makeup artist.

      3. NW Mossy*

        Hey, do we work together? ;)

        I’m someone who loves bright colors and a stepped-up look in my clothes/accessories, but don’t wear makeup. It’s a byproduct of being lazy and having never learned to apply it properly, so I figure I’d rather present my bare face than an amateurish attempt at it. And at my current age (mid-30s), it’s kind of awkward to be all “uh, teach me makeup.”

        When asked about it, I simply say “If my face with no makeup is the worst thing someone sees today, I figure things went pretty well for them” in a pleasant tone. Most people get the picture and smile along with me, and no harm done.

        1. JaneB*

          I have very fussy, sensitive skin and eyes, and have to wear rigid contact lenses despite being prone to allergic eczema and conjunctivitis. I have never found any makeup line at any price point which I could wear near my eyes for more than a few hours in a day or for more than 1-2 days a week without some kind of negative reaction – no mascara, eye liner, other products. It’s not quite so bad with facial skin or mouth products, but I get all sorts of problems with any kind of sun screen and have to rotate multiple brands over the course of a month in the summer if I’m outdoors a lot (and use them very sparingly – I’m the person with the giant hat and long sleeves lurking in the deepest shade at most events, because that’s much nicer than the pain and unsightlyness of facial eczema).

          I try to dress professionally, as much as my body type and minor mobility impairment allow, but you’ll never see me in make-up at a work event (except MAYBE mascara at a critical interview, since it does add a polish and makes me look more awake, but I do that knowing I have to get it off within a few hours or suffer…). I’m just very grateful my form of being a wreck allows me to manage that much! And that I work in a relatively informal profession…

          1. many bells down*

            Oh man, I went to Ulta the other day and asked them to recommend a BB cream with NO sunscreen, because it makes me break out. They were like “oh this one’s only SPF20 and has no silicone or gluten!” Um, great, but I’m not going to drop $45 on a product and then discover that I *still* break out using it. Yeah, I burn easy, that’s why I have a large hat collection.

            1. Elizabeth*

              Check L’Oreal’s Magic BB Cream. I think it’s SPF free. And it’s a drugstore brand, so reasonably affordable. I love it!

            2. A. Non*

              The Covergirl Clean Matte BB cream doesn’t have sunscreen either and is around $7. It’s actually a really good BB cream.

            3. ..Kat..*

              I believe you can return a product to Ulta if it does not work out for you. I know you definitely can at Sephora.

              1. BeenThere*

                Second the advice on Sephora they are super awesome about allergic reaction returns.

            4. ThatAspie*

              Wow, every single sunscreen makes you break out? Holy crap, that would suck. I cannot even imagine what that would be like for me, someone who sometimes gets sunburn even with sunscreen on but gets much worse sunburn without any. So, like, I’m curious…by “break out”, do you mean, like, allergies, like, hives, or just, like, acne, or some other sort of rash besides hives, or…what? I’m genuinely curious.

          2. nom*

            So I don’t know if this would work for you (or if you want/care about having darker lashes on an everyday basis), but I have found tinting my eyelashes to be a good alternative to mascara & liner.

            My skin and eyes are also sensitive — not as much as what you’ve described but will definitely react to lots of products. Add to that lots of environmental allergies that make my eyes itch and puff and tear-up, and wearing regular mascara/liner equals black smears all around my eyes by the end of the day. My eyelashes are also super blonde (some of them look translucent). I feel like tinting them is a nice compromise for everyday: it does add a little definition, without the issues associated with applying product.

            Of course, if you already have naturally dark lashes, tinting them will have no impact. (Also, since some people can react to the tint/dye itself, I *strongly* suggest that you do a skin test at least a day before it goes anywhere near your lashes!)

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Wait, do you do it yourself or go to someone who does it?

              I tint mine but I go to a salon to have it done. Is it possible to do it yourself?

              1. Vin Packer*

                Wait wait.

                Tinting lashes is a thing? I’ve never heard of this but I am a fellow redhead who is now off to Google….

                1. Franzia Spritzer*

                  Yep! It’s my personal favorite indulgence. When my bank account is flush and steady, I’ll get my lashes tinted once a month. As a blonde human who likes to have darker lashes, it’s a nice alternative to mascara.

              2. nom*

                I do it myself.

                I used to live near a beauty school where could get it done for like $10, which was amazing. But I moved, and everywhere near me charges +$30, which is outside of my budget. Then one day I was in a beauty supply store and realized that I could buy the exact same brand of lash & brow tint, and so I figured I’d try it myself. I think it actually works better, because when you’re doing it yourself, you don’t have to recline and it’s easy to keep your eyes open (much like putting in your contacts vs someone else doing it — you can control your blink reflex when you do it yourself). For me, this makes it much less likely that I’ll get the dye on my skin or seeping into my eye, so it’s actually an easier process.

                In the time since I started doing it myself (about 3 years), the brand that I was using has apparently been discontinued. After lots of research, I ended up ordering some from Amazon, did the skin test thing, and found a new brand that works for me. I’ve also found that it’s best to apply with a disposable mascara wand (available in bulk on Amazon for about 2¢/wand), despite instructions to use a cotton swab.

                Tldr – yes, you can absolutely DIY this.

                1. nom*

                  Forgot to add:

                  A box of lash tint is usually between $15 and $30, and disposable mascara wands run about $5-$10 for 200 if you buy them online. So total cost to get going is max $35.

                  A single pack of 200 wands will last for years (I’m still on my first one and it’s been 3 years) — they’re super cheap online. So about $1.25 per year for those.

                  A box of lash tint lasts me around 3 months, depending on how often I do it (usually every 2 weeks or so, though I’ve definitely gone longer). I often have a bit left over at the end of that time, but I figure that it’s better to keep things fresh so I usually toss it and order a new box at the 3 month mark. The new brand I’ve been using is $20/box, so total cost of $80 per year for tint.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Oh my goodness, this could be life-changing. I really want to ask you loads of questions about this. Will you pop into the weekend open thread if you remember? I have so many things to ask!

        2. JobSeeker017*

          NW Mossy:

          Thank you for posting this!

          I too am limited in make-up knowledge and only make an effort to be done up for the first few weeks on the job and for big events. Otherwise, I find that my time is better spent conducting myself professionally at the office with appropriate clothing, shoes and accessories.

          Nice to see someone else go barefaced without feeling self-conscious!

        3. Becky*

          I was part of the (I believe it was) Bonne Bell generation that marketed makeup to grade schoolers in easy-to-shellac on fun-colored lipstick-shaped tubes. I also tried–badly–to put stuff on throughout the rest of my school career.

          Despite such auspicious beginnings, I would also have to head to YouTube to find out how to do pretty much anything outside of very basic eyeliner, because for awhile now I’ve been at a point where I just got sick of the expectation. For fun, and my own choice? Yes! Because some a$$ is trying to make money off me by selling me the notion that I am somehow less without eyeshadow? No.

          And the thing is, unlike those earlier years, I don’t think I need to wear anything, so I generally don’t.

          I have that one acquaintance who declares that “Everybody should wear makeup! Everybody looks better with makeup!” only by “everybody” she means “women,” and somehow never manages to examine where she got this universal idea from: Somebody trying to sell something.

          I admire how you have such a calm answer for what seems such an irritating and WTF-ery question, which clearly got me writing this comment! :)

      4. PizzaDog*

        if she looks like a model without makeup, I’m sure she’s doing something right.

        you’re already on the right track by knowing that it’s wrong that there’s this societal pressure for women to always be made-up, put-together, hair coiffed, etc. keep going with this and eventually you’ll stop equating women in makeup with being put together.

      5. Mookie*

        I don’t wear much make-up beyond what I know I can apply correctly — so, bronzer and tinted lip balm — but I’m hugely into ‘skin care’ (the fun, elective stuff, oils ‘n’ serums ‘n’ chemical exfoliants + some of the less crunchy and more science-y DIY stuff, not just sunscreen) and perfume and, honestly, beyond admiring one guy’s amazing brow lines or another woman’s ombre-rainbow unicorn eyeshadow, I notice the absence or surplus of make-up/scent but I don’t care one way or the other and it doesn’t detract from or noticeably improve someone’s professional appearance unless it’s really egregious. How people invest their discretionary money is interesting to me only insofar as it (a) hurts no one and (b) seems mysterious enough that I’d like to ask questions if they feel like talking to me about, say, power-quilting or summat, on our dinner break. (I wholeheartedly believe power-quilting must exist.) Make-up’s great for people who love to buy it and collect it and play with it, ditto facial hair, piercings, tattoos, coiffures, clothes & shoes & power-ties, but people have a right to be spotty or freckle-y or under-eye-y or beard-y or untweeze-d or brown spot-y or ashy in public. No make-up / minimalist make-up is HARD, ADVANCED STUFF. Contemporary men walk around with whiteheads and razor burn and long may this be so. But, we also need to accept and normalize and insist on women’s autonomy regarding the many modes of professional appearance.

    2. Elsa*

      The thing is, if your face “looks pale”… that is the color of your skin! There is something deeply, deeply wrong with our society and standards to presume it is our place to tell someone that their skin is not the right tint/tone/shade—which have zero to do with what’s inside of and capable from a person. Obviously women-of-color have the biggest challenges from this kind of thing, by far—real tangible challenges and even dangers! But if even WHITE women can’t just… BE. If even they are made to feel they have to be some exact perfect shade of white to be “ok”, and if not they should be compelled to spend money on products to “fix” it if they aren’t… *Sigh.*

      (I say all of this as a woman who enjoys wearing makeup, so my point is not intended as anti-that. I AM opposed to someone else, much less an employer making that judgement or call—unless you’re a model or on television or something.)

      1. Arjay*

        I agree in general, but I think it’s a little bit different in this particular situation. This sounds like the boss is actually commenting on the change from wearing makeup to not wearing makeup, maybe not even realizing that that’s what is different. If makeup wearing person is the person I’m accustomed to seeing, that’s going to register in my head as normal for that person. So if I then start seeing the non-makeup wearing version of person, any paleness or ruddiness or breakouts might register as “abnormal” for what that person looks like in my head.

        1. Karen D*

          To the bigger issue, I think this is one area where the pluses and minuses of being a woman working for a woman collide. Yes, the empathy is a huge plus, but I have often had female supervisors force this kind of intimate discussion on me while

          1. Karen D*

            Whooops, that was the wrong spot! What I MEANT to say here was that I agree with Arjay; this does not seem to be a bias issue, it’s a degree of change issue.

            Instead I ended up posting something I intended to go somewhere else. … derp.

        2. Visualized Tacos*

          And luckily, after a little while, people will start to read this as her “normal” look, and won’t be surprised that she looks different. If you carry it confidently, no one will comment on it – and if you do, you can shut them down, a la Alicia Keyes.

          1. Fellow Moomin fan*

            I deliberately don’t use make up most days, so as not to accustom myself (and, as a side effect, others) to how I look with make up. I wouldn’t want to feel that I *have* to put it on every day just to “look like myself”.

            So the days when I do bother to put some mascara on I (and others) think I look fabulous — a better version of me!

            1. Skullclutter*

              I subscribe to the same theory. I don’t have a client-facing position, so it’s easier for someone like me to get away with it than it might be for others.

            1. Karen D*

              I saw that! The fun thing is that they actually use makeup to make her freckles look more … freckly. That is one product I would have loved – when I wore full-face makeup I always mourned the fact that it covered up my freckles.

            2. Chalupa Batman*

              I’m so obsessed with Alicia’s no makeup makeup, but every time I try it, I feel like I end up working way to hard to look like I’m not doing anything at all. But I like makeup, so it’s fun for me to put it on every day (and I still skip steps in favor of extra sleep pretty regularly). I think it’s a huge overreach to imply that someone’s not “done” without it. “I don’t like your face, change it” isn’t good management.

        3. Whats In A Name*

          Yes, I agree wholeheartedly with this and was going to comment as such. I don’t wear make up often – just a tinted moisturizer as I get older but I dont’ think I register make-up v. non-makeup on others either, but grow accustomed to what they look like daily and any deviation from that might cause my brain to say “hmm…are they ok today?”

        4. Newby*

          That was what I was referring to. My sister never wears makeup and is paler than I am. She does not get asked if she is ill because that is how she always looks. However, I normally wear makeup so people notice that I am paler than I usually am and therefore think I am ill.

        5. Jess*

          I totally agree with this. Unless someone has a full-9 yards, obviously made-up face (which doesn’t seem too common on a daily basis in the offices I’ve worked in), I don’t necessarily know (or bother to think about) whether they’re wearing “natural-looking” makeup or their face is bare. So a change from natural-looking makeup to no makeup could so easily register as the person looking tired or pale without it ever occurring to me that they simply stopped wearing makeup. (I also think it helps to generally give people the benefit of the doubt. As in, it’s helpful simply for your own peace of mind to assume until shown otherwise that the person is simply commenting out of minor concern at the change & wants to make sure everything’s ok, and not b/c they’re in any way trying to pass judgment on you or imply that it’s not ok to have a bare face.)

      2. Melanoma survivor*

        +1. I am a melanoma survivor. I am of Scania decent and am the palest of the pale. I my hair is almost white and I have been asked before if I’m an albino person who is wearing contact lenses to change my eye color (I have very light blue eyes). I resent that society sees being tanned as healthy while being pale is seen as sickly or wrong. There is nothing wrong with looking pale. And when I say tan I am not talking about natural skin tone. I’m talking about the kind of tan/color you get from baking out in the sun or in a tanning bed, not the skin tone someone naturally has.

        1. Gen*

          I’m half Irish, don’t tan naturally at all and my skin’s so pale that most brands don’t make a foundation to match, so I either go without and get told I look sick (I have chronic health issues, I am sick but I don’t need it pointing out) or I’m told I look like I’m wearing fake tan. It’s very frustrating that there seems to be no situation where my own face is acceptable :/

        2. Former Retail Manager*

          So glad you’re well now. And for what it’s worth, I too am pale, although not nearly as pale as you, and I have rosacea which kind of ruins it for me. I personally, and many others I know, find pale (your kind of pale to be specific) to be beautiful. Especially the combo of super pale with very light hair and light eyes. Keep rockin’ it!

        3. Panda Bandit*

          Many Asian cultures value pale skin. I’m of the mindset that people should embrace their own natural skin color because that is the healthiest thing we can all do.

        4. JustaTech*

          I’m super pale by nature and by inclination (all the sunscreen) but there are times when “pale” does mean “sick”: I once had a very bad reaction to giving blood at work and all my coworkers commented on how pale I was to the point that I asked one of them to take a picture so I could see what nonsense they were talking about.
          They were completely right: I looked like I had no blood at all, like printer-paper white.
          So when you see a person’s facial skin tone lighten dramatically over a short span of time, it can mean something is wrong (on all skin tones). But to have someone who knows what you look like say it more than once moves rapidly from “concerned” to “rude”.

      3. emma2*

        I think this is mostly a thing if the person being commented on usually wears makeup, and then one day transitions to not wearing it (as is the case in the letter.) I am a very minimal makeup wearer, and the days where I don’t wear makeup are when I am usually not feeling well. Most girls understand that if someone breaks the habit of wearing makeup, its due to some negative change in mood that makes you less motivated to keep up your appearance.

      4. Sabine the Very Mean*

        I deal, on a weekly basis at least, with people basically pointing at me and saying with disgust, “my god, you are white! You need a tan!” I’m not even the whitest person in my household. I have snapped back once and said, “would you walk up to a black person and look him in his face and with no shame and just declare that he is too black and should lighten his skin in order to make you feel better about looking at him?” And I KNOW black people deal with this.

        Tanning for a girl this white is literally the DNA in my skin cells being damaged beyond repair. Nice.

        It is never okay to comment on the color of a person’s skin and disapprove and, further, tell them they need to change THE COLOR OF THEIR SKIN!

          1. Snow Jon*

            So does my wife. Her mother, sisters, aunts and cousins all love to go tanning. My wife never did and she was always conscious about sun safety. Her aunt and two of her cousins have had skin cancers removed from their noses (but continue to tan) and they all look much older than they are, while my wife gets mistaken for being 15 years younger than she is.

      5. Lissa*

        The makeup thing is so frustrating. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t see why this is any kind of issue when it would be normal if I were male. I see women say all the time that they *have* to wear it because they look sleepy/unprofessional/have bad skin without it, but men apparently never have bad skin or look tired? No, it’s that society equates professional with makeup on a woman, argh!

        Anyway, yeah, I agree with you Elsa. It is so clearly a gender double standard that is really widely accepted, because I think much of it is subconcious.

    3. PollyQ*

      Ironically, I actually look healthier when I’m running a high fever, because then my pale cheeks actually have some color in them.

    4. Hrovitnir*

      While obviously makeup will affect how you look (that’s the point!), I think a large part of it is what’s normal. If people are used to seeing you with darkened lashes and possibly lashline and lips, when you’re not wearing it you look washed out.

      I have a friend who went from black eyeliner every day to no makeup and she did look tired and wan to me at first, since there was a sudden lack of contrast I guess? Once you adjust you don’t notice. That said, people in this thread have said they do notice, which is interesting, and I am going to assume is significantly an American thing. As far as I can tell makeup in white collar jobs runs the gamut from full face to zero in NZ without an overwhelming preference either way.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        Good point on adjusting to the new baseline. ‘Washed out’ and ‘less sharp’ can be reactions to an abrupt change, where the reverse shift would read as ‘hiding behind piles of goo’. And both looks might not raise an eyebrow if they were how you just normally looked all the time.

        1. JustaTech*

          And it can by any abrupt change. When my dad shaved off his mustache my mom asked if he was feeling OK because he seemed very pale, she did not notice that he’d shaved! (And his upper lip was very pale.)

      2. Arjay*

        I very rarely wear makeup, and when I do it definitely registers as something different. I put on a swipe of lipstick the other day and got a couple of comments on what a pretty color it was. I’m guessing people who wear lipstick every day don’t get those comments since it’s already their “normal.”

        1. Not Rebee*

          It’s definitely about sudden contrast. My boss wears a very bold lip – only when she has big meetings. I definitely notice when she wears it, because otherwise she doesn’t bother. And yes, people who wear no makeup at all who are suddenly wearing even minimal makeup in the office are also noticed – I have a coworker who wears mascara and maybe some eyeshadow when she’s going out after work, and she’s always got to field questions about what she’s doing after work when she shows up wearing it. The thing is, people always want to comment on sudden differences because it’s often intentional and I think people want to a) show they’re paying attention and b) weigh in on your life’s changes. Suddenly wearing lipstick is not a mistake…

          Personally, I’ve found a happy medium with my makeup. While in college, I used to never wear makeup for day to day things, but for events or parties I would go with a very full face of makeup. That’s simply more effort than I want to spend day to day for work though, so I cut out about half the things and now that’s my “everyday” look. From foundation, powder, blush, primer, three shades of eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, lip liner, lipstick and lip gloss to powder, blush, a single eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, and chapstick. It saves time, and it’s just enough that no one notices a huge contrast when I do a full face for a night out after work.

    5. Karen D*

      I got the same thing any time I didn’t wear makeup, and even though I LOVE makeup (and still buy it, for some reason) it was tiresome to get the comments whenever I didn’t do a full face.

      A few years ago ,I had to have eye surgery and was officially banned from wearing cosmetics around my eyes for a few months. I decided it was an opportunity to “break up with makeup” at work and I’ve never really regretted it. In some offices, though, I know that’s not an option – women are expected to wear makeup.

    6. Lora*

      Yeah, it just comes across badly. Between adult acne and summer mosquito bites (I react really badly) with no makeup and short sleeves I look like I have the later stages of chickenpox or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever as soon as the bugs start flying in spring. Also naturally pale, I basically burst into flames in a bright ray of sunlight. If I just wear a bright lipstick, that’s enough to look healthy apparently.

    7. Tomato Frog*

      Right, they mean well, but so do people who ask when the baby’s due. It’s normal to be concerned when you think someone looks sick or tired, but we still need to learn not to do it.

        1. Mookie*

          Exactly. This isn’t hard. This is just being an adult and knowing when and where to practice discretion. Treating people’s faces, bodies, bellies, and hair like they’re up for grabs and/or hyper-scrutiny is not okay.

  2. MonteCristo85*

    To me, this doesn’t seem like an unreasonable comment for a boss to make. I know when I was really suffering with depression it was definitely affecting my job performance. When I finally realized what the problem was I asked to have a sit-down with my boss and I told her that I realized my depression was causing some performance issues, and that I was addressing the problem with my physician, and that I would do my best to curtail any future problems. But then I’m a super candid person by nature, and part of my fight against depression is against the stigma that unfairly surrounds mental health diagnosis.

    1. fposte*

      I would probably phrase it more softly, but yeah, as long as it’s out of concern and not accusation I think the observation that somebody seems to be struggling is okay. And while the makeup may be a factor, I also think it may not be, and that it’s just that the OP has been through a big sad thing and it shows.

      1. Observer*

        Actually, it’s very reasonable that the makeup is a factor. If someone never wears makeup, it’s no big deal. But when someone STOPS wearing makeup, that can be a bad sign.

        This is not really about makeup, but about the very real possibility that there is an underlying problem. When someone seems to stop taking the same amount of care of themselves, that’s a genuinely troubling sign. In fact, any significant change of pattern can be an issue, unless it’s clearly a positive thing.

        1. fposte*

          I didn’t say it was unreasonable–I just said it’s possible that it’s not the makeup, too. Sometimes when we’re sad people can tell we’re sad.

        2. Marillenbaum*

          I can speak to this from my own experience. At my previous job, I was dealing with depression and anxiety, and there was a massive slump period where I could barely make myself brush my hair before work, much less do my usual makeup and things. It really helped to realize that my depression was more severe than I realized, and in my case, making myself make time to do my full makeup and hair every morning ended up being a valuable part of my recovery.

    2. NoMoreMrFixit*

      Sounds to me like your boss has noticed changes in you and is trying to reach out and let you know she’s concerned. She’s trying to help. I live with depression. Usually it’s people around me who notice when things are getting bad because I am lousy at realizing my mood/behaviour is changing. This doesn’t mean you suddenly have a mental health condition. It does mean that other people are seeing changes in you. Please take this as the act of kindness it was meant to be. Your boss doesn’t sound like a bad person in this situation.

      1. a big fish in a small pond*

        “It does mean that other people are seeing changes in you. Please take this as the act of kindness it was meant to be. Your boss doesn’t sound like a bad person in this situation.”

        omg, YES, @NoMoreMrFixit! OP – THIS ^^^, SO MUCH YES.

        1. Karen D*

          Is it really an act of kindness if the employee absolutely does not want to talk with her boss about this, though? She says “I’ve been extremely uncomfortable around her and feel like she’s judging my every move and facial expression to try and assess my mental state.” That sounds a little like my version of hell.

          1. Sadsack*

            That’s after the boss asked, and I think it is nice that the boss noticed a change in OP and asked if she is ok. If she keeps asking, then it’s a problem.

          2. bridget*

            It doesn’t sound like the boss is trying to force an extensive dialogue – it sounds like a one-off comment. I think that if the boss had written in, many of us would have suggested saying (once, gently) that the employee seems like she is struggling and making her aware of the company’s resources that could help her out. If this is in fact what the boss did, then I think the OP should try to rein in her reaction, because it sounds like she might be having a disproportionate response.

          3. Madeleine Matilda*

            In the US there is such a stigma about discussing possible mental health issues. I applaud the boss for speaking up. Depression unchecked can lead to many more problems. A dear friend of mine who suffered from depression committed suicide. Despite the pleas of his family he refused to seek treatment. OP may not be depressed, but, often those who are don’t recognize it or do recognize it but won’t seek treatment. OP, please, talk with your physician or check in with trusted family or friends and see if they too are seeing what your boss has noticed.

          4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I think it’s an act of kindness. In this case, the boss has no way of knowing the employee absolutely does not want to talk about it. All she knows is that something has changed, and it’s causing her concern. Although the boss has mentioned OP looks pale, there could be other behaviors or expressions she’s observed that make her worry about OP’s well-being (and that are not solely about makeup or skin tone). Oftentimes our external “put together-ness” can reflect our mental health. So it’s possible that OP is more affected than she realizes, and her boss is picking up on those vibes.

            If OP had told her boss she absolutely didn’t want to talk about it but her boss pushed on the issue anyway, it may not be acting kindly. That said, if someone is in crisis, and they don’t seem to realize it, then I think it’s better for a boss to cautiously identify that something seems to have changed (I wouldn’t say “are you depressed?” because it can sound judgey, and perhaps the boss’s problem, here, was in pathologizing whatever she thinks she’s observed about OP).

            As NoMoreMrFixit notes, when you’re depressed (and I’m not saying OP is), it’s like the analogy of the frog in the pot of water that slowly warms to a boil versus the frog that’s dumped in boiling water. Your perception of your own mental state can be wildly off from how the rest of the world perceives you. And ideally we want bosses to care about and be sensitive to their employees’ needs. OP’s boss may have framed this poorly, but I think it’s better for OP to have a discussion with her boss than to assume she’s judging her every move.

      2. Karen D*

        I agree but … (and this is where the part I mis-posted above was supposed to go) I think the same response to those involuntary cues should also be able to pick up on the fact that the OP does NOT want to talk about this with her boss.

        And (as I accidently said above, lol) I think this is one area where the pluses and minuses of being a woman working for a woman collide. Yes, the empathy is a huge plus, but I have often had female supervisors force this kind of intimate discussion on me and refuse to respect my boundaries, saying things like “It’s because I care about you!”

        I remember one instance where there had been a death in my family, right at a time when I was spearheading a major project at work. My supervisor hauled me into her office for a strong dose of forced sympathy; I really got the impression she wasn’t going to let me leave until I produced real tears, and when I wasn’t cooperative she started suggesting I was not dealing with the Major Tragedy and that maybe I shouldn’t be working on the big project.

        The thing is, she didn’t know the whole story, she wasn’t entitled to know the whole story and I wasn’t about to tell her the whole story. Suffice it to say I was not grappling with repressed grief. Not in the least.

        So I would say, yes, it’s great that bosses put it out there if they think there’s a genuine cause for concern – but they also need to respect boundaries. For very private people, being forced to talk about personal issues can feel very … I don’t know if “violative” is a word but maybe it should be, especially in a relationship that is already ripe for coercion such as boss-employee.

        1. Taylor Swift*

          Yeah, but it becomes relevant to the boss if it’s starting to affect performance.

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          But what you’re describing doesn’t sound like what OP has described. And I think it’s dangerous to frame this as a “woman supervisor” issue. Your concern is about respecting boundaries, as is OP’s. But OP hasn’t provided feedback on her boundaries, which is partially why she now feels like she’s under surveillance. A good boss will back off if an employee asks her to, but they may continue to push if an employee’s well-being seems to be affecting performance.

    3. Sparrow*

      I feel exactly the same way, but I’m very aware that’s not universal. My job is such that I’m often asking people (specifically, college students) whether they’re having mental health challenges, and I learned very, very quickly that most took what was meant as concern as criticism. Now that question comes with some sort of anecdote about my own experience with depression and that seems to make a world of difference in reception – for me, removing the fear of judgment is worth any potential boundary crossing.

      1. Dizzy Steinway*

        It’s really better to ask a softer question, like: how are you, or are you okay?

        1. Sparrow*

          Oh, agreed. Usually the question is in that kind of format, but depending on the conversational context, “are you okay?” can carry a lot of weight!

    4. DecorativeCacti*

      I did something similar and my boss proceeded to hold it against me for YEARS. She was a horrible micromanager and if I so much as took 30 minutes to do something I said would probably take me 20 minutes to complete, she would pull me into a closed door meeting and ask if it was because I was depressed.

    5. CocoB*

      I suspect if the boss made a point of talking to her privately, that there is some (maybe negligible) but some change in behavior or work habits. If this is the case, it is not out of line for the boss to address it. Chances are if you went to HR, they may even be aware of the situation and may reiterate that taking advantage of the employer’s resources should be considered. OP should pause and truly evaluate the situation.

      If the make up thing is a one off and not a repeated inquisition about why no make up, Allison’s advice to shrug it is best. We can often project motive behind people’s words that are not there. It’s often just poorly timed or worded concern.

    6. MsFitz*

      Thank you for bringing up the stigma! The OP’s framing of the boss’s concern plays right into that. It’s not a horrific insult for someone to ask if you’re depressed. It’s actually a very common state of mind.

  3. Kitty*

    I have a question about this… I work with the public and when I interview there are specific things I look for. We also have a set standard for appearance. Is it terrible that I need people to wear makeup to work? I don’t mean makeup that would take 2 hours to do.. I just mean normal cover-up of flaws, some mascara and occasionally lipstick.
    I understand that we all have a day a week where we don’t feel great and come in showing it… but is this wrong to ask for/expect when you are in a public facing position?

      1. Aveline*


        This is the root of the problem. If it were both men and women, it would be different.

        Our standards of what is “appropriate grooming” are not universal, they are inherently gendered.

      2. Kitty*

        Well I work with women now, but if a guy wanted to wear mascara it’s all good, or if he wanted to cover up acne with concealer.
        This is a genuine question, I’m not trying to be controversial. I am not always 100% full on with make up. I don’t consider myself a “put together” person all the time. I don’t have great fashion sense etc.
        But I know in my industry it is almost a requirement because we are in sales and constantly face to face with clients.
        My issue with this particular person is that no makeup, hair sometimes a mess and clothes occasionally have holes. So I have to have difficult conversations (which I don’t mind).
        She is an amazing person but my boss was taken aback by her appearance when she met her.

        1. Leatherwings*

          Well then the issue isn’t that she’s not wearing makeup, it’s that she doesn’t look as polished and groomed as you need her to. Focus on that rather than the fact that you want her to wear mascara.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            Very much agreed. I think it can help to hone in on what the issues actually are. Clothes with holes are a problem in most positions, as is unkempt hair (which should not be conflated with big/curly hair). But makeup has little to do with the rest. If being polished is the issue, one can look “polished” without makeup.

        2. EA*


          Holes and hair a mess is a very different issue. Would she meet the bar of professionalism if those issues were fixed but she still didn’t wear makeup?

          1. Falling Diphthong*

            “Wear clothing that doesn’t have holes” and “wear mascara” are very different levels of grooming expectation.

          2. Allison*


            A lack of makeup means you neglected to slather something extra on your face, ragged clothing and messy hair means something on you is poorly maintained.

          3. Aveline*

            I have issues with “hair a mess.” That’s very subjective.

            There’s also a lot of gender and race politics around hair.

            So it would have to be very, very messy (and unclean) before I’d say it’s something that had to be addressed head on.

            1. Artemesia*

              Maybe. But hair that has not been groomed versus messy hair is usually pretty obvious regardless of style. Minorities can also be ungroomed slobs and that has nothing to do with hair style.

              1. Hrovitnir*

                But I think the point is that black woman who are impeccably groomed but haven’t forced their hair to look white are very often labelled “unpolished” and suffer professionally. This is pretty well established.

                1. Observer*

                  True. But when you are talking about a context where the person has holes in their clothes, it’s just not reasonable to assume that the only reason that “messy” is coming up is because it’s “ethnic” (for lack of a better word).

                  If @Kitty had just mentioned the hair, I would totally be with you. But, this is a different situation.

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  Absolutely. But it’s also true that one can have messy hair for reasons that have nothing to do with ethnicity, race, or hair type. I have straight hair that is fairly easy to make conform to old-school ideas of professional appearance. But if I kept coming to work with it unwashed/unbrushed/snarled up, it would be reasonable for an employer to take issue with that, particularly in client-facing roles.

                3. Aveline*

                  Yes. Absolutely.

                  The entire concept of “polished” is a product of culture. “Sleek” is a product of culture.

                  We need to be very, very aware of that when we say “messy.” And that there’s a difference between “not my expectation of sleek” and really, truly messy.

                  There’s a huge difference between “bed head” and simply “not what society deems appropriate.”

                  Is the woman coming in without having combed her hair at all? Or is the hair simply frizzy b/c that’s how her natural hair is and she can’t change it?

                  Is she not washing her hair or is her hair just naturally hard to tame?

                  I CANNOT make my hair “sleek”. Between my naturally very, very think, but fine hair and my allergies to most hairsprays, mouses, and gels it doesn’t happen. When I cut it shorter to get away from that expectation I am told I look “boyish” and should grow it out.

                  If you’ve never suffered from hair issues, you think it’s simple for people to “just do it”. For some, it’s not.

                  And I look “white” to people. I have seen a lot of WOC friends been told that their natural hair is not “sleek” or “professional”.

                  A lot of what people think is “sleek” just isn’t possible for some people.

                  And there are race and gender expectations.

              2. anon for this*

                I will tell you right now that people with “ethnic” hair are told that they look unprofessional/unpolished even when they are groomed to the T. Yes, there is a difference between “looking groomed” and “looking Caucasian”, but people do conflate the two.

                1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  I think there’s lots of understanding of that in this thread. But people are pointing out that that fact doesn’t mean that there can’t also be someone who has legitimately messily unprofessional hair in ways that don’t intersect with race or ethnicity at all.

                2. neeko*

                  Can we stop equating straight or straightened hair with “looking Caucasian”? There are plenty of PoC, Black folks included, that have naturally straight hair. And I would argue that not all people who straighten their hair are doing it to “look White” – for style reasons, for ease, for whatever. This is not to take away from this issues that women with natural hair (like myself!) struggle within the workplace. Black hair is so politicized and despite being a woman with natural hair, I can’t stand a lot of the things thrown at women who straighten theirs.

                3. anon for this*

                  The point I was trying to make was that appearance standards are based on what are more likely to be Caucasian features, not that only Caucasian people can have straight hair (and certainly, there are plenty of Caucasian people who don’t have straight hair.) In regards to looking “professional”, I don’t think non-straight-haired people are doing it to “look white”, but rather to “look professional”…which is a concept (traditionally) based on white features.

                  And I agree that there is, objectively, a difference between looking messy and neat that is not based on race/ethnicity.

            2. The Southern Gothic*

              I am a woman of a certain age who frequently wears her hair up for “temperature comfort” reasons.
              Recently at a temp position, the manager of the department who was 5 years older than myself actually had the nerve to scold me about my appearance, saying “as soon as I’m home, the hair goes up, but at work, we try to look more professional”.
              She also had problems with the amount of makeup I wore, saying “Gosh, you’re so fair… maybe more color would bring out your features better”.

              Never mind that I know full well that more makeup doesn’t make me look better – just more made-up. She was so entrenched in her role as manager that she felt important enough to manage the way everyone looked as well. Her attempt to “correct ” the way I looked was bitchy and appearance-policing in a way that could only occur in a small department of an insane, family-owned small business.

              1. (different) Rebecca*

                …that’s really weird, because (generally, in America) putting your hair up is seen as more grown up and professional. And my hair is very, very, VERY long and wavy, and there is no way whatsoever that having it down looks ‘professional.’ In fact, it’s a chore to get it to look professional while up, because it escapes pins and clips like it’s trying to flee my head.

                1. kb*

                  It’s really counterintuitive, but something I’ve encountered aso well. For me it was a no-win because up was wrong (even in a fairly formal style, like a French twist or chignon). But down was also considered wrong because my hair is super curly. I think the boss genuinely had the expectation I would spend 2 hours straightening it everyday or drop some major cash on a keratin treatment. .

                2. VroomVroom*

                  Well, I often come into work with my hair down. But as I get ‘into something’ I’ll throw it up in a ponytail or a messy bun. My coworkers have even commented that they can tell when I’m ‘buckling down’ because my hair goes up.

                  It’s not pretty, it’s not sleek, it’s just functional. Of course, I don’t do that when meeting with external “clients” though. If my hair is up when meeting with “clients” it its because it was intentionally put up that morning – not thrown up haphazardly at some point during the day that I don’t even notice.

                  P.S. “clients” is in quotations because I don’t have clients but I do meet with external people for whom I need to be quite polished at times.

                3. Chickaletta*

                  Could depend how she’s doing her hair up. If it’s worn in a high messy bun or a loopy ponytail, in braids, or something else that looks youthful, it could be seen as unprofessional compared to women who wash and blow dry shoulder length hair everyday.

                  Southern, one thing to try if you like it up is a compromise with your manager – not to coform to her standards of beauty, but so that you appear professional in her eyes which is important for your career. Try wearing your hair pulled back low and without visible accessories. Keep it conservative and make sure your style doesn’t have to be redone throughout the day so that you’re not messing with it at your desk.

                  As for her comment about makeup, ugh. Whatever. Wear what makes you feel good about yourself.

              2. The Southern Gothic*

                It felt very much like the girl-on-girl variation of “You Should Smile More”

                1. PsychDoc*

                  Oh, that is a *facinating* observation! I would be super interested in seeing this become a sociological study.

              3. LN*

                that is SO STRANGE. hair-up almost always reads are more professional to me, not that I think it really matters, as long as you’re reasonably groomed to the point where you don’t look like you’ve just rolled out of bed. but the stereotypical image of the BUSINESS WOMAN NOT TO BE MESSED WITH!!! always involves either short hair or a bun.

            3. amapolita*

              I completely agree that there are gender and race politics around hair. Full disclosure: I’m a white woman with wavy/curly hair, and I know that “polished” or “sleek” often by definition excludes well-maintained naturally curly hair, even for white ladies.

              But there’s a huge difference between clean, well-cared-for, tidy curls and snarled, matted hair, and I don’t think it’s political at all to say so.

              1. Gabriela*

                I agree. I also think the politics around policing women’s appearances causes people to become very sensitive to the possibility of that happening. I am a white woman with fine curly hair that goes straight frizz more often than not (swampy climate). I once had a male boss who *every day* would tell me that my hair looked “messy”, no matter how I fixed it. I still have a laser-sharp hatred for this man.

        3. Triceratops*

          Neat hair and clothes that are clean/not wrinkly/don’t have holes are certainly things you can require. I don’t think it’s fair to require makeup, though.

          1. Triceratops*

            Caveat that you should think carefully about what you’re considering “messy hair.” Is her hair just curly or kinky? That’s not messy, that’s a hair type.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              If I was required to have my hair not be absolutely pin straight, I would be in trouble. Naturally curly is the flip side of this–you shouldn’t need to damage your hair to look ‘pulled together.’

            2. Aveline*


              I cannot do anything with my hair to make it look “not messy.”

              I wear makeup and top-dollar tailoring.

              We have to be careful with our expectations around hair as well.

              1. BookishMiss*

                My “not messy” for my hair is braided and pinned into a bun. Otherwise, it’s a poofy, wavy, semi-sentient disaster no matter what I do.

                1. Lora*

                  Yep. It was worse before I had chemo, because there was twice as much of it. Cowlicks in every direction imaginable and they probably twisted through extra dimensions too. Bun secured with either a hair fork or metal (not plastic) hair sticks. And I still have random wisps escaping like baby snakes slithering out of Medusa’s head.

                2. Mb13*

                  My hair used to be like that. Though my hair is naturally curly so once I learned how to take care of curly hair everything was much better. I learned a lot from visitnig

              2. TootsNYC*

                it’s funny, but “hair a mess” has a very different meaning to me than “messy hair.”

                I had a friend w/ very kinky hair that frizzed easily. It looked “messy” most of the time, because that’s just how it was. But there were times when it was clearly “a mess.” Subtle distinction.

                She also discovered that when she got it cut in layers, the “messy”-ness was greatly subdued.

                Personally, someone in intentional dreads doesn’t look like “hair a mess” to me; they look like they intentionally have “messy hair” as a deliberate style.

          2. Kyrielle*

            This. I would leave a job that demanded I wear makeup. (Not helped by the fact that a lot of makeup will cause me to break out in an itchy rash, and the remainder will tend to give me zits, thus requiring more makeup or my looking like a teenager for a while.)

            (Also not helped by the fact that I never saw the point in makeup, which coupled with the effect of much of it on my skin, means I never acquired the skill of applying it. I am pretty sure that if I try to come in wearing just basic makeup, I will look less-professional than if I come in with my natural face.)

            1. Maxwell Edison*

              Same here. I never wear makeup; I’ve never figured out how to apply it in a way that worked, everything looks fake and clown-like on me, I don’t like the way it feels on my skin, and I am a cheapskate and don’t like spending the money on it.

              1. Someone*

                I second that. Tried out makeup a few times, but the only results I got were:
                1. Oh shit what a disaster! Where’s the makeup remover?!
                2. Oh gods I look like a doll! Where’s that makeup remover?
                3. Oh… well I might just as well wear no makeup at all and save the money and time…

                But I guess the “fake” and “doll” feeling results from being accustomed to one’s natural face.

            2. VroomVroom*

              I think it’s just about looking nice. If your natural face is how you look normally than you’re fine.

              In the OPs case, she went from wearing makeup (how much, we don’t really know) to not wearing any at all. That’s a pretty jarring step and it’s a reasonable to reaction to think someone may be ill if they suddenly have less color in their face than what is ‘normal’ for them.

          3. The Optimizer*

            Agreed 100%. I would quite honestly be offended if I was required to wear makeup for work. I do it very, very rarely (weddings, big parties, etc) and it’s pretty minimal even then. I’ve never been comfortable wearing it, I’m not good at applying it and I often break out because of it. I couldn’t imagine being forced to wear it 5 days a week and would be job searching if I were.

        4. PollyQ*

          So, tackle the messy hair and the holey clothes.

          I’m a woman who enjoys wearing makeup, but I HATE that women are required to be pretty in their professional lives. And as a data point, I know lots of professional women in Silicon Valley who never wear a speck of makeup.

          1. VroomVroom*

            I think in the case of the OP the issue is that she DID wear it, and then stopped cold turkey. It’s a reasonable human reaction to assume if someone’s face suddenly has less color than what’s normal for them, that maybe they’re not feeling well.

        5. BenAdminGeek*

          Well, I’d say the focus should be less on “women here have to wear makeup” and more “you need to look professional, and part of that is polish for clothes- clothes shouldn’t have holes in them.” You need to focus less on the gendered piece and insisting on makeup, and more on general business attire and appearance.

          Perhaps it’s my own bias, but women wearing makeup does not seem like a legitimate business appearance. Men and women both needing to wear clothes that aren’t falling apart does seem proper.

          1. Aveline*

            ” clothes that aren’t falling apart does seem proper.”

            Clothes can have pinholes and not be “falling apart.” I would also question just how bad the clothes are, given the other concerns raised.

            I think this is VERY dangerous territory.

            It’s really, really hard to see these things objectively b/c we all have such internalized expectations.

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Clothes can also develop holes/stains in the course of the work day. I mean, there is a difference between someone repeatedly wearing damaged clothing and noticing that someone’s clothes have a flaw. It’s entirely possible that they shut their skirt in the car door and ripped the hem on their way in that day.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Or spilled curry on their shirt at lunch. I absolutely do not speak from personal experience here. *shifty eyes*

        6. Willowy*

          the issue isn’t whether a guy CAN wear it, it’s whether you expect him to and judge him accordingly. If your expectation on this varies by gender presentation, it’s unfair.

          You can expect all employees, regardless of gender, to be clean and tidy, with hair that is groomed and clothes that are clean and free of damage. That’s dress code, and you can set and enforce those standards consistently. You should not expect employees to wear makeup if they are female-presenting.

          1. Karen D*

            I worked at a Disney park in my youth and they had a set of appearance guidelines that were very strict (very, very strict) but also pretty fair, allowing for natural hair regardless of ethnicity as long as it was kept neat.

            They are still pretty strict. The Disney Look: Some of the rules have changed (men can wear beards now) and it’s been updated to reflect more modern accessories (I remember that in my day, “yarn hair ties” that matched my costume were allowed, lol).

            Interestingly, they included a prohibition on all but the most naturalistic makeup! As someone who was pale with dark, sooty lashes, I was sent to “take off my eyeliner” more than once; I finally took to keeping a makeup wipe in a baggie in my purse so I could grab it, wipe, show the makeup-free cloth to my supervisor and get back to to work :)

        7. TL -*

          Well there’s a huge difference between “if a guy wants to wear makeup, it’s okay” and “women need to wear makeup to meet our standards.”
          So still a sexist requirement. But the hair and clothing thing is valid.

          1. Shadow*

            There are lots of job appearance requirements that are specific to one sex that don’t violate discrimination laws. Think shaving/jewelry/hair length/ties/open toed shoes/requiring some sort of undergarment on boobs, etc. I look at the policy fairness more in terms of the effort required, not that each and every rule is the same for both sexes.

            1. Anna*

              No facial hair might be directed at men, but it can apply equally to both men and women.
              No long hair can be problematic if you don’t care about women’s long hair, but men can’t have it.
              Women can and do wear ties.
              No open-toed shoes is not just a female specific rule. Men can and do wear sandals and flip flops.
              You better have a pretty good case for why you need a woman to wear a bra. Because unless it’s a safety thing, I think even in a conservative setting you’d be hard pressed to come up with a good reason if someone pushed back. Or you say men must wear undershirts/women bras. Basically, if you can set a equivalent rule for male people, you’re probably good. If you’re specifically laying it out that women must do X and that’s where it ends, I’d hazard you might not be on as firm footing as you think.

              Wasn’t there a letter on here about a husband’s employee not wearing a bra?

              1. Shadow*

                you can’t be serious? Containing free swinging boobs is an issue most men never have to worry about regardless of undergarments.

            2. TL -*

              I didn’t say it violated discrimination laws; I said it was sexist. Because requiring only women to be prettier in order to be professional is sexist.

            3. ..Kat..*

              To me the problem is that the baseline requirements for women require a lot more time and effort than those for men. These requirements for women are also unhealthy and painful. Think nylons and high heels.

        8. Temperance*

          Okay, but the issue is that you said that you “need” your employees to wear makeup, when you actually meant that you only “need” your female employees to wear makeup. You said it here that you would be okay if a man “wanted” to wear makeup, but that you require it of women. That’s sexist.

          One of your staff is apparently slovenly, which is a separate issue from a woman merely not choosing to wear makeup. I think it’s reasonable to require that your employees look neat and wear clothing without stains or holes.

          1. VroomVroom*

            I’m not sure that she needs women to wear makeup. I think she thinks she does. I think if she met a woman in an interview that was polished and looked put together, and hired her – and maybe found out later she wasn’t wearing makeup – then so be it.

            I think people THINK women need to be wearing makeup to look nice, but plenty of women don’t and look professional and fine. The issue in THIS case with the OP is that she went from wearing makeup daily to wearing none suddenly.

            I think Kitty thinks women need to wear makeup because that’s what society has told her. But frankly if she saw me today she’d think I look fine – I’m not wearing a lick of makeup today (I stopped wearing it almost completely in my first trimester of pregnancy, and now I only wear it intermittently and even when I do it’s not very much)

            1. LBK*

              I agree with this assessment for the most part, except I’d also go so far as to say that it sounds like this employee established her professional work appearance as one that included wearing makeup, so that’s the polished standard she set. It them seems like in addition to no longer wearing makeup, the rest of the employee’s appearance started to get less polished, eg hair no longer neat, clothes in disrepair, etc. I don’t think it’s unreasonable for Kitty to have said “Hey, I need you to get back to the professional image you were projecting before,” which would include wearing makeup again.

              However, there is definitely a middle ground between unkempt and fully done up, which would be fixing up clothes and tidying up hair but not necessarily having to start wearing makeup again…and based on Kitty’s follow up comments it sounds like that’s exactly what she’s had the employee do, and it’s working out fine. I know that info wasn’t added until later, but maybe people can cool off a little since Kitty has already explicitly said that she’s not requiring the employee to wear makeup and has just spoken to her about her clothes, and the problem has improved considerably.

            2. LN*

              Here’s the problem though – there ARE women who greatly benefit from makeup, and if you saw a man who had a similar natural look – i.e. “bad” skin, dark circles, etc – most people wouldn’t immediately think “oh, why doesn’t he just wear some light makeup so he’ll look more professional?” It’s a sexist standard by its nature because men are not expected to wear makeup, even if it would “help” their appearance or make them look “more professional.”

              We need to normalize women wearing their natural face, even if they don’t “look fine without makeup” by society’s standards.

              1. LBK*

                Maybe this is just me, but that wouldn’t occur to me for a woman either. I can for sure say I’ve never looked at a woman and thought “Huh, she could really use some makeup.” I think women are actually more likely to do that because you know from your own experience what products you’d use to touch up bags under your eyes, zits, etc.

                Most men have a really general idea that putting on makeup = more attractive face but I seriously doubt most guys are looking at a woman with uneven complexion and thinking she could use some foundation. We’re so accustomed to see made-up faces that I actually don’t think most men even realize how much makeup most of the women they see on a daily basis are probably wearing – they assume their typical face is their natural face, so then if you come in without makeup one day, it’s a pretty dramatic change.

          2. Mookie*

            Yep. This “normal cover-up of flaws” is a huge tell. Men are permitted spots and pimples and dark under-eyes and huge pores and uneven skin tone and burns and scars and pitting without being accused of unprofessionalism. “Flaws” are not unprofessional; they are human. Not every so-called aberration needs to be snuffed out. Pretending that concealer is on par with a working pair of shoes or clothes free from stains and excessive smells is offensive.

        9. Jaydee*

          Could the problems be resolved if her clothes were in good repair and her hair were neat even without makeup? Because that’s a gender neutral standard. Both men and women can be expected to wear clothing that fits appropriately, is not excessively faded, and is free of holes. Both men and women can be expected to have clean, neatly styled hair. I would focus on those two things first.

        10. animaniactoo*

          They need to look presentable. Whether or not they have makeup on isn’t part of looking presentable.

          Grooming a distracting unibrow might be part of looking presentable, attempting to keep your skin healthy (and therefore not patchy/peeling/always a new zit forming somewhere) can be part of looking presentable – although note that’s an attempt not a guarantee, as people have issues that may not be surmountable.

          Requiring application of any sort of cosmetics is not part of “looking presentable” under reasonable standards of grooming. Precisely because the underlying message is “You are too flawed/ugly to be shown as you actually are”. You may not mean that to be the message, it may not be the way you take it yourself. But it is.

          So, address the hair needing to look neat (always). Address the clothing needing to lack holes (always). Leave it there.

          1. Shadow*

            You are sort of arguing against your own argument. why is a unibrow not presentable? Its just as subjectivly presentable as makeup/non-makeup.

        11. Aveline*

          ” no makeup, hair sometimes a mess and clothes occasionally have holes.”

          The only issue you can raise here is the clothes. Even then, you should think a lot about why you care.

          No makeup = not your business. This is a gendered, cultural standard.

          Hair a mess = very subjective and you have to realize that not everyone can actually style their hair in the culturally approved way. I can’t. I’m very professional and do wear makeup and nice tailored suits for women – some from Saville Row. But my hair does NOT cooperate. Ever. My only choices are “very short” “ponytail” or down and slightly messy. The only style that looks good on me is down and slightly messy.

          As for the clothes, has it ever occurred to you she may be *gasp* POOR? Or that she doesn’t care about the holes. Or she has personal values in thrift and doesn’t throw things away just b/c of minor damage.

          As long as the clothing is clean and work attire, I really, truly don’t get why a few holes here and there are a big deal.

          You may be judging her too harshly.

          Here’s the deal: If she’s in sales and she’s not “closing” then – and only then- can you address with her why and raise her appearance as an issue and work with her to “conform” with “the client’s expectations” irrespective of “the fairness of those expectations.” You can be her ally, not her critic.

          Correcting her appearance just bc your boss was shocked is not appropriate. Correcting her appearance b/c she doesn’t live up to the standards you want is also an issue.

          You really need to think about why you care and if it’s really about the customers b/c there are hints in your letters that it might not be. It’s very easy to judge people on this – lord knows I have!

          1. Artemesia*

            Seriously? You are going to defend sloppy clothes with holes as okay in a public facing work setting? (I assume we don’t care that much in the shop) Make up is one thing; particular hair styles is another; clothes that are dirty, poorly maintained and ragged are just unacceptable in a public facing role and perhaps at all at work.

            1. Aveline*

              “lothes that are dirty, poorly maintained and ragged are just unacceptable in a public facing role and perhaps at all at work.”

              That’s not what she said. She said “holes.”

              Had she said “dirty” or “ragged”, I’d agree. I agree with your statement people shouldn’t come in in dirty or ragged clothing. But we don’t know yet if it was that bad. (Perhaps we can get a clarification).

              Given the context wherein makeup and hair are both specifically mentioned, I’d question whether the clothing is truly dirty/ragged/unkempt or simply just not as polished as desired.

              All I am trying to do is to get the person with the issue to examine the impact of societal expectations and her own expectations.

              There are a LOT of politics around appearance.

              1. Kitty*

                Multiple holes in cardigans and dirty shoes etc. I think (looking back) she was not aware of how she was presenting herself, and was going through a lot at home.

                For hair it was oily and held by a rubber band. I got a 20 pack of black bands for the hair.

                I was not the only person commenting on her clothes, I more wanted to fix the issue so they would see she was good at her job.

                I am not made of money and I understand clothes are expensive. She just wore cardigans that were not washed and had major holes in them. I understand this seems far fetched but I really wanted her to work with me and for people to see how amazing she is.

                And she is an amazing sales person!

            2. animaniactoo*

              Depends on the size/placement of the holes.

              Small hole in the cuff of the pants? Excusable. Anything more noticeable than that? Not excusable in an environment where the expectation is to look presentable up to a business casual standard.

              1. Nervous Accountant*

                Yes, holes.

                My jeans always get holes in the upper inner thigh area. I haven’t worn jeans to work in a while, because hello tax season weight gain, but I like to think I look OK otherwise..

          2. animaniactoo*

            Slightly messy is different from “a mess”.

            My hair is often kind of messy, but is rarely “a mess”. A former co-worker would come in with hair that clearly hadn’t been brushed in a few days and was beyond “slightly” messy.

            1. Aveline*

              I agree entirely.

              But given the context in which makeup was also mentioned, I don’t know if it was a mess or it was simply “not polished”.

              Not washing or brushing your hair is a problem. Not wearing it back or having frizzy hair is not a problem.

            2. Queen of the File*

              I always feel weird reading comments like this. My hair is very fine and frizzy and if I brush it, it turns into a little cloud of hair floating above my head. I’ve had many people subtly and not-subtly comment about people needing to run a brush through their hair now and then and I always want to show them what it would look like if I did–or start carrying around a picture of how much worse it was when I woke up, haha. I tried to straighten it for awhile but ended up damaging it so badly it became even more floaty. Even my hairdressers give up trying to make me look tidy after a cut :)

              1. many bells down*

                Ugh my mother was always nagging me that I didn’t brush my hair enough and that’s why it always looked terrible. Then I got to be about 28 and realized that the brushing was what was MAKING it look terrible. Fine curly-frizzy hair does not take well to brushing!

                1. Anna*

                  Brushing fine frizzy hair is a one way ticket to mushroom hair. My hair is naturally very wavy. Even when I want it straight, I don’t brush it.

            3. Nervous Accountant*

              To me messy is when I wash my hair and I don’t comb it. There’s a huge rats nest at the crown of my head. That looks messy. Or when ti’s all in your face.

          3. MegaMoose, Esq*

            I’ve got to push back on the clothing element. I appreciate trying to be open minded and generous to people’s circumstances, but requiring that people not come to work in torn clothing is in no way unreasonable.

            1. Aveline*

              It didn’t say dirty or torn, only holes. These could be pinholes from wear, these could be major rips.

              There’s a difference.

              I agree people should not come to work in torn clothing. I do not agree that a few pinholes once or twice when no customers are around is a problem.

              1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                If the holes are visible to others it really seems like nitpicking to say that’s somehow different from a tear.

                1. LBK*

                  Yeah, I doubt they were identified via a visual inspection being conducted with a magnifying glass. If they’re big enough for the manager to notice, they’re big enough for a customer to notice, and that’s pretty much all that matters whether they’re hole, rips, tears, gaps or whatever.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              Yeah, I’m not on board with holes. I am sensitive to, and understand, the class issues that relate to clothing. But I think there’s a lot of bending-backwards speculation to try to justify hole-y clothing, and I don’t think that bendy-ness is merited. Most of the low-income individuals I’ve known are exacting about their appearance because of societal biases that equate poverty with dirtiness. Their clothing may be darned or thrift, but it is presentable. I don’t think that’s the situation, here.

              Visible holes (and as Kitty has now clarified, “major” holes) are not ok in most customer/public-facing roles like sales. And most pinholes are not so visible as to be distracting; talking about pinholes sounds like an extreme example to make the position that hole-y clothing isn’t ok sound absurd. We’ve heard that the employee was wearing torn and dirty clothing while interacting with the public, and it’s generally acceptable (and imo, appropriate) for an employer to request that someone not wear clothing that appears dirty, ragged, or poorly maintained.

          4. Temperance*

            Okay, but speaking as someone who was at times very poor, you still can’t look like a total slob at work. Thrift shops have work appropriate clothing that is not damaged.

            If you don’t care about holes in your clothes, or if you have “personal values in thrift” and prefer to wear damaged clothing publicly, that’s your thing, but don’t do it at work. I used to work with someone who wore very old clothes to work, and it was so awkward because she was the receptionist. Her nickname was Aladdin because she would wear big pleated pants and vests as workwear. It absolutely held her back.

            1. Aveline*

              Again, if it is majorly torn or dirty, I agree. A few pinholes once or twice when no one is around?

              I don’t know just how bad these clothes are. Neither do you.

              If they are truly dirty or torn, then yes. If they just have a bit or wear or aren’t simply up to snuff, then that’s different and has to be addressed differently.

            2. Jessie the First (or second)*

              I think I see where Aveline is coming from – skepticism about the actual state of the employee’s appearance. It’s because Kitty bunched “doesn’t wear makeup” in with the rest of the description. Honestly, if a person’s requirements for professional appearance includes makeup, it does make me suspect that the person is perhaps not thinking clearly about what professional appearance means. And so when the list also includes “hair sometimes a mess and clothes occasionally have holes,” I think Aveline is just questioning… are they actually ragged? Full of holes? Or does “sometimes have holes” represent instead just once or twice catching your sweater on the latch on your car door as you’re walking in to work?

              1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                I guess I don’t think it’s very charitable to Kitty to assume she is judging the coworker for not immediately throwing away a sweater after getting it snagged on the way in to work. I agree the makeup thing is an issue, but I don’t see why that *very common* bias means her judgment about torn clothes is automatically in question.

                1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                  Sorry to Kitty – I do not mean to pile on you, and I think that you (as in Kitty, although here I am nesting this as a reply to MegaMoose) are trying and acting in good faith. Your comments about your supervisor just have made me wonder whether you’ve internalized some unhealthy norms in your office around professional appearance (Kitty talks about her boss being taken aback and the general pressure in the office). But MegaMoose is right that the makeup bit could be very separate from the clothing and hair part and I should not conflate them as part of potentially the same issue.

                2. Kitty*

                  You guys I feel terrible I don’t think I expressed myself very well here.

                  This is an old school environment that we work in that is getting a “face-lift” . Lots of older ladies that wear lipstick and full face.

                  Personally I wear foundation only because I have a lot of bad acne scarring and it’s very discoloured, I put on some blush + mascara. Every once in a while when we do an event I wear lipstick.

                  I personally do not sit there and contour my face or do anything elaborate. I don’t have the patience and I don’t have the skills :)

                  My employee has the skills, she is an amazing salesperson and I never wanted to fire her or make her feel bad.
                  I don’t think she is aware that she just looked like she rolled out of bed and also had holes/dirty clothing multiple times. I have really focused on this and she is better! Looks great and professional.

                  I was getting a lot of outside comments about her not wearing makeup/not even lipstick. I guess it started influencing my thinking. My boss is very particular about appearance. I was just happy she was working with me!

                  I am not perfect! I have terrible hair that I struggle with. I have not had money and when pants rip I take out my sewing kit and fix them until I can afford new ones.

                  I didn’t mean to give the impression that I had all these issues with women and expected everyone to look like a model.

                3. LBK*

                  FWIW, I think your questions were good and your instincts are in the right place; it sounds like you were passing along concerns about her makeup that were coming from others and now based on this letter you’re questioning whether you should really be doing that. I think your focus on having a “polished” appearance rather than specifically dictating things like her makeup is the right approach and it sounds like it’s working, so I’d just stick to that.

                  I think you unintentionally hit on a hot-button issue for this site, and it sucks that you feel like you have to explain yourself for asking what I thought was a perfectly reasonable and genuine question. What’s the point of an advice website if people who ask for advice are scorned?

                4. Isben Takes Tea*

                  @Kitty–I think people are seizing on an opportunity to espouse frustrations with larger patterns in our culture (and nit-picking your word choice/phrasing that is a reflection of that) without reading more about your particular context. I’m glad you asked the question and wanted to get a constructive way of giving feedback to an employee who needs it.

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  I agree with IsbenTakesTea and MegaMoose.

                  Usually we give commenters the benefit of the doubt and take them at their word. I understand people getting hung up on the comment re: makeup, but I think it requires a lot of mental gymnastics to go from “holes in her clothing” to “Kitty is unreliable and is talking about pinholes.” That’s not a reasonable or fair assumption, and I think it’s unfairly nitpicky—if Kitty, Kitty’s boss, or customers can see holes/tears in her employee’s clothing and have complained to Kitty (or others) about it, characterizing her observation as incredible is spurious and not in the spirit of our “assume good intent” and “benefit of the doubt” commenting rules/principles.

            3. Gadfly*

              If you are small enough. A larger individual rarely can find much of anything professional at any price, let alone thrift stores. There is a joke in the superplus circles, in fact, about how we have to wear any clothes we find to tatters just because we haven’t paid off the second mortgage yet that we took to afford the LAST time we updated our wardrobe.

              Basics can easily run high fashion prices, but still be cheap construction and materials.

              It isn’t just money, it is time too. It takes a LOT of time to curate a decent wardrobe. You have to find the clothes (if you go to enough websites you’ll find a few things here and there. You have to buy them, try them on, deal with returns of all the things that don’t fit well enough–you rarely have the option of things fitting well, or even well if tailored.)

              Clothes are also something that, especially for women, reflect a social bias.

        12. always anonymous*

          I’ve worked with a lot of sales people as part of my job and there’s been a number of women who haven’t worn makeup. I don’t think it’s a requirement, just that people have come to expect it.

          Messy hair and torn clothing is a separate issue from makeup and it’s not fair to compare them. Clean clothing and brushed hair is usually required in most positions. Makeup is a personal choice.

          Do you think people would be less taken aback if she wore no makeup but had brushed hair and clothing that wasn’t torn?

          1. Aveline*

            I would put hair and makeup a lot closer together. I have had a LOT of criticism over my hair.

            Black women get a lot of criticism about their hair that stems from the same gendered place as the makeup with the added layer of race.

            1. always anonymous*

              Yeah, I realized that as soon as I commented, but then couldn’t think of the right phrasing and other people have said it better in other comments.

              1. Aveline*

                No problem. I assumed good faith.

                (Lack of an edit button can cause issues for all of us).

                This is a tough issue and I think were we all sitting around a table, it would be easier to discuss.

                Part of why I’m pushing back so hard is that we really often overlook just how gender and race expectations shape what we expect individual people to be.

                I’m probably too “tolerant” of deviance in appearance, but I also think the limits in any direction need to be discussed in good faith here. Most people here act in good faith and are kind.

                This is in no way an easy issue for anyone.

                1. Mookie*

                  I appreciated your contributions in this sub-thread and your “tolerant” attitude. :)

                  Thank you.

        13. Anon today...and tomorrow*

          It’s interesting that you mentioned that the position is in sales. The only “polished” looking men I know are the ones that are in people facing positions. Recently I went to a retirement seminar with my mother. The person leading the seminar owned a financial company and part of his approach is a very hands on, frequent face to face interaction. This man was so well put together. He had great skin, smelled good, was dressed quite nicely, and even had sculpted eyebrows. I can’t say it as a fact, but I’m also pretty sure he had botox because his forehead was completely lineless. I liked seeing that a man put as much effort into his appearance for work as some women do. :)

        14. Parenthetically*

          “no makeup, hair sometimes a mess and clothes occasionally have holes.”

          Ask all employees regardless of gender to keep clothing and hair tidy, in good repair, and clean. Specify, if needed, that that means clothes will be free of holes, tears, or stains; employees will present a generally kempt appearance both in clothing and hair; persons and clothing will be clean and free of intrusive or unpleasant odors; and employees are expected to maintain a neat, professional appearance throughout the day.

          I rarely wear makeup. Mascara does make me look more awake, and I do a swipe of powder on humid days, but neither of those has anything to do with how professional I appear.

        15. AMD*

          There is a difference between requiring clean, professional dress and professional grooming and requiring makeup. It’d be similar to require men be clean shaven, I think? As someone with a professional dress code at work who doesn’t wear makeup, I would feel a sudden requirement to wear makeup would be a pretty terrible burden, above and beyond the normal dress code.

        16. Tuckerman*

          As someone who purchases, I would find it refreshing to work with a salesperson who was both professional and does not feel compelled to wear makeup all the time at work. Right or wrong, it would make me think she has confidence in the product and doesn’t need to rely on “prettying” herself up to increase the likelihood of a sale.
          I would focus on the holes in the clothes.

          1. Emi.*

            If saleswomen are wearing makeup, you think it’s because they don’t have confidence in the product they’re selling? What?

            1. Gadfly*

              Well, as a former coworker used to say “sales go down, skirts go up”. The counter is that the more the salesperson has to sell you themselves, the less the product speaks for itself.

              1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                I don’t think short skirts or implied sex appeal is comparable to a woman’s choice to wear (or not wear) makeup. And it’s a little sexist to presume that women who wear makeup do so because they lack confidence or are insecure.

        17. Observer*

          You are conflating some very different things, then throwing a straw man into the discussion.

          You need people to look put together and reasonably polished? That’s both reasonable and gender neutral. Hair a mess, and (visible) holes in the clothes do not meet that standard. You should definitely have a conversation (or two) about that with your employee. (Skip the makeup bit. It’s not relevant or fair.)

          But, how does that translate into “need people to wear makeup”. And, do you REALLY not see the issue with “people” meaning “women”. Because when it’s “women need to wear makeup” and “It’s ok for a guy to wear makeup” that is MOST DEFINITELY about a different requirement for men than for women.

        18. Jessesgirl72*

          How are her sales numbers?

          If her numbers are on par with others, then keep quiet. That’s proof that no, she doesn’t actually “need” to wear makeup.

          If her sales numbers are below expectations for that position, then address that- the actual problem- and the reasons why that might be- but I’d start with neat, clean, and no holes, and leave alone the makeup question. Personally, that sounds like your own personal prejudice, and not an actual necessity for the role.

        19. kb*

          You can certainly address the holes in clothing.
          For the hair, I’d take a step back and analyze if it’s actually messy. Is it simply a style you don’t like? Or is it a texture you are unfamiliar with? I wear my hair natural and that is perfectly professional, but plenty of employers seem to think otherwise. Also, neat ponytails and buns are generally regarded as perfectly professional, there is no professional requirement to wear hair down– I don’t know why I’ve encountered so many people who think there is.
          For the makeup, I’d think of it this way: would you tell a man to do it? Would your business pay a makeup artist every day to come in and do it? If not, it’s probably not an essential function of the job. There are some jobs where I can see there being more of an argument for it (workers at Sephora, etc.), but even those cases make me a little uncomfortable.
          I know this is fraught territory and you seem well-intentioned, so best of luck.

        20. SometimesALurker*

          If it’s a genuine question, please listen to the genuine answers. The people saying it’s a sexist double-standard aren’t trying to be controversial, either, or calling you controversial. We’re saying it’s a sexist double-standard and you need to stop saying “I need people to wear makeup to work… normal cover-up of flaws, some mascara and occasionally lipstick.”

        21. LoiraSafada*

          Being ok with a man wearing concealer because he wants to is not at all the same as expecting women to wear concealer because you want them to.

      3. The IT Manager*

        In fields where it truly matters, it does seem to apply to both men and women. For example news reporters and actors – both men and women – are expected to wear makeup.

        If you’re only applying this standard to women then it is a sexist double standard to say a woman needs makeup to looked professional and polished, but a man does not. And it sounds like you’re applying this only to women when you specifically call out mascara and lipstick.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          Those are very specific circumstances where the make up is required due to lighting issues. It’s not the same as requiring someone who is “front facing” to wear make up.

          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

            I’m really confused by the objections, because IT Manager is specifically saying that outside a narrow set of jobs, it is sexist and unreasonable to require women to wear makeup.

        2. always anonymous*

          But on camera makeup is so different from normal, everyday makeup that it’s in another category entirely. One of my close friends is on air talent and when you see her “normal” makeup pictures and her on camera makeup she genuinely looks like a different person. I didn’t recognize her the first time I saw her with on camera makeup.

          It’s really not the same situation since the makeup for on camera situations is due to a number of reasons, such as lighting.

          1. Another Lawyer*

            I think that’s the point The IT Manager is making – on camera makeup is truly a job requirement, evidenced by the fact that people of all genders must wear it.

        3. kb*

          I think for most reporters and actors, makeup artists are onset applying it. Maybe smaller scale productions are different, but I think generally the makeup is provided to them and it’s something that’s done onset, rather than at home before arrival. I think that also changes the expectation a bit.

            1. kb*

              Interesting! My friend works at a mid-sized newstation and they have a makeup artist there who applies it. MAC is a great brand- Ruby Woo changed my life.

            2. Emi.*

              Great, I can now add your brother-in-law to the list of people who invest in their makeup more than I do.

      4. DJ*

        I struggle with this. On the one hand, I’d like to agree 100% that the expectation of make-up is gendered and not fair.

        On the other, I don’t know if it is a manager’s job to be taking on something that is SO societally ingrained.

        Lets say that you manage a staff of front-office employees who interact with clients and being well put-together and dressed well/professionally are part of the job description. The social convention for this may include that women wear make-up. If the women of every other firm you compete with adhere to this and you don’t, you may look silly.

        Let’s flip the script. I’m a man. I hate wearing a tucked-in shirt, it makes me feel like I’m fat. All the same, I understand that part of my position is being dressed well, and I’ve never seen a man who does what I do not tuck their shirt in. Women, on the other hand, have the freedom to untuck their shirt, not wear a shirt (dresses etc), wear open toed shoes, etc ,etc.

        In a vacuum, is this unfair? Sure. Why shouldn’t I get to wear open-toed shoes and leave my shirt tail hanging loose. Because I’m a man?

        and the answer to that is……yes. I’m OK with the fact that there are societal conventions that apply to me and may not apply to the women on my team, as I’m sure there are many that apply to the women on my team and don’t apply to me. Again, while I understand the consternation and why it is not 100% fair, I look at it in terms of my boss’s job: to have a productive staff of analysts who can go in front of a client and look professional. And “looking professional”, in the eyes of the client, society at large, and many others, has a different meaning for men and women. Hence my shirt is always tucked and my tie always knotted well, whereas my female coworker may be wearing make-up and has a tightly done hair-do.

        My $.02. I’m sure not everyone will agree.

        1. Grumbo*

          I think there’s a difference between the scenarios in that requiring women to wear makeup creates an additional financial burden, takes much more time than it does to tuck in a shirt, and can also cause skin problems. FTR, I’m all for men being able to have neatly trimmed facial hair if they’re prone to ingrown hairs, and I’ve never had a job where I was allowed to wear open-toed shoes. I’d love it if I could just throw on a suit each day rather than having to figure out whether my itchy wool dress is too long and dowdy, too short and reaveling, or whatever else some rando might decide I am because women’s appearances are scrutinized much more than men’s.
          There have been a number of cases in the news lately about women being required to wear heels to work. That, too, is ingrained, but does that mean that it shouldn’t be challenged? Should we blindly accept things that create barriers for women participating fully in the workforce? Yes, things have different meanings for men and women, and maybe you don’t think this battle is worth fighting. But if you had to spend an extra 40 minutes on hair and makeup each day I think you would.

        2. Mookie*

          That you have decided, after consideration, that the status quo is acceptable to you is fine, of course. Not everyone does, and I don’t personally find persuasive the argument that when everything is calculated and tallied, we all end up equal (equally obligated to fulfill norms and conventions) in the end. It’s expensive — socially, financially — not being a member of the default gender and race, particularly when exceptions can be made in their favor and when their flouting of cultural mandates is tolerated because of their character or ambition or talent, but rarely done so for anyone else.

        3. Panda Bandit*

          You’re talking about a very specific subset of jobs. In most of the jobs I’ve held, women have had to tuck in their shirts. And open-toed shoes have never been allowed.

    1. Leatherwings*

      Honestly? Yeah. That’s a standard that’s applied only to women and there shouldn’t be anything unprofessional or unpresentable about natural lips or eyelashes.

    2. Librarian*

      Yes, I think it is wrong if you don’t work in a field focused on appearance (like fashion or modeling, for example). I have a public facing job and sometimes I wear makeup and sometimes I don’t. Never ever do I wear lipstick. Not since my wedding almost a decade ago.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*


        I don’t wear make up because I have very sensitive skin. It has zero effect on my ability to perform my job.

        1. JaneB*

          whereas the discomfort of dry, cracked, itching skin or full on eczema consequent on makeup wearing WOULD affect my ability to perform perfectly at work!

          1. LN*

            yeah, exactly. I’m just getting into having fun with makeup, and I genuinely enjoy wearing it when I have the time and I’m doing something special, or if I’m going to be on camera for my job. But I have eczema, and even using really high-quality products that don’t actively CAUSE breakouts is just not always possible. When your skin is literally flaking off, putting makeup on top of it looks absolutely ghastly. It’s sort of like the “why don’t you brush your curly hair” thing. Until you’ve lived it, you have no idea how the common fixes can actually make something so, so, SO much worse.

        2. many bells down*

          Yes, most foundation products make me break out, so I only use them sparingly for special occasions. Otherwise it’s a vicious cycle of me needing makeup to cover the flaws CAUSED by the makeup.

      2. Sylvia*

        And what’s a “flaw” is entirely up to interpretation.

        Some people cover their freckles with makeup every day. Some people without freckles get them tattooed on!

        I’ll cover acne if I think I can do so without making the breakout worse, but aside from that, nah.

      3. Jadelyn*

        Thank you!! I honestly still struggle with this, and have to remind myself that I’m not obligated to present flawlessness to total strangers as some kind of payment for existing in my body. I feel guilty when I don’t wear makeup, because I’m leaving my flaws there for people to see and I know, culturally, that I’m Not Supposed To Do That.

        Normalize having flaws. Normalize women and femme-presenting people being allowed to be human beings, in real physical bodies which are not ceramic dolls, which have wrinkles and marks and other variations from some imagined standard of perfection.

    3. Murphy*

      To ask for people to look put together and professional? Not at all. To require makeup of (presumably) only the women who work for you? I think that’s a excessive.

      1. Sadsack*

        Particularly to cover so-called flaws, which I assume are blemishes, uneven skin tone, acne, or even freckles. I think it is unfair to expect do tone to cake foundation on so they have fake perfect skin, just so they appear to be perfect when we are obviously all human. There are many personsl and medical reasons that some of us are not able to wear makeup all over our faces.

        1. Sadsack*

          FWIW, I have no problem with other people choosing to wear foundation and other face makeup, but demanding​ that other people do is wrong and ridiculous.

    4. New Girl*

      Why do they NEED to wear make up? Why can’t the requirement be that they look put-together?

    5. EA*

      I don’t think you should.

      Try and think of this differently, not everyone grew up or is comfortable wearing makeup. Imagine telling someone to wear makeup who doesn’t know how, or hates wearing it, or can’t afford it.

      1. Kitty*

        EA I know this and I’m honestly confused because she LOVES makeup. Like crazy contour and is very fashion forward. For the record I never wear lipstick.

        1. Nervous Accountant*

          This is very interesting; this isn’t someone who hates or has no interest in fashion or makeup, you say so yourself she loves these things and yet she always comes to work looking slovenly?

      2. Allison*

        Or they’re allergic.

        I’ve loved rocking red lips for years, but about 5 years ago I realized I was allergic to ingredients commonly found in lipsticks and lip glosses. I’ve been able to find stains and liquid lipsticks that don’t make my lips break out in a rash, but they cost probably more than what I should be spending. If I was working a minimum wage retail job, or some sort of customer service job, I probably couldn’t justify $20 for lip stain from Sephora.

        1. Aveline*

          I’m allergic to most hair products. So my makeup is on point, as are my clothes.

          I miss having what society deems as “good hair.”

      3. NoMoreFirstTimeCommenter*

        Or their religion clearly forbids all makeup. Such religious groups do exist.

    6. FDCA In Canada*

      I’m guessing you mean women, not people. And I’d think very, very hard about whether this is a “need” or a “want.” You may want to send a certain image, but is that a necessity? Is something about the business being affected if your front-facing people don’t wear makeup? Would you bend your rules or discriminate against people who can’t wear makeup due to skin or eye issues, or people who just straight-up don’t wear makeup as in it isn’t part of their lives, budget, self-image, etc? Would you have an issue if women were wearing makeup you didn’t approve of–maybe extreme contouring that made their face shape look different, or teal lipstick, or super-long false lashes? This is a minefield for issues, and frankly I’d be put off by any job where it was codified that I had to wear makeup. I do wear makeup almost every day, and it takes me less than five minutes, but it’s something I do because I want to do it–I’m not putting on war paint because it’s part of my dress code decree. Very different attitude.

    7. Converse*

      My issue with this is the double standard. If all employees, regardless of their gender, aren’t being asked to cover up “flaws” or wear mascara and lipstick, then no one should be.

    8. seejay*

      I have a male coworker who has acne. Is he required to wear normal cover-up when he interviews with you or just the women?

      Think about it that way and then ask yourself again if your standards are fair and applicable.

      And I say that as a woman who does wear makeup, but the difference is that I choose to because I prefer it, but not because I have to or it’s expected for my job.

    9. Makeup Addict*

      That depends – are you demanding this of both men and women? If not, you have gendered expectations of appearance that place an unfair burden on women (cost, time and effort) and that is sexist and unreasonable.

    10. Jill_P*

      I have very sensitive skin, and that’s just one of the reasons I don’t wear makeup to work. I would wear it for an interview, ironically, but that’s a one-time-deal that my skin then has time to recover from (including recovering from scrubbing off mascara, for example.) People are used to my face without it, so nobody thinks I look tired or sick because I don’t wear it. I would absolutely go to HR if I were required to wear makeup unless it was specifically an integral of the job (i.e. modeling, acting, maybe makeup sales/artistry) – I’m guessing, like other commenters, that this policy wouldn’t apply to any men you hired.

    11. Bend & Snap*

      I’m a woman who loves makeup and doesn’t go to work without it, and I think this is wrong.

      There are plenty of people who look great without makeup. As long as they’re meeting the dress code and look put together, I don’t think you can or should require women to wear makeup.

      “I need people to wear makeup to work” = if this is really just about you and not about a larger issue of them not looking polished enough for the public, then I’d say you need to find a way to get over it. If it’s a polish issue, you should address that individually and it should be things like tuck in your shirt, comb your hair, make sure your shoes aren’t scuffed, or whatever the issue is. “No makeup” is not an issue.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        It doesn’t even matter if someone “looks great” if they can do their job.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Okay, come on now. It’s true that there are some roles where the culture is to look very polished. I want people to be able to share their experiences without being put on the defensive by others here.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                Sorry. I have been judged for my appearance too many times and this is obviously a sensitive subject for me. I will refrain from commenting further.

            2. Bend & Snap*

              I work in communications for one of the world’s largest technology companies. And I’m happy to always be giving a good impression through both presence and work.

              Nobody would take me seriously in my role if I went all “F the patriarchy”and started wearing sloppy pants and a ponytail. The culture here is dressy.

              If you don’t like this dynamic, don’t apply for it, but no need to be snarky about those of us to play the game to our own benefit.

              1. Jessie the First (or second)*

                So you are describing needing to adhere to a particular level of formality – i.e., pjs all day vs casual vs business casual vs business. But I think the responses were to your comment that “There are plenty of people who look great without makeup,” which sounds as if you are saying “as long as you are pretty enough, you don’t have to wear makeup.”

                Which is not what I think you were actually saying – you were saying, I think, that one can be polished and put together without wearing makeup – not that there is an attractiveness standard involved. But I think that’s what brought on the responses.

                1. Bend & Snap*

                  Yes, I meant the latter. Nothing in my comment was discussing attractiveness.

                  Looking great without makeup = looking otherwise put together no matter what you’re wearing. Clothes fit well, don’t have holes, shoes aren’t scuffed, hair is neat, etc.

                  But if your hair is a mess and your clothes don’t fit, you’re wearing ratty sneakers, etc. you’re not going to look great with or without makeup, no matter how attractive you are.

                2. LBK*

                  Yeah, I mean People has a spread every issue that’s pretty much just candid photos of hot famous people in their sweats and sneakers looking grimy while they pump their gas or run to the supermarket. Conventionally attractive features still only go so far.

                3. Detective Amy Santiago*

                  But I think the responses were to your comment that “There are plenty of people who look great without makeup,” which sounds as if you are saying “as long as you are pretty enough, you don’t have to wear makeup.”

                  That is exactly how I interpreted that and is why I reacted so strongly. Thanks for being able to explain.

              2. lurking and such today*

                Thank you for saying this. I work in an environment with a number of very brilliant slobs. My previous industry was very buttoned up and polished. I can get away with being more relaxed here but I still dress up, wear make up, style my hair, iron my clothes and polish my shoes. I am a WOC, I don’t think I would be doing my career any favors if I fell into “F the patriarchy” group at any job – that is a privilege we just don’t have in corporate America.

                1. Mookie*

                  It’s weird that we’re equating sloppy clothing with “effing the patriarchy,” as if only women commit this grievous sin (or as if the sin is more grievous when a woman does it). Are men looking sloppy outside assumed to be making a political statement, or nah? They’re just living their lives…

            3. paul*

              Almost anything client facing? Level of dress can vary of course, but even when working with homeless and at risk I wouldn’t have shown up in torn up cargo shorts and a wife beater (to use an extreme example). A clean polo and kahkis? Yeah, that was pretty much the norm.

              1. TL -*

                I work with an MD/PhD.
                MD days are nice, tailored clothes with dressy shoes. PhD days are graphic tees and torn jeans and sneakers.

        1. MommyMD*

          It does in many jobs. Walk into a Victoria Secret for instance. Or Sephora. Or many high level law offices. Or a plastic surgeons office. Appearance, while not everything, does matter. There has been numerous studies confirming this. Attractive people make more money and have better jobs.

          1. Gadfly*

            Which raises the question of why should we just accept that rather than constantly question it? Especially considering how “attractiveness” is a social construct we can change pretty easily. (Lots of studies on this–despite people wanting to think it is all natural, exposure therapy fixes most of it. Literally all we have to do to change what we think is attractive is see enough of something different. It is more about what we are used to and expect than anything else.

          2. emma2*

            I still remember in high school clueless-ly interviewing for a job with Hollister. I showed up in my very non-sophisticated t-shirt and jeans, no make-up, and hair pulled back in a ponytail (I wasn’t exactly the popular kid in school.) My interview lasted all of 5 minutes with the interviewer politely telling me she would be in touch if I were selected.

          3. Mookie*

            What is considered attractive is dependent on time, place, and culture, and is generally gendered and racialized. All reasons to be suspicious of pseudo-science-y apologia disguised as Studies or Undisputed Forever Facts.

      2. Kitty*

        I have focused on the “polished” issue and it has gotten a million times better. I think she may not have been super aware of it.

        I really didn’t mean to offend by my comments and I feel like I offended everyone!

        1. PollyQ*

          The problem is not that you’ve offended us, it’s that it’s an offensive, but very common, idea. I hope you don’t feel too dumped on, but I also hope that we’ve given you food for thought on this question.

        2. Hrovitnir*

          Hey, you asked, and got an answer! You clearly were actually interested in the answer, so you don’t have anything to feel bad about.

        3. MegaMoose, Esq*

          I think you’ve been clear you know this is a touchy subject and seem like you are trying to be fair and understanding. I respect that.

        4. fposte*

          I also think it sounds like you’re trying to figure out the meaning of expectations that come from above you, and are realizing you may be able to interpret them more usefully and specifically.

        5. Tuckerman*

          I’m glad you asked because your question probably made people think about their own expectations and actions.

        6. Isben Takes Tea*

          I think a lot of people pounced on you, Kitty, because they saw an outlet to discuss being fed up with a large societal issue. I didn’t read your question as offensive, but actually a great real-life balance issue many employers have to deal with when measuring customer expectations and their own preferences. I’m glad you brought it up! Thanks for staying with the conversation and updating us.

        7. Alton*

          I think you’ve gotten​ a lot of comments mainly because this is something a lot of people feel strongly about, not because you in particular have been offensive. It sounds like you try to be open-minded about this, which I think is good.

          With regards to wanting “polished” people, would you think a woman wearing really bad makeup (think, foundation that’s clearly caked on and the wrong color, clumpy mascara, etc.) is more polished than a woman wearing no makeup? Makeup can be a part of an overall polished presentation, but it doesn’t automatically make someone polished, and it’s not a tipping point. It’s no different than any other type of accessorizing, in my opinion. No one has to wear jewelry, but if they do, some jewelry complements their appearance or creates a professional look and some doesn’t.

    12. Isben Takes Tea*

      It’s a sticky issue, I know. I think it’s important to mention in the interview stage, so people can self-select out. I don’t wear makeup now for a number of reasons, but I’ve worn light makeup to interviews in the past, and it would have been mortifying to be hired and then be told daily makeup was mandatory, because I wouldn’t have accepted the job under those conditions.

      1. Kitty*

        Let me just say that I am not demanding this. And I understand the double standard and I hate that I spend 30 minutes on my face.
        But because this is a client facing job I think my boss is always looking at her as someone who is not 100% the standard.
        When I interviewed her I know she had a full face of make up and was saying how much she loves it.
        I also know she was going through tough time and wasn’t wearing it for weeks. I didn’t comment on it.
        Unfortunately in these positions we are very much judged on how we look :(
        Im really not trying to be judgemental or say that women should wear makeup. I just mean that we are expected to in these positions and when you don’t you stick out.

        1. Detective Amy Santiago*

          The right answer isn’t to reinforce that expectation. It’s to work to change the paradigm. Evaluate people on their ability to perform their necessary tasks, not society’s objective standards of appearance.

          Expecting people to wear make up is a slippery slope. Society expects women to be slender, so if someone puts on a few pounds, is that going to cause an issue?

          1. LBK*

            I agree to an extent, but ultimately the boss is the boss, and if Kitty doesn’t have the political capitol to push back on those expectations or the boss just isn’t willing to hear it, is it fair to expect her and her employees to risk their jobs by defying the boss’s expectations?

        2. PollyQ*

          when I interview there are specific things I look for.

          It sounds like you’re at least making it a condition for initial employment, if not for continued employment.

          1. Kitty*

            Well I look for someone who dressed up for the interview…. And someone who is very bubbly. We have a basic dress code and she was very excited about it. I can go a bit “edgy” at work because we are reinventing our brand so it has been fun even for me to do something funky once in a while.
            I am not making it a requirement (I run my shop alone). Biggest issue with her was that everything was off.. She was wearing clothes with holes etc. That has been solved after conversations.
            Like this with OP… I didn’t know if there are things going on with her/if she is okay etc because she seemed different.
            But the standard in our company is makeup. And it does sick. She didn’t wear any yesterday and I don’t have a problem with it :)

            1. Detective Amy Santiago*

              Dressing appropriately for an interview and having the right sort of personality for a position are not the same.

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*

                Not the same as requiring make up, I should have finished that thought. It is reasonable to expect someone to dress appropriately and if being “bubbly” is important in your line of work, then that is fine. But someone can be dressed appropriately, be bubbly, and still not wear make up.

                1. Fish Microwaver*

                  I actually have a problem with “bubbly”. We don’t expect/request men to be bubbly, do we?

        3. Leatherwings*

          I don’t mean to be unkind, but this is pretty gross. Real question: can ugly people do your job? What is “the standard” that people have to meet to be attractive enough to work here. Because if it’s just about grooming, that’s one thing. But talking so much about mascara, lipstick and being 100% “the standard” reminds me of a few retailers who got into a lot of trouble for only hiring skinny young white women to work the front of their stores.

          People are allowed to like makeup and wear it one day without being expected to wear it in order to be professional in their every day lives, and I find it pretty odd that this was even a topic of conversation or notice in the interview. Like, is this something you screen for?

          1. paul*

            I hate to say it, but I rarely saw an unattractive pharmaceutical sales rep–either gender.

              1. Kathryn T.*

                I knew a woman who was a pharmaceutical sales rep, and she had an appearance clause in her contract, including her weight. She wasn’t allowed to change her hair color or even her hairstyle without approval from her manager. It was pretty intense.

            1. BananaPants*

              Detail reps are always immaculately groomed, wear high-end clothes, the entire 9 yards.

            2. No Name Yet*

              Yup, I was 100% thinking of pharma reps with this conversation. And it’s been a few years since I was in a position to see them often, but I also remember being struck that they all seemed conventionally attractive – so not just attractive, but a very specific type of attractive.

        4. always anonymous*

          How did her love of makeup even come up in the interview?

          A lot of women feel pressured to wear makeup in interviews and act as though it’s normal because people expect it. Just because someone expects something doesn’t mean it’s right.

          1. Kitty*

            The love of makeup came because we have a basic dress code and are reinventing our brand. It is 2 colors only that we wear. She really wore a lot of makeup to the interview including the false eyelashes.
            Idk our brand would kind of be like MAC or a boutique kind of place?

            Well can “ugly” people do our job… I think that is a bit uncalled for. I don’t consider people “ugly” and she is no size 0. She is a great employee.

            1. Leatherwings*

              But some people are ugly! I’m ugly! I embrace it. It’s fine, I was born that way. I’m not calling others ugly, it’s a question about your standard! No matter how much makeup I wear, I’m not going to be pretty but I’m always polished. I think that’s a totally fine and unoffensive thought experiment to consider whether I’d meet the standard.
              The clothes/branding seems fine and normal. But having one certain “look” that requires/needs makeup is getting into dangerous territory because it implies that only one beauty standard is acceptable (and it’s one that applies almost exclusively to women).

              1. Detective Amy Santiago*


                I’m not a conventionally attractive woman. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have a lot of skills and value to offer.

            2. Allison*

              Right now, I like getting dressed up for work. I wear nice dresses and makeup, including highlighter and eyeliner these days. But it stinks knowing that if I ever decided I’d rather tone down my attire and wear less makeup, or no makeup at all, people would think I was depressed or no longer taking pride in my appearance.

            3. always anonymous*

              So does the basic dress code ask for a full face of makeup?

              I don’t know what the ugly comment is in response to since I didn’t mention that in mine, but your reply to it is troubling, to say the least.

          2. a big fish in a small pond*

            Yes! I always wear full make-up to interviews for this reason, and I always think that I’ll keep wearing on the job (“this time”), but by month 3, I’ve almost always gone back to make-up free. I like how it looks, but I detest how it feels and how it makes me break out (I’ve tried almost every brand).

            1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

              Lol, me too. Also, I’m hella lazy in the morning. I don’t want to add 10 minutes to my routine.

            2. Anonygoose*

              This is me… I sometimes get all ambitious, but I’ve never been in a job that requires it and over time, I realize that it doesn’t matter and I slowly tone down my makeup. about 75% of the time I just wear mascara, and sometimes I put on a little powder if I really don’t like how uneven my skin tone is that day. But I have the same breakout issues, and it seems silly to wear makeup that causes blemishes, and then wear even more makeup to cover up those blemishes.

        5. Kj*

          Address the neatness/professional piece, not the make-up piece. It is fine to say “you need to look professional, not wear clothes with holes, have reasonably neat hair (with an understanding of cultural/racial reasons that might be different for everyone).”

          I’m in a client facing job. We have interns who are also in this job; every year we have that intern who wears clothes that are not acceptable- most commonly flannels and jeans every day, which is not quite professional enough (you can wear jeans, but you need a nicer top+sweater or accessory to make you look ‘professional’ enough). We talk to them about the clothing issue. They fix it. Our standards aren’t codified, but we tell interns to look at what staff wear (which varies, but is all professional) and wear those sorts of things. We don’t care how they get to ‘looking professional,’ as long as they do it.

          Talk to your worker about the professional piece, maybe call out the clothing with holes, but saying “you have to wear make-up, you have to fix your hair in a certain ways” is highly problematic.

        6. Isben Takes Tea*

          I hear you, Kitty. It’s really hard to balance customers’ culturally sexist expectations and reasonable employee expectations. I think as others have mentioned, you can focus on cleanliness/neatness and performance, but for this particular conversation, makeup should be left out.

          Alison has suggested a good script for these conversations is, “Hey [employee], you haven’t been yourself recently. What’s up?” LISTEN FOR ANSWER. “I’ve noticed you’ve started to wear holey clothes/wear wrinkly clothes/arrive in disarray more frequently. I know it’s probably related to what’s going on, but I need you to make sure your clothes are presentable/hair is brushed/etc. when you’re here.”

        7. Observer*

          Sure, people judge. But, what you need to realize is that if people are judging on gendered expectations, you really shouldn’t be hiring based on that, nor enforcing those expectations.

          Think about it this way – would you require black employees to lighten their skins in order to meet the “expectations” of customers? I bet you see how abhorrent this is. (It’s also almost certainly also illegal.) It’s not all that different when dealing with highly gendered expectations.

          Like said, grooming and overall polish are one thing, and reasonable. But when the definitions are that gendered, it’s simply not the right way to go. And, keep in mind that it could easily lose you good employees or depress morale when women see that they are being held to a different and more expensive standard than their male counterparts. (It’s not like you are paying them for their extra expense.)

    13. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Yes, it is wrong.

      First, because it is inherently sexist. Societally, we accept “flaws” in the appearance of men much more comfortably than we do with women. I assume you, unless you and your organization are really out of the ordinary, do not expect a man to use foundation to even out his skin tone or wear mascara or lipstick. We (society) also hold women to much higher standards for elements of our appearance that are not affected by makeup (weight, hair, etc.).

      Second, because it’s just wrong to judge and discriminate against people (in hiring, etc.) for things that don’t affect their work. (And I don’t accept the argument that appearance, beyond a reasonable standard of cleanliness/body coverage/etc. affects your work, unless you are a model/etc.)

    14. always anonymous*


      If you’re asking women to wear makeup and not men, it’s a gendered request and unfair that they’re held to different standards. Also, this can get into issues of class, race, and religion real quick.

      Beyond that, there’s nothing about makeup that makes someone intrinsically more professional. Also, putting on makeup to cover-up “flaws” can take a long time. It’s not often a five minute process. Not to mention, it’s expensive and not everyone wants to spend the money on it or feels comfortable wearing it.

      I wear mascara because I want to, not because I work with the public on occasion or because anyone asks me to wear it. I would quit a job if they asked me to wear lipstick because my employer doesn’t get to tell me that I need lipstick to look professional or because they think the natural color of my lips is a flaw. I know plenty of people who work with the public and don’t wear makeup. Looking for that as an interview quality is problematic.

    15. Big Picture Person*

      I hired for a medical practice some years ago (not a doctor’s office. Something more high tech.) I required a professional business casual appearance, my specific things being that any tattoos had to be covered up by makeup or clothing, no open toed shoes (partly for appearance, partly for medical safety reasons), no shorts, and no holey clothing. In the industry I was in at the time, tattoos were not a good thing. That might have changed now, I’m not sure. Beyond these specifics, it could be casual, but business casual, not weekend casual. Anyway, if you are specific about what professional attire means in that position on the front end, it saves you a ton of headache on the back end. One time, I had the opposite problem, a woman who wore so much makeup it looked clownish. When people would come into the office, they were visibly taken aback. But she met the requirements so we suffered through.

    16. fposte*

      Can you be more specific about “working with the public”? Plenty of fields work with the public without expecting women to wear makeup.

      There are fields where appearance is huge (though even there I’d argue that usually a “look” is more important than make up per se), but in most public facing roles all you really need is pleasant, clean, and tidy.

      1. Kitty*

        We work in an industry that is reinventing itself to be very fashion forward. I could wear leather pans to work (but I dont!).

        Kind of like a MAC of the non makeup world I guess?

        1. Aveline*

          I think your company needs a dress code STAT. That would solve the issue without you having to deal with this.

          Is that possible?

          1. a big fish in a small pond*

            But, Aveline, it sounds like Kitty IS the entire company (other than her one employee), so she is setting the standard and expectations, which read as often being unreasonable and judgmental, though well intended for sales success.

            1. Kitty*

              No this is a decent sized chain. The makeup is coming from my boss and a few other people around me that have commented on her not wearing makeup.

        2. seejay*

          This is sounding more and more like some sort of fashion or style-based company/industry. If that’s the case, I can see why makeup/presentation might be more of a requirement. If that’s the case, it should be outlined as part of the dress code and probably cleared with a lawyer to make sure it’s above board with legalities to make sure it’s not sexist and applicable to any gender.

          I can see how makeup is required if you’re working in a makeup store specifically (ie, the best presentation for the products is putting them on active display on your own face, and all the workers I see at the store I go to wear some crazy amounts of makeup, regardless of gender). But if you’re just looking at “presenting your brand”, there’s a lot of ways to do that and be neat and presentable without requiring the women only to slap on makeup every morning, whether they did before a few months ago and then tapered off, or didn’t ever. Being clean and tidy and presentable for work is one thing and totally within reason to require, especially for a customer-facing role. Requiring makeup for the women only is not an acceptable request.

    17. Spex*

      Is it a field where you expect different religious group members to apply? Many conservative Christian denominations discourage or demand that members to not wear makeup (thinking of my aunt’s Pentecostal church, for example.) These women would be as smart and hard-working as any other, show up with clean faces, manicured hands, very neat attire, well-groomed hair, etc.

      (It’s an interesting contrast to the many conservative Muslim women who wear the hijab, with only hands and face exposed—and yet wear very glam and even heavy makeup (like my ex-boyfriend’s cousins in the Middle East, who told me that since they only get to show their face, its always got to be the most attractive and enhanced face they can present!)

      Anyway, something to think about. Neat, well-groomed and clean are different from “wearing makeup.” Considering how much makeup costs… since its a gendered expense, if a company cared that much about them wearing it all the time, why not make it someone they can submit receipts for reimbursement on :) I know that sounds crazy, but it should be crazier to require something of women that forces an expese of hundreds of dollars a year on them that men are exempt from, IMHO

      1. Kj*

        Yeah, I find if frustrating to think about the “pink tax” of women “needing” expensive products to look “professional.” It is a very sexist thing! Women’s products are more expensive than men’s and we need more of them to be “professional.”

        Clothes also tend to be more complicated- professional for women is harder to achieve because the rules are less clear. I know if something is professional enough for my office when I see it- but I might not know something works or doesn’t until I try it on, get a sense of how the neckline works on me- is this too low?, do I need a different bra with this vs. that? It is complex and takes time to do. Meanwhile my husband orders collared shirts and khakis in bulk and is fine all week.

        1. Gadfly*

          And something that gets even more complex if you are larger (also a sexist thing–having shopped for both my husband and myself I can promise you men’s options remain open MUCH larger, especially for put together basic professional wear.)

    18. Allison*

      Okay, equally serious question, does it matter to the customers?

      How do you think customers would react to a woman not wearing makeup? Do you think they’d be disgusted? Would they run away screaming? Would they take their business elsewhere? Not take her seriously? What kind of position is this? Sales? Service? Is she there to smile, look pretty, and make people happy so they’ll be willing to open their wallets? Or is she there to perform a service that people pay for? And if so, will they not want her performing that service if her appearance doesn’t please them? What’s your customer base? Conservative folks who expect women to be dolled up, or more laid back people who don’t care as long as they’re getting what they need and getting their money’s worth?

      If the customers don’t care (and honestly, they probably don’t), and she’s doing her job well, it shouldn’t matter what’s on her face. Focus on her clothing, shoes, hair, even nails if needed, but makeup shouldn’t be a requirement.

      1. NW Mossy*

        This, I think, is the key point from the business perspective. When deciding what the standards should be for employees (whether it’s appearance or job performance), you should be able to articulate the benefits to the enterprise of the standard, the costs of not having the standard, and what you stand to lose if the standard is not upheld.

        It can’t just be a gut feeling that X appearance “doesn’t work for us.” You have to think about how you’d measure the impact of staff appearance on sales, customer satisfaction, etc. and what sort of impact is enough to make it worthwhile. Conversely, you have to account for the fact that you’ll restrict your applicant pool for positions, which can be a big deal in a tight market.

        You have to delve down into the question of why it matters. If you’re struggling to put concrete words to it, it’s a sign that you either haven’t thought about it deeply enough yet or that the standard may not be as mission-critical as it seems.

        1. Wheezy Weasel*

          I agree: if you can’t measure why it matters, it may be worth re-evaluating. As a customer, I really only notice people’s appearance in two scenarios:
          – Their appearance illustrates a massive departure from what I’d expect. For instance, someone wearing a full suit working the drive-thru window or doing roofing work.
          – Their appearance in a team setting doesn’t match their colleagues. If I have three salespeople calling on me to sell a product and two gentlemen look like they grabbed their dad’s 1990’s blazer from the closet and the ladies are wearing better fitting clothes, that might be noticed but really not affect how they do their job. If the three folks are wearing polo shirts and khaki’s for a presentation where we’re all wearing suits, it’s noticed and might affect their chance of winning the business.

    19. Karyn*

      I work two jobs: one is an office job, the other a job at a Fancy Makeup Store.

      I have to wear makeup for Fancy Makeup Store, which is no surprise because, well, makeup. But that doesn’t mean I have to go full-throttle every time I’m there. Sometimes I’ll do crazy blue sparkly shadow or “galaxy makeup,” and sometimes I literally do the bare minimum required of us. I will say that no matter what, even though I LOVE makeup, it is a pain in the ass to take time to do it.

      That said, for Office Job, I don’t wear it at all unless I am going out afterward. I spend more money on skincare than I do makeup so that I don’t feel the NEED to wear it, and I’d hope that you’d understand that there are plenty of reasons women don’t wear it. Either they don’t feel they need to, don’t want to, or can’t. Regardless, it’s not okay to expect women to do something that men aren’t required to do. The only difference is something like Fancy Makeup Store, where men aren’t required to do makeup (although those few men who work for our company generally DO).

    20. HeyNonnyNonny*

      Another thing to think about is how that would even be enforced. I stopped wearing makeup about a year ago, but I weaned myself off it slowly enough that no one noticed a difference. Meeting someone new in an interview, I can’t say I’d be able to tell whether they’re wearing ‘natural’ makeup or none at all.

    21. Observer*

      You’ve gotten a lot of replies, so I don’t know if you will see this – and I may also be repeating something. But, I want to point out that your requirement of makeup could actually be illegal. You CAN require neatness and proper grooming (thus, you can talk to your employee with holes in her clothes about it.) But gender specific requirements – which is exactly what you are describing here, even though you “allow” men to makeup – has been held by a number of courts to violate gender discrimination laws.

    22. Elemeno P.*

      The only public-facing positions I can see requiring women to wear makeup are makeup salespeople and actor/face characters (Disney princesses, etc.). I’m actually a (non-Disney) princess once a week and cover my face with color and glitter, and my hair is perfection…but the rest of the week I only wear concealer under my eyes (not even that if I wear my glasses), and light eyeliner if I feel like it. My hair is just however it is when I wake up. I’m clean, smell fine, and my clothes are in good condition, and that’s all that matters at work.

    23. Kaybee*

      Makeup doesn’t equal polished. I grew up in a conservative Christian religion in which makeup was highly discouraged. I no longer belong to that religion, but I never learned how to apply makeup well. (Yes, I know there are YouTube tutorials. I occasionally try some. I am not very coordinated and I have to go out and buy product every time the spirit moves me, and it turns out it’s not the best use of my time or money.) I have other people apply makeup to me when I have a fancy event, but otherwise go without. Trust me, given my ineptitude, I look a million times more professional and put together without makeup than with it.

    24. ArchiveGoddess*

      Who’s to say they have “flaws” (I HATE that term). I refuse to wear make up for a variety of reasons and would be pretty pissed if someone told me I needed to wear make up to cover up my “flaws” (I have Vitiligo).

      I think it’s pretty wrong to require women to wear make up if they don’t want to.

      1. Jessie the First (or second)*

        Ditto on “flaws.” My skin looks like skin. It has creases, and freckles, and I have some shadows under my eyes from lack of sleep, and every so often I will get a zit. But these are not flaws so much as….just, my skin, and it’d be insulting for someone to tell me to cover up my skin to look not flawed. I’m not on a quest to look photoshopped in real life.

    25. Recruit-o-rama*

      I have to say that in my experience, excellent sales people come in all forms of sleek to hot mess. Excellent sales people have a a very rare breed. Only mediocre sales people think it has anything to do with make up and fancy clothes. Not that there is anything wrong with mediocre sales people; not everyone can be a rockstar.

      A successful, sustained sales career is about knowledge, persistence, integrity, reputation, follow through and finely honed people skills. It has nothing to do with mascara.

      The most successful sales person I personally know is the sloppiest slop you probably ever saw but she’s freaking smart, remembers everything and works her butt off. Obviously people will disagree with this, but I spent a lot of time recruiting commissioned sales people and their appearance was not my most important key indicator or potential success.

    26. Dizzy Steinway*


      My boss does not get to decide what aspects of my ACTUAL FACE are ‘flaws’ and need covering.

    27. Anxa*

      Terrible, I don’t know.

      But you definitely are penalizing people who can’t wear makeup without hardship. Probably not an actual ADA issue, but you’ve decided that if someone is allergic or sensitive to makeup, that that person is not someone you’d hire.

    28. HannahS*

      Yes. It’s terrible. Sexist, and terrible. My FACE is not unprofessional. The uneven-ness of my skin tone is not unprofessional, it’s my face. The fact that my eyelashes are blondish and not black isn’t unprofessional. The fact that my lips are pinkish but not very pink is not unprofessional. If you’re insisting that women wear make-up to work and not men, you’re having one standard for men–clean face–and another one for women–pretty face. This is the definition of sexism. Don’t be guilty of it.

    29. BananaPants*

      If you don’t expect men to wear makeup to work to cover up “flaws”, then it’s inappropriate to expect it of female employees.

      And yes, I personally think that it is pretty terrible that you would choose not to hire a (female) employee for not wearing makeup. Does your set standard for appearance include wearing designer clothing or shoes, weight, a certain level of accessorization, etc?

  4. Aveline*

    “together and professional”

    The issue I have is that those terms are shaped by our culture’s views of gender, race, and class.

    I have been often told I need to “wear my hair up.” The problem is my hair does not stay in a braid (even with hairspray) and does not stay up in any fashion except in a ponytail with a rubber band. This is also apparently “unprofessional.”

    I can’t even imagine what b.s. I’d get if I were darker skinned.

    Both makeup and hair are tricky.

    1. A. Non*


      I’m mixed race but pass as white, but my hair doesn’t act like white hair. Now I wear it down and “messy” and my mother still calls me out on it “not being professional”.

      1. Aveline*

        I’m mixed, but the non-white isn’t African. My hair is super think and very soft and just will not hold a curl or braid.

        One of the things I love about the culture becoming more mixed race is that I have other people now who understand this. (Yes, that’s selfish, but so be it).

        1. Emi.*

          I feel ya! I wasted so much teenage time putting my hair in pincurls. I wanted beautiful ringlets, and the best I ever got was very fluffy.

          1. PsychDoc*

            Fluffy-haired people unite! I’m super white (Irish, English, Scottish, and German descent) and I got the curly hair. Not the well-controlled, pretty curls on tv. The ringlets that, while plentiful (and boy are they ever), are fuffy, frizzy, and give my hair a bit of a triangle/afro shape. My Dad had a n afro in his wedding pictures. Thankfully, because I’m white and my hair is dark brown, I don’t get too many comments about ‘professional’ appearance. I see to use gel until my curls were crunchy, now, I just wear th am down. I will say, no one beats me at an 80s hair contest, I got poof for days! ☺

  5. Leatherwings*

    OP, I understand why this would make you uncomfortable but I also don’t think it was out of line. You just went through something that was probably pretty emotional and it probably showed at work. The makeup thing is a bit off, but the stuff about taking advantage of resources in a tough time indicates that she just wants you to be okay. I don’t think that necessarily means she’s analyzing your every move for signs of depression or anxiety.

  6. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    I’ll skip the makeup/cosmetics discussions, and get right to the point. The manager has indicated to OP that something is wrong, something has changed and it may be affecting OP’s performance – and the manager is trying to help. OP’s manager is, of course, trying to do what’s best for the company but also trying to do what’s best for OP – which is usually admirable and the right thing for the manager to do.

    1. Bend & Snap*

      I think it’s also a natural inclination to feel a bit violated and defensive when called on something we’re aware of. The OP is going through a breakup, so she knows she’s not herself. Having it called out as a discussion point had to be uncomfortable.

      But the manager recommended a way to get some help that is confidential, and presumably closed the loop on the conversation so you don’t have to have it again.

      So OP, try to get over the conversation and focus on the helpful piece.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        +1 This seemed like a letter we’ve seen a few times in reverse–where the manager notices what seems to be anxiety, or depression, at a level where the employee has markedly changed and seems to be struggling. On the one hand they know armchair diagnosis is bad and prying into medical details is bad. On the other they also have no way to know if the employee is aware of the changes and wants to address them, and ‘you might consider using our resources for X’ could be a godsend to someone who doesn’t realize help is at hand. (Thinking of a few follow-ups where either the employee was astonished that management had noticed nothing, or more rarely the employee who thought that they had the whole struggle successfully locked away from work then got in trouble for poor performance.)

    2. Isben Takes Tea*

      THIS. The conversation should be about “are there specific problems you’re noticing in my work?” —that will help figure out if they manager if concerned about appearances or results.

  7. Argh!*

    You’re fortunate to have a boss who cares about your well-being. If you are indeed depressed, your workplace behavior may have changed for the worse without your notice. (lack of “insight” is the psychological term)

    Have you stopped smiling, greeting people, coming up with ideas in meetings or volunteering for things? Your tone of voice may have become more monotonous, a depression symptom someone else would notice before you would.

    You could ask your boss what made her say that. You could ask directly if the make-up thing is the cause or something else. A boss who would bring up mood is probably someone who could have a follow-up conversation. As a boss myself, I wouldn’t say something like that without some pretty good evidence that something is wrong.

    1. Not Karen*

      Stopping smiling, greeting people, coming up with ideas in meetings or volunteering for things, and more monotonous tone of voice are also all symptoms of “I don’t like my job.”

        1. A. Non*

          And these are things a GOOD boss should notice and ask about! They may have done so clumsily, but not everyone knows how to address issues like these. At least this boss is addressing it at all.

          (now I’m imagining a letter several months down the line from a boss who DIDN’T say something to a depressed subordinate and something happens….)

        2. Not Karen*

          Yes, but not by asking “are you depressed?” (if boss did in fact use the word itself)

      1. AndersonDarling*

        I’m wondering if this is why the manager broached the subject. She may be concerned that the OP is unhappy with the job and is trying to open a conversation so a solution can be found.

    2. Jaguar*

      Yeah. I wanted to say to the OP that you should consider looking at this from another perspective: what if you really were depressed? Your manager would be signalling to you that there are resources to help you where many managers would be frustrated or look down on an employee for seeing help with mental health. Broadly speaking, this is a good thing.

      Unless your manager is really intense or is frequently giving you cause for concern that you’re being heavily scrutinized, you might consider that part of the problem is that you could be a bit hyper-sensitive. There are people that, if asked by their manager if they’re depressed, would laugh it off and then put it out of their minds. I don’t suggest this to be flippant; reducing sensitivity and learning to let things roll off your back is tough work if it doesn’t come naturally, but I would suggest it’s worth the effort.

  8. A.*

    I think a lot depends on how it was framed. It’s one thing to privately express concern about someone’s health and suggest they get checked out. That’s very appropriate when done in a sensitive way. However, I would be very offended if my boss, who is not a trained health professional, attempted to diagnose me with any disease in the office unprompted and without my solicitation. That’s inappropriate and it sounds like it might be the case here. Would the answer be different if the boss said she thought the employee had cancer? Please don’t give this boss a free pass because it’s mental health.

    1. A.*

      Forgot to add, to the OP, I would definitely take advantage of company resources, at the very least you can discuss with them how to deal with your boss’s comments making you uncomfortable.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I doubt the boss was attempting to diagnose her. A lot of people use “you seem depressed” to mean “you seem down and unhappy, and not like yourself.”

      1. SJ*

        Yes — I think a lot of people automatically equate the word “depressed” with clinical depression when it doesn’t necessarily mean that.

      2. Abby*

        But phrasing is important. “You seem depressed should not be used by an employer.” You seem not like yourself or your work has not been at its usual high standard, is something wrong? are far better choices.

        1. Leatherwings*

          I agree that it’s not ideal language to use, but I don’t think it’s totally outrageous and unacceptable for someone to use the word “depressed” either. Like I’d rather have an employer address me and use the wrong language than ignore it all together. That might not be universal, though.

        2. MegaMoose, Esq*

          I don’t know – the language could be more precise, but is it really fair to the manager to read into common language like using depressed to mean unhappy rather than mentally ill?

          1. a big fish in a small pond*

            I think some folks are way overthinking the manager’s words. It’s not like the manager is working from a script, and these kinds of conversations are really difficult and often stressful for the manager (too). It seems clear that the manager had good intentions and had the difficult conversation (which so many bad managers wouldn’t do), and too much weight is being put on the actual words. Good managers are just trying to do the best they can for their staff and company and really need to be given the benefit of the doubt.

        3. Emi.*

          I don’t see why not, especially if they’re recommending the EAP. “Are you depressed? Give me details” would be out of line, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with “You seem like you might have X problem, and here are resources that could help,” even if X problem has to do with mental health.

    3. BadPlanning*

      Right, did Boss say something like, “OP, you are clearly depressed. Use the EAP program and get that treated” or did Boss say, “Hey OP, I’m feel like you’ve been a bit down lately. We do have company resources that can be useful if you are experiencing something like depression.”

    4. Roscoe*

      Well, if they were obvious visual symptoms, then yes. I mean, I’m not a doctor, but if it looks like someone has poison ivy, I don’t think its inappropriate to ask about something like that. There are symptoms that the person is seeing. So maybe a specific thing like depression is a bit much, I think people use “depression” in a more general way.

  9. Trout 'Waver*

    OP, If I’m off base, please disregard this. I’m just sharing a personal anecdote.

    When I was suffering from depression, I felt a ton of pressure to look and act a certain way. I thought others were constantly judging me. In reality, it was the brain weasels of depression doing the judging, not the people around me.

    You obviously know your own situation better than some anonymous person on the internet, but I’m just throwing it out there as something to think about if you want.

    1. Allison*

      Yup. When I’m dealing with anxiety and/or depression and people notice it, I feel like I’ve done something wrong. Good girls don’t get sad, or down, or anxious, or at least they don’t reveal those negative feelings to others, because it’s displeasing and brings others down or stresses them out. That’s not nice. When people are telling me there’s something wrong with me, it feels like they’re mad at me, and that they’ve decided I’m a bad person. That’s why when people comment on stuff with OH MY GOD, YOUR ANXIETY IS REALLY BAD, YOU NEED HELP NOW! it feels like I’m being scolded even if logically I know it might be coming from a place of caring.

    2. Sugar of lead*

      It never hurts to keep it hidden, though. If people can see you’re struggling, there can be serious consequences. Sometimes it’s as simple as constant guilt trips about how you’re bringing everyone down, or as serious as forced treatment. I speak from experience; I’m bipolar and have this nasty tendency to wear my emotions on my face. But I’ve invested in a really convincing Stepford smile I whip out when necessary and it keeps people, including workplace people, off my back.

  10. Anon for this*

    I could have written this. It sounds exactly like my boss at my old job. I was also going through a break-up (divorcing my husband after I found out he had a girlfriend on the side. I initiated but it was still hard). I’m sure I wasn’t myself through the divorce process, but my boss insisted that I was depressed and even told others I was, and tried to push me into seeing a doctor and taking medication. I had no history of mental illness and have never been diagnosed with depression or anything else before but my boss still would not listen. I was so happy to get out of there and my boss didn’t understand why I wanted to leave.

    Sorry you are going through a rough time OP. Sending good thoughts and vibes your way.

    (*I hope I didn’t offend anyone when I said I was upset at my boss for telling everyone I was depressed. I don’t mean to imply that there is anything wrong with anyone who has depression or a mental illness. I was upset because I knew that I had never suffered from depression and that my “blue” feelings had to do with my divorce and not a mental health issue)

    1. Trout 'Waver*

      Don’t worry. Anyone who’s gone through it understands the stigma associated with it.

    2. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Your former boss actually talking about your mental health to others is way over the line and completely inappropriate – so sorry about that. That is wrong. And I think that is part of what Allison was getting at in her answer – there are appropriate ways to address it with an employee, and then there are inappropriate ways. A boss insisting that you must be [insert mental health condition here] is awful. A boss coming up and saying that you seem to be acting differently, mentioning concern, and pointing out services like EAP – and then *not* making armchair diagnoses and not harping on it – is fine.

    3. Falling Diphthong*

      Huge distinction between mentioning it once and ongoing insistence. Also between in private and discussed with coworkers.

      1. starsaphire*

        This x1000.

        Depression doesn’t even enter into it — if my boss kept insisting that I’d won the lottery and told all my co-workers I had, I’d be furious too, regardless of whether I’d legitimately won or never played at all.

    4. Sparrow*

      I’ve been dealing with depression for over a decade and I’m pretty open about it, but I’d still be annoyed if my boss was running around telling people my personal medical information. That’s not ok regardless of the circumstances.

    5. a big fish in a small pond*

      are you certain that the boss shared this and that it wasn’t the others seeing the changes in you for themselves?

      1. Anon for this*

        I am. I witnessed my boss doing it and my boss would say things like “I’ve been talking with your colleagues because I think…”. As I said I was feeling blue over my divorce but nothing rising to the level of depression or having my work affected.

  11. Bigglesworth*

    Hey OP! As someone who does not wear makeup to work, I do sometimes get comments from faculty or students asking why I don’t wear makeup. One particular adjunct kept commenting on it for… quite some time after he saw me wear makeup once. Comments like, “Why don’t you wear makeup more? You look so pretty when you do.” or after a comment when mentioned that I break out if I wear makeup, he said, “Well, I’ve heard good things about the Clinique brand of makeup that’s supposed to reduce that issue.” I have a good (and sarcastic) relationship with his and was able to let him know that those comments weren’t needed and weren’t appreciated. We talk about other things now. All that said, makeup (and the choice not to wear it) can be a big deal for some people. It may take time for your boss to get used to your face without cosmetics, but she eventually will. Trust me. :)

    As far as the depression comment is concerned, I would also look at the big picture here. Does she regularly make what you feel are inappropriate comments? Is this part of a pattern or a one off comment? Armchair diagnosing isn’t ok in my books, but it could be that she wasn’t sure how to properly let you know that there are company resources available for mental health issues. Not every supervisor/boss knows how to tactfully let their employees know about those resources when they feel like their employee would benefit.

    I’m married to someone with depression and anxiety and he’s been appreciative of supervisors and bosses who understand and are will to work with him on his bad days. At the last food service place he worked, his supervisors would let him use the back room if he felt a panic attack coming on or even let him go home if he asked for it. Not every employer is willing to do that.

  12. Dizzy Steinway*

    The wording wasn’t ideal but isn’t it better to remind you help is available than ignore the fact that you don’t seem okay?

    So sorry that things have been rough for you.

  13. Here we go again*

    It can be easy to be in denial about these things and recognizing that you need help. I’ve been in that situation and it sucks, especially when you feel like you usually have it together. Speaking from personal experience on both sides, it is much better to have a boss that cares and recognizes that it isn’t you and is the circumstances surrounding you. You can work through circumstances and your manager can help, but you can’t always change you.

  14. regina phalange*

    When my ex and I broke up, I was devastated. I called in sick the next day because I was too upset to focus. The day after, I went to work, sans makeup, and my manager sent me home b/c he said I was too pale and was concerned I was still sick. The day after THAT, I went to work, this time w/makeup and made sure to put on blush, and all of a sudden I looked so much healthier, even though I hadn’t really eaten or slept.

  15. Hiker 1546*

    Your letter doesn’t say anything about the boss making a negative comment about you not wearing makeup, just that she thinks you are depressed and should avail yourself of the company’s resources to help. Your letter does not say that she diagnosed you with depression just that you seem depressed.

    My take is that your boss cares about you and wants to make sure you know there are resources. It might be worthwhile to do what my yoga teacher says – – breathe in, breathe out and listen to what the person said and see if there is some truth to what they said rather than automatically getting defensive. And then decide how best to address it. Maybe nothing needs to be done, but maybe it would be worthwhile to follow up with your company’s resources and talk to them (your boss doesn’t need to know the details of your breakup).

  16. The IT Manager*

    I think Alison’s answer is great. I can understand being annoyed by a boss who cares about looking good rather than doing good work. But many people who stop wearing makeup will look paler and possibly sick. Your boss asked you if you were sick. That sounds like care and concern. You didn’t even say that she pressured you about the lack of makeup, but you’re speculating that she’s thinking it. The depression question/advice also seem to be coming from a place of concern. What you described didn’t even sound overly invasive; although, as a private person I think that could be an embarrassing conversation and I sympathize with you having to experience it.

    Neither of these seem like a big deal to me so I wonder if you’re already feeling antagonistic towards her already. Maybe you have good reasons for that, maybe you don’t. I think it’s worth considering the bigger picture because neither of these conversations make it seem like you have a bad boss.

  17. Jesmlet*

    The only thing I slightly object to is the use of the word “depressed”. Otherwise, it’s nice of her to care and actually make an effort to reach out. As far as appearances, if you had showed up to the interview without makeup and continued to not wear makeup the entire time you worked there, my guess is she wouldn’t have cared. It’s just the change she’s reacting to. My face looks more sallow and dead looking when I don’t have foundation on and I’m assuming that’s the case for most people too.

  18. Detective Amy Santiago*

    Alison’s advice here is perfect.

    It’s perfectly appropriate for your boss to point out that you seem different and to make you aware of resources that are available that might be useful. However, if there have been previous interactions that felt negative to you, I can understand why you might feel unfairly judged.

  19. animaniactoo*

    OP, what I’m curious about here is that your manager is making comments – but how are you addressing those comments?

    Having your manager notice potential issues with you – this is usually a good thing. It can be the support a person who is really struggling needs, or the wakeup call that they need.

    But… it sounds like you’re sort of leaving your manager to wonder what’s going on, without giving her any feedback to help her adjust her impressions and base her potential conclusions on. Which may be very self-defeating if you’re feeling judged and scrutinized. Mostly because it’s pretty natural to be curious when we notice something different.

    If you’ve given an explanation before in response to a comment or so, how has she reacted?

    If you haven’t given an explanation before, is there a reason you don’t feel comfortable addressing what she’s noticing while keeping your private life private or simply stating what the difference is in a way that doesn’t invite discussion?

    “No, but I think the difference you’re seeing is because I’m not wearing makeup. I will probably look more like this from now on.”

    “I do have some personal stuff going on, but I think nothing to be worried about. I appreciate your concern.”

    1. Marisol*

      Excellent point. I don’t think withdrawing from the dialogue, as it appears the OP has done, is the best choice. Moreover, while a boss may ask about an employee’s mental/emotional state purely out of kindness, it is ultimately something a manager does because they want to address performance issues. So if I were in the OP’s shoes, I’d want to make sure I said something to address that, directly or obliquely–“I’m going through something in my personal life, but I expect to be back to normal in a few weeks.” I would focus on the message that my performance would not be impacted, or that the impact would be minimal.

      Personally, I would probably just say I was going through a breakup rather than let her speculate. I’m human; humans break up; I don’t think it’s a taboo subject. I’d rather my boss know I was going through a relationship issue, rather than, say, a problem with substance addiction. Not that we need to share our personal lives with our employer, but just as a way to address my performance. In a case where the boss has already noticed something is up, I’d come clean.

      At the heart of this issue I think is a communication problem. Your observation, “it sounds like you’re sort of leaving your manager to wonder what’s going on,” is bang-on I think.

  20. Bwmn*

    I’m someone who doesn’t wear make-up largely due to having sensitive skin – but for some of my coworkers who do wear make up more regularly, it can make a striking difference when they don’t. And in workplaces where people respond heavily to visual cues – be it strictly appearance based or a performance of being happy – make up just seems like a hole to get trapped in.

    Whether it’s using foundation to cover up a lot of skin blemishes or someone with pale eyelashes forgoing mascara – the difference of no make up can be noticeable. In one particularly case at my last job, someone who was known for being fairly prickly to begin with, it became a thing of – “uh oh, Belinda’s not wearing any make up today – she’s going to be in a terrible mood, avoid her if you can”. An d in the case of another coworker who we thought was having a tough time, when she stopped wearing make up and contact lenses and went to glasses and fresh faced, it served to confirm what we were guessing.

    For better or worse, going from wearing make up every day to no make up has a similar effect of someone going from business formal to business casual. And while the office may accept business casual, it can be a noticeable change.

  21. MegaMoose, Esq*

    I’ve noticed that, although I don’t really pay attention to whether or not someone is wearing makeup, if someone who always wears makeup stops, it does stand out for a little while until my brain adjusts to the new look. Like Alison said, make-up exaggerates those “healthy” aspects like smooth skin, flushed cheeks, and bright eyes. I think people look perfectly fine without makeup (I almost never wear any myself) but I think it does stand out when you have to get used to a new normal. The same is true in reverse, too! A coworker who showed up one day in full face looked almost artificial since I’d never seen her wearing makeup before. If you don’t get any further comments on it, I would treat it as a one time thing and not worry that they’re continuing to judge you.

  22. CC*

    It sounds like an appropriate response from the manager to me. It was done privately, help was offered, and it sounds as if it was dropped after that. If her manager had continued to bring it up constantly or had talked to others about her observations/assumptions that would be one thing as would pressing someone for details when they clearly don’t want to talk. But what’s been described here sounds like an appropriate level of concern.

    As far as makeup goes…if someone goes from wearing makeup daily to not wearing it at all, the visual IS jarring. I notice a huge difference on both my own face and others. It’s one thing for someone to constantly pressure someone into wearing makeup, but noticing that someone looks different than they used to combined with appearing to be down doesn’t strike me as particularly odd or overbearing.

    Just my two cents.

    1. Falling Diphthong*

      I think you’ve hit the three requirements–done privately, help offered, dropped afterward.

  23. Hrovitnir*

    A couple of people have said this, but my perspective on the responses is that while we can’t know the context and tone, the OP described her boss telling her “she thinks that I’m depressed and should take advantage of our company’s resources.”

    That could have been someone showing concern and OP misread, or showing concern but badly, but it could also be someone who can be overbearing and it read more like “I have decided there is something wrong with you – fix it.” We don’t know which one, but telling OP she should be thankful when we don’t know is a bit much (as some have done.)

    I do agree I wouldn’t go to HR though, I can’t see that being productive. I hope your boss wasn’t being judgemental and you can start feeling more relaxed at work, OP. And you’re allowed to feel uncomfortable even if she was doing something kind with the best of intentions.

  24. N*

    Ooooo boy. I work in an office with a psychologists and several people with masters degrees in social work. One day, I mentioned to the psychologist that I was very concerned with always doing a good job at work, and she said, “Oh yes, I understand. I know that can be very hard when you have high functioning anxiety.” I was completely thrown off and had no idea why she would say such a thing, but several months later I found out that I did, in fact, have pretty severe anxiety.
    The comments about makeup are over the line here, but if OP is going through a breakup and isn’t presenting herself the way that she did before, it IS very possible that she’s experiencing a bit of depression. Sometimes when you’re going through a difficult patch, people around you notice you’re not well before you do.

    1. VioletFem*

      The boss never chided the LW for not wearing makeup. Her boss asked her if she was feeling well because the her boss thought she looked sick. The LW concluded that her boss thought she looked sick because that was the one day that the LW showed to work without makeup on.

      1. Marisol*

        did you mean to respond to a different comment? It doesn’t seem to relate to N’s comment.

        1. VioletFem*

          “The comments about makeup are over the line here”

          That reads to me like she is implying that the LW said that her boss made a comment specifically about her lack of makeup. I don’t see anything indicating that in the original post.

          Although, I probably should have made this a standalone comment because there are quite a few other commenters who have come to a similar conclusion.

          1. Marisol*

            Ah, that makes sense. I got stuck on the word “chiding” I guess, reading to literally.

      2. N*

        Hey VioletFem, I just meant that making a comment that someone looked unwell when they weren’t wearing makeup was a little inappropriate, but “over the line” probably wasn’t the right phrase–it’s probably more accurate to call it a little thoughtless but ultimately harmless.

  25. vanBOOM*

    Yeah, during one of my annual performance reviews, my boss told me to smile more (an annoying comment in and of itself, as I don’t work in a customer-oriented job nor had anyone complained to my boss) simply because of my boss’s observations of me in the hallway.

    At first I thought my boss was referring to how I looked while walking through the hallway to use the bathroom or something, but no: they meant how I look as I sit at my desk while they peer into my office from the hallway. As in, I wasn’t beaming while working at my computer while my boss was peering through my office door window at me (which I’ve never noticed them do before, by the way, because I’m busy…..working).

    I…definitely though that was strange, but ultimately chose to move on. It hasn’t come up since then. Still leaving, though.

    1. VioletFem*

      It would look so weird (and possibly creepy?) if a co-worker always had a bright smile plastered across their face while working from their computer. What in the world is your boss thinking?

      1. SJ*

        Reminds me of that episode in Parks & Rec when Ben and April are working in D.C. for that politician who just stares off into space and smiles when he’s sitting alone in his office. They think he’s a robot!

    2. AvonLady Barksdale*

      Oooh, I hate that. When I’m concentrating, I sometimes look kind of angry. I would get all kinds of comments when I sat in a cube farm. I did learn to look up and smile if someone greeted me or walked by while I wasn’t super busy, but if I was in the middle of something, why did I have to look happy and content all the time?

      When I worked retail and had to do some data entry, I usually did it after closing because yes, I knew my RBF could be kind of off-putting to customers.

      1. vanBOOM*

        Yeah, I have somewhat of an RBF when I’m working as well.

        Boss’s comment just made me think of a robot who had been studying stock photo images of smiling humans working at desks and simply misinterpreted what the behavioral norms actually are. ;)

  26. Jessesgirl72*

    OP, your boss noticed a change in you- one that you tie to your makeup, but that’s not necessarily so. Asking about your mental health and directing you to resources is a really good thing- what the best bosses would do.

    As expressing her concern has led you into an unhealthy and kind of paranoid place, I would very kindly suggest that you consider looking into the EAP resources she has directed you towards. When someone is struggling with mental health, all too often the person doesn’t recognize it, or doesn’t recognize it until it’s gone pretty far. It’s just the nature of mental diseases. If there is nothing you really need from a counselor- then they will let you know that, and you can move on in confidence. But, if you are struggling with things, it would be a very good place to start the process of getting help.

    1. VroomVroom*

      Second this. I’ve struggled with depression before, and didn’t realize that I was not successfully hiding it until someone close to me asked how I was doing and mentioned that they’d noticed I wasn’t myself.

    2. Channel Z*

      I second this. I have mental health issues, depression and anxiety are closely linked. I utilized my EAP twice, and it was helpful both times. It is a great resource that is provided, and the way mine works, you have a choice of different therapists who offer differing counseling approaches. It is not all about “tell me about your problems.”
      I’m sorry you feel uncomfortable around your boss now, but therapy can even help you re-program your thoughts to help make discomfort more manageable, and also to clarify when it is appropriate to take a stronger stance.

    3. neeko*

      Agreed. Folks are really jumping on the makeup thing but that is what the letter writer perceived to be the only difference. It could have been way more than that. Also, EAP’s are great. I used mine for both mental health and addiction recovery resources and I’m a million times better than I was.

  27. Anon today...and tomorrow*

    For me it would come down to phrasing. Calling someone depressed without all of the necessary information needed to diagnose someone is just wrong. If she phrased it as “you seem down and I want you to know the company does have programs in place to help you if you needed them” then I think would take it well. The second example was similar to something my manager just did with me. My son is having issues at school and we’ve had to get medical professionals involved. My manager noticed that I was having attendance issues due to this and during a meeting said “I don’t know what your son’s issues are but it’s possible that you may qualify for FMLA which can keep attendance issues held against you if they were to come up again.” I honestly didn’t know that this was a possibility and was grateful. If she’d said something like “Your son has behavior issues that might qualify you” I might have taken offense. Something about framing it as “I don’t know” instead of “this is the problem” is what makes it softer.

    1. Hannah*

      I agree that the phrasing makes a difference in how the message comes across. If the OP’s boss really told her straight up “I think you’re depressed,” that’s presumptuous, and I wouldn’t like it either. I am a person who keeps decent boundaries in place between myself and my coworkers, so either way I would probably feel weird about my boss saying something like this. At least with more sensitive phrasing, I could feel like they were motivated by kindness, not some weird desire to observe and diagnose me. I would probably get over it after a few days of feeling weird.

      1. LN*

        I think y’all are conflating “depressed” with “suffering from clinical depression” which is understandable, but it’s pretty well understood in colloquial use that there’s a difference. Asking whether someone is feeling depressed isn’t the same as asking them if they have OCD or an anxiety disorder, it’s just a mood state.

  28. VroomVroom*

    When I was in my first trimester of pregnancy, my boss knew I was pregnant but no one else did (though everyone suspected). I stopped wearing makeup because I felt like absolute sh*t and also I’d always just end up having mascara streaming down my face after … well you know what those symptoms are. And would wash it off in the bathroom at work anyway.

    Most people figured out that I was pregnant and by the time I did announce, a few of the women mentioned that they’d noticed I felt under the weather and suspected but didn’t want to ask before I announced.

  29. LauraSmithee*

    In my work environment of about 25 employees (mostly females), I am the only individual who wears makeup. It is something I do as I want to, but it’s definitely not expected. And I honestly believe no one would notice or care if I discontinued.

  30. MommyMD*

    Whether or not the make up issue is appropriate, your boss has let you know you have negatively changed in the workplace in her eyes. I’d work on fixing that. Good luck.

    1. Marisol*

      I think that’s kind of the bottom line here. Boss may have been inelegant, or even out of line, in her delivery, but that’s kind of beside the point if there’s a performance issue.

  31. bohtie*

    On the flip side of a similar situation, I went through a really hideous divorce a few years ago, and my boss very tactfully asked if I was doing okay and suggested I make use of the EAP, which I did, and it improved our relationship like a hundredfold. At the time, it felt HUMILIATING – like, oh god, is my personal business that obvious? Is my work that bad now? Am I gonna get fired for this? Does everyone and their mom know that I am Not Okay? etc. – but once a few months went by and that faded, I found myself really grateful that he reached out the way he did. (I am…not good at accepting help from others, so the phrasing of “in case you’re going through A Thing, gentle reminder that there is a number you can call” was about the best possible way he could have gone about it.)

    And once I recovered from the process, which did take several months (my ex is a real piece of work and our divorce took almost two years, much of which did an enormous number on my mental health), I recognized IMMEDIATELY how much my job – if not my work, then just my presence in the office – was affected by the depression I was going through. Like, wow. I thought I was faking it okay, but I really was a totally different person during that time.

    (Sorry about the rambling!)

    1. Marisol*

      This is a really useful perspective. Feedback of all kinds usually IS humiliating on some level (I just bought a book on how to take feedback, so I could get better at it! Haven’t read it yet though) but we sometimes have to make the choice to soften, and be receptive to the message we’re getting.

  32. Lady Unemployed*

    Oh wow, do we work together? I have a coworker who seems visibly sad often and definitely not herself. I only started noticing because we work together a lot and her mood is very low, our communication with each other has significantly dwindled, and she’s just very lethargic and almost depressed acting in my opinion. Also, she just doesn’t seem to be up to doing her job at the same capacity. From my stand point, I’m mildly frustrated because it’s impacting the work flow and I’m just not having the same back and forth communication wise as I used to with her. I asked my boss if she was okay (aka our boss) and the boss mentioned she might be going through a break up.

    Just from my two cents, of course, I think maybe your boss meant well and I’m wondering if maybe your other coworkers notice the change in behavior and are concerned! I know I have gotten worried (in addition to being frustrated, in all honesty).

    My coworker who has been acting differently lately just took a week off, and so I’m thinking that has helped her a bit. She already seems a bit better this morning. Maybe taking some time off may help. Even just a day or two. And hey there’s no shame in seeking some help if you are going through a rough break up! Seeing a therapist and talking it out can really help.

  33. Observer*

    OP, A couple of things to think about.

    Unless your boss has made more comments than you are reporting here (this is a thing that happens because people are understandably trying to be concise), it’s unlikely that your boss is constantly judging you for your looks. Which means that this worry is something you may want to look at – why do you feel that way?

    Keep in mind, as others have said, that the way you look in makeup and without is generally quite different. It doesn’t mean that it’s a problem, but it’s easy to see why someone who sees you for the first time without makeup might think that you are not feeling well. That’s not judgemental. If you keep it up, she’ll get used to the new normal.

    The thing is that very often that decision to stop using makeup, like other downgrades in grooming or dress, really are a sign of something wrong. (ie Someone who never wears makeup is probably perfectly happy, but someone who one day decides “No more!” or just decides they are too tired to deal with it, is generally dealing with SOMETHING.) Now, that’s not universal, and it’s not necessarily depression or a mental health issue, but it is something a reasonable person might notice and note. When you combine that with being off your game, that’s a pretty classic set of indicators that SOMETHING is wrong. Again, not universal and not something I would want to diagnose on, but you don’t have to be hyper-focused on appearance to come to the conclusion that you might benefit from the company resources.

    I’d say you should take your boss’ suggestion seriously and think about whether you might be a bit worse off than you realize. That DOES happen. Also, think about whether you are more off your game than you realized. If you are not sure about that, you might want to approach your boss and tell her that you have been dealing with some stuff and have been a bit off kilter, but want to know how bad it’s been. And tell her that you are dealing with it and expect to get back to yourself in the not too distant future.

    If on further reflection, you decide that your fine, and not *that* off track, then you might want to just tell your boss “Thanks for your concern. I’ve been dealing with some stuff that’s thrown me off, but I’m getting it back together. I expect to be back up to par pretty soon.” (It’s ok to say “thanks” even though your not terribly grateful.)

  34. RebeccaNoraBunch*

    I am a 30something professional woman with an office job and I wear a full face of makeup every. single. day. This means moisturizer, eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, powder, blush, and lipgloss. It takes me 5-10 minutes to do this every morning. I do it (outside of my love of makeup) because a) I’m 4’10”, look 10 years younger than I am, and in a leadership position where I train people, both male and female, but b) at my last job 4 years ago, I came in one day with no makeup on and everyone I saw that day asked me if I was sick. Never. Again.

    As I think back, there were several times in my mid-2os when I worked in call centers and I was miserable…and, to be honest, chronically depressed…where I did not wear makeup every day. I could not muster up the energy.

    That being said, if I stopped wearing makeup every day, it would indeed be a sign that I was slipping back into that depression (with which I do still struggle). If my manager noticed, he wouldn’t be wrong to ask if I was OK, but I cannot imagine a more uncomfortable conversation for my 50something male manager to do. Heh.

    1. DQ*

      When I’m healthy, my clothes, hair, make-up, shoes, jewelry, etc. are sort of a hobby for me and I enjoy pulling a full look together everyday. When I’m not healthy, I just…..don’t want to do any of that and it’s pretty obvious that “totally put together fashion girl” has shown up for a week with wet hair and no make up.

      1. RebeccaNoraBunch*

        Exactly! Clothes and make-up are a sort of hobby for me too and it’s been fun now that I’m in a job where I feel appreciated and in a leadership role to shop for work clothes and create outfits. When I worked in call centers, I had the same rotating wardrobe of cheap, uninspiring “professional” shirts from places like Ross and a couple pairs of black pants that I rotated with zero imagination because I didn’t care and I was depressed most all of that time.

  35. insert pun here*

    This is so context-dependent and really hinges on the kind of relationship you have with your boss and what kind of person your boss is. As someone noted upthread, this could definitely be a “something is wrong with you — fix it now” sort of thing. Or it could be a well meaning person who’s worried about you and maybe fumbled the delivery a bit. (“is everything okay” would be better than “are you depressed,” for example — avoids the armchair diagnosis issue.). I had a boss of the latter type and I could totally see him saying something like this — out of concern. How did you get along with your boss before this? How do your coworkers get along with her? Is she generally and disproportionately concerned with appearances over substance?

  36. Disappointed Lurker*

    Alison, I honestly don’t understand how commenters questioning the validity of a letter are “an embarrassment,” but commenters like these, who are falling over each other trying to prove that they are the most enlightened and most sanctimonious – even going so far as to shame other commenters who openly admit their biases! – are not.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yeah, I can’t say I love the totality of comments in response to Kitty above, but I’m also on and off calls today and don’t have enough time to parse through it all.

    2. lurking and such today*

      There’s just waaaaaaay too much projecting in response to Kitty (and a few others). I know make up can be a sensitive subject as it ties to many other issues but I don’t think many of the comments were necessary or constructive.

  37. Karenina*

    I think it’s all in the delivery, here.

    A manager taking me aside to privately say that I don’t seem myself and to ask if there was anything they could help with, and a reminder about the EAP: I would be massively uncomfortable but I’d remind myself that this is exactly what a manager should do in a situation where they’re concerned about my mental (or physical) health.

    A manager taking me aside to privately say that they “had a feeling” that my last sick day was a lie and that if they didn’t know better they’d think I was on drugs (yes, this happened): pretty inappropriate. I would not be happy. (I wasn’t.)

    Either way, I wouldn’t necessarily go to HR unless this becomes a pattern, or your manager is tossing out diagnoses, or you’re feeling harassed or if these concerns are discussed with anyone else without your permission. Most managers aren’t taught how to do that job, and personal delivery can be fumbled pretty hard. Even the aforementioned manager who thought I was on drugs was, deep down, really just trying to reach out.

    He did it BADLY, but still…

  38. nnn*

    I’m a huge fan of specifically stating that I’m not wearing makeup in response to those kinds of inquiries. When context permits, I go as far as a deadpan “No, I’m just ugly without makeup.”

    It dissuades people from asking those kinds of questions, and has the added bonus of shutting down criticism of my putting time, effort and resources into doing and maintaining my makeup.

    1. Marisol*

      While I might not say the “ugly” part, I am a big fan of this approach generally. It’s honest and direct, not disrespectful or emotionally charged, and doesn’t take force you to invest any emotional labor in smoothing over an uncomfortable moment that you didn’t cause in the first place.

  39. Fresh Faced*

    OP I had a similar situation a few years back. My manager commented on the shop floor (within earshot of colleges and customers) that I looked sad and was everything ok? I was really taken aback and just said that I was fine (which I was, I was just not a chatty person) and the manager just kind of shrugged and left me anxious about whether i read as happy enough in my behavior . I think your manager was sincere in her concern, mainly because this happened in a private conversation, and she directed you to appropriate resources to use at your discretion. However combined with her comments on you not wearing makeup I definitely understand how it can seem like your manager is only concerned with whether you /look/ chipper enough, regardless of your actual well being.

  40. bare naked*

    This – “hat’s a thing that makeup does — it makes you look more put-together and refreshed, so when it goes away, your face can end up reading as “less refreshed” by comparison”
    is offensive & sexist.
    If it’s a true sentence then men should feel “required” to wear makeup too.
    Unless you are a professional photo/model/performer, you are paying too much attention to appearance.

    I’ve very rarely worn makeup in my life – it’s time-consuming, requires money for “supplies”, and, as I mentioned, offensive to think that my face isn’t “pretty” enough as it is.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “Makes you look more put-together and refreshed” does not equal “so you should be required to wear it.”

      It’s not offensive or sexist to note that having more color on your face often makes you look, for example, more alert. That doesn’t mean that anyone needs to wear it.


      1. HannahS*

        I think pointing out the relative difference in presentation is fair, but the fact that “put together” is a code that includes makeup for women only does make it sexist. “Put together” for men does not involve even-ing out their skin tone and wearing mascara plus some lip-pinkening to make themselves look more alert. It’s hair and clothes only–we take their faces to be alert enough as-is. That’s why people are rage-y about it.

        1. LBK*

          I don’t think Alison is saying that women who don’t wear makeup are inherently *not* put together, but that it is an escalation along the scale of how dressed up you are, in the same way that going from slacks and a blouse to a suit makes you look more put together – that’s not saying that you’re a disgusting unprofessional slob if you’re in slacks and a blouse, but I don’t think there’s many people who would disagree that generally, a suit is more polished.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yep. And of course, it varies. My coloring is such that my entire face appears to be a blank if I don’t wear makeup; when I have noticeable lips and eyebrows, that’s going to look more alert than when I appear to be missing several common facial features. Doesn’t mean I have to wear makeup, but let’s not pretend that makeup, like clothes, can’t change how polished you appear.

            1. Gadfly*

              Except it still circles back to different standards and expectations for men and women. Many men have blank faces and it isn’t considered a polish problem for them.

              I game a bit, my husband games a lot. And from that I’ve found there is actually a problem with making male faces that many moders (people creating game mods) will sometimes talk about in that it is easier to create acceptable female faces because we are so used to them being airbrushed smooth and contoured into looking like just a few shapes. Men’s faces, natural faces are MUCH harder and they are expected to be more unique. Basically we are accustomed to women looking artificial. I can’t help but think it is part of why, in general, we find feminine-faced robots less disturbing than male ones. It is ‘natural’ for female faces to be unnatural.

              1. Observer*

                “Many men have blank faces and it isn’t considered a polish problem for them.”

                That’s actually not true. Men who look “blank” often DO have problem, unless they find a way to compensate. It’s not for nothing that in many periods in the past men wore as much make up as women, albeit often less noticeable.

                As for the gamers, I suspect that the problem is not how society as a whole expects women to appear, but how the gaming community tends to look at females. I mean, even with all the makeup in the world, women’s faces are also unique even when the “blemishes” are smoothed out. And PLENTY of women appear in public without makeup, too.

          2. Emi.*

            And there are diminishing marginal returns, which is part of why makeup is generally not required the way other parts of looking put-together are — it’s less important. The difference between ragged clothes and reasonably new clothes is huge. The difference between a wrinkled shirt and an ironed shirt is noticeable, but not as big. The difference between going bare-faced and wearing makeup is noticeable, sure, but in general not as big a deal.

    2. Emi.*

      That would only mean men should feel required to wear makeup if everyone should feel required to look maximally put-together and refreshed all the time … which they shouldn’t. You can choose to keep your time and money instead of spending them on looking as great as possible, and that’s okay.

    3. LBK*

      I don’t think that’s what was being said at all…I think the point was just that the differences between a made-up face and a natural face tend to coincide with the differences between a healthy face and a sick face (paler complexion, less red in your cheeks and lips, darker circles around your eyes, etc). If you wear makeup every day, people get used to your “normal” face looking a certain way, and if you come in one day without makeup, it can read as being sick because your facial features would probably change similarly to how they would between a healthy, natural face and a sick face.

      It’s just about what you look like relative to what people are used to you looking like, and how a notable change in your face stands out to people who see you every day; it doesn’t mean that all women without makeup on look sickly.

  41. Naruto*

    I think it’s certain that you aren’t 100% yourself, emotionally. I think it’s likely that this is affecting the way you present yourself and the way you interact with others. I don’t mean whether you wear makeup or not, but just how you are at your job and interpersonally. Everyone else has covered the makeup angle and I don’t want to touch that, but maybe this is something to think about in terms of how well you’re psyching yourself up for work and to get through the day.

    I know when I have a lot of bad, stressful stuff going on, I’m not at my best at work. Even if I get my tasks done, I’m less chatty/sociable/friendly, and I’m in a bigger hurry to get out of there at the end of the day. I don’t have any great answers, but if this is something that’s going on with you, it may at least help to be cognizant of it and to try to take it into account.

  42. Jill*

    BOSS: Wow! Your make-up looks really great today.

    ME: That’s because I’m actually wearing it for once.

    So , was I to take her comment that my natural face looks like a less-great make up job?

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      COWORKER: I *love* your eyeshadow today!
      ME: THANKS!!

      I did not have the energy to admit that I was not wearing makeup, that I never wear makeup, and that my eyeshadow was merely dark circles.

    2. CheeryO*

      Like others have said in the thread, it’s noticeable when someone who typically wears makeup goes without for a day, and vice versa. It’s okay to recognize that makeup can make us look more alert/lively/whatever; that’s why it exists. Maybe you have naturally dark/thick eyelashes, or maybe she just assumed that you wear a little natural-looking makeup daily, since that’s something that a lot of women do. It doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with your bare face.

  43. Winger*

    Some years ago I had a very difficult job with a psychotic boss. I probably was dealing with some depression at the time, because I felt so defeated by the situation. I had lots of external meetings and I would often wear the same couple of dress jackets in rotation because why not? I didn’t need eight suits for this job. One time my boss brought me in for a meeting and told me he was concerned that I was depressed, because I had been “wearing the same thing every day.”

    It was one of the worst interactions I had with him, in years of really really bad interactions. It took a lot of self-control not to deck him. Luckily I got a new job within a few months, and any hint of depression evaporated.

  44. Just Visiting*

    I might be in the minority here (haven’t read all comments), but I personally wouldn’t like what that manager did, and I’ve had a similar thing happen to me too. For me, it’s because my “anxiety/depression” is tied up completely with my fairly severe ADHD which is not a mental illness you can disclose at work for obvious reasons. I also will not use EAP because when I tried to access a similar program they assigned me to a male counselor despite the fact that I said only women would work for me (I’m female). There are a lot of people who are very supportive of “minor” mental illnesses but absolutely WILL gossip about/look down on people with “scarier” disorders and even though mine isn’t one of those it’s definitely not something most people actually understand.

    Basically, I see the people who might be positively affected by such comments (people who don’t know they’re depressed?) as being a much smaller group than the people who would be embarrassed or put off. Not that those people don’t matter, but there’s fewer of them.

    1. Isben Takes Tea*

      For me it has everything to do with the presentation–I would welcome a “You haven’t seemed yourself lately–are you okay?” or a neutral “I’m just reminding everyone that there are EAP services available if you should ever need them.” But I would not welcome a “you seem depressed, so you should call EAP.” It’s mainly the prescriptive “should” that bristles me: instead of getting more information, you’re instead leaping to the solution, which may or may not be helpful.

    2. VioletFem*

      Sorry to hear that you had such a negative experience with how your workplace handles its EAP program. It sounds like your negative experience had more to do with a toxic workplace. Unless the LW left out some pertinent information about her workplace, it does not sound like she has the same situation happening here. It’s not unreasonable for a manager who notices some marked changes in mood/mental state of one of their employees (especially if it is affecting their job performance) resources that the employee might benefit from. Of course the EAP should be run competently. Of course it is totally up to the LW to decide whether or not to choose the company provided resources.

      1. Just Visiting*

        It wasn’t an EAP, it was a student counseling service, but I assume these two things are pretty similar and I don’t feel like risking it. The toxic workplace was my last one and I’m glad to be out of there. I still think that remarking on someone’s mood is out of line unless there’s a very close relationship there or if the mood issues are affecting the work, which after rereading the OP it isn’t clear if they are.

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