I brought up a painful subject for my interviewer, will my yelling boss reflect badly on me, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. I accidentally brought up a painful subject for my interviewer

I brought up a subject I definitely shouldn’t have in an interview I just had, and I am not sure how to apologize/recover.

During the interview I had today, I was asked to talk about a “bad decision,” how I came to make that decision, and how I overcame it. They mentioned that this decision should be from my personal life, but I was told that I didn’t have to share what that decision was.

Before I began responding, I mentioned that it’s difficult to explain my answer without sharing the situation, which was making the decision to put my dog down and the thin line between putting her down too soon and waiting too long out of selfishness.

After a couple minutes of talking about this, the executive director cut me off and asked that we move on because her dog had died this morning! I, of course, apologized profusely and she acknowledged that there was no way I could have known, but it definitely threw me off.

Do I mention and apologize for this in my thank-you email or pretend like it didn’t happen? What would I even say? Help! This is a great job and other than that the interview went really well.

They asked an inappropriate and frankly terrible question. Bad decisions from your personal life have zero place in a job interview and are guaranteed to make candidates really uncomfortable. No one would prepare for that kind of question, and having to come up with an interview-appropriate answer on the spot — one that doesn’t violate your privacy — would throw most people for a loop. The instruction that you didn’t have to share what the decision was feels like an attempted nod to your privacy, but I don’t know how you’d talk about it effectively without sharing that info.

It’s a bad question and, no surprise, it hit on something painful for someone in the room. That’s not your fault. It’s their fault for asking the question.

I don’t think you need to mention it in your note, and you definitely don’t have anything to apologize for. If you want to, you could  say, “And I’m so sorry about your dog” … but I think you’re better off leaving the question and the answer behind you.

2. Will being associated with a yelling boss hurt my reputation?

I work in an agency that places heavy emphasis on employee reputation, and that reputation can be built through the years or be created in a flash. Behavior matters.

I’m a mid-level manger in this agency and my boss is higher mid-level, approaching senior. And, unfortunately, he is a yeller. He yells on the phone most often and sometimes I am on these conference calls with him. These calls can be with vendors, contractors, or other colleagues at our headquarters—all may evoke a yelling spell.

I am growing increasingly concerned that his poor behavior is reflecting on me and going to impact my relationships with a range of people, that the tone he sets may be perceived as being one I share/support.

Advice? I thought about calling my colleagues to apologize after one such a phone incident, but I do not want that to come across as going behind my boss’ back. He isn’t a bad person and makes good points, but his communication is atrocious. He is aware of it to an extent and even apologizes to me sometimes after hanging up the phone, but he keeps doing it.

As long as you’re polite and professional, people aren’t likely to think you endorse your boss’s behavior. If you’re a jerk too, then yes — they’ll think you’re both cut from the same cloth. But as long as you’re polite or, better yet, actively kind, they’re not going to think you condone it. They’re more likely to figure you’re embarrassed by him, since most people would be, and/or feel sorry for you having to work closely with someone who can’t control himself.

I think you’re right not to call people back and apologize on his behalf. You’re not the one with anything to apologize for, and you’re not responsible for the behavior of someone above you. Besides, just being scrupulously kind will convey all the distancing in the world from him.

However, there might be some room to nudge your boss on it. When he apologizes to you after hanging up the phone, you might be able to say, “I’m fine, but would it make sense to tell them that? I think they were taken aback when you yelled.”

3. Manager asks if I’m feeling okay when I don’t wear makeup

Since the virus made my work remote, we have a lot of video conferencing. I’ve noticed that whenever I’m on with one particular person to whom I report and I’m not wearing makeup, he’ll ask if I’m feeling alright, if I’m sick, etc. He doesn’t say anything if I’m wearing makeup. I brush it off with, “Nope, I’m fine. So, what did you think of our discussion with so-and-so?” but he’ll often follow up with “Are you sure?” or even a check-in call later to make sure I’m okay.

I’ve started just doing full makeup every time I have a video call with him, but frankly I’m home and these are just internal video calls and I’d really prefer not to feel awkward for looking like myself on camera. Should I say anything?

Yes! Don’t wear makeup if you don’t want to wear makeup. If he comments again, say in a genuinely curious tone, “You’ve asked me that a bunch of times! What am I doing that makes you think I’m not feeling okay?” Then, depending on his answer, you can say, “I’ll let you know if I’m ever not feeling okay, but otherwise, this is just my face.” Or, if you prefer: “I’ve noticed you ask it on days when I’m not wearing makeup. This is just my normal face without makeup.”

Read an update to this letter here.

4. How to use a personal recommendation for a job

I’m applying to a position that I’m very excited about. The person who had that job previously was a friendly acquaintance of mine and recommended me to her boss.

I’m not sure how much to lean into that recommendation. Should I mention it in my cover letter? List her as a reference? We had collaborated on some projects, but there are people who know my work better.

Unless you’ve worked with her before and she can speak to your work with some nuance, it wouldn’t make sense to list her as a reference. But you should mention her in the opening to your cover letter — something like, “Lucinda Warbleworth recommended that I apply for your X opening.” If you can say why, that’s even better — like, “Lucinda Warbleworth recommended that I apply for your X opening because of my enthusiasm for walruses and experience with their care.”

5. Discussing a weekly therapy appointment with a new boss

I attend weekly therapy appointments on Friday mornings. In a pre-COVID world, these appointments had me coming to the office around 10 am. This was approved by my then-boss, and this arrangement has worked well for almost two years. I am a salaried, exempt employee, and there isn’t a PTO question involved with this.

I have a new boss starting and wasn’t sure how to approach this with them. I am currently seeing my therapist virtually but hope to go back to in-person meetings as soon as I can. Do you have any scripts for how I should address this? Make it look like a new request? Ask if she is okay with me continuing the arrangement?

Don’t make it look like a new request! If she ever realized it wasn’t new, that would look very odd and there’s no reason for it.

In fact, it’s better to just present it as The Way Things Are: “I have a standing medical appointment every Friday morning, so I’m in slightly later on those days, usually around 10 am.”

{ 365 comments… read them below }

  1. Courtney*

    LW#1 the response to your answer was not a statement on you. They literally asked! You had no way of knowing and this exact situation is why it’s a poor choice of interview question. I’m sorry it happened to you, I feel the secondhand embarrassment and awkwardness from (I assume) the other side of the world!

    1. Traffic_Spiral*

      Is it wrong that I sorta LOL’d? I mean, that interviewer was happy to be a ghoulish voyeur of everyone else’s mistakes and pain, and then gets smacked with something that actually hit home for *them* – I just sorta like the karma in that.

      1. Harper the Other One*

        I had the same feeling. It’s such an inappropriate question if you specify it has to be from your personal life. (I give some leeway for ALLOWING it to be from your personal life, especially for young candidates who don’t have a ton of work experience to draw from.)

        1. londonedit*

          Yes – obviously I’m sorry about the interviewer’s dog, but perhaps it might make them think a little bit more carefully before asking for examples from people’s personal lives. It’s such an inappropriate thing to do!

        2. Lily Rowan*

          Great point! When I’m interviewing for early-career positions, I often tell people their answers to behavioral questions don’t have to come from formal work, but would never say they have to come from their personal life! Yikes.

      2. Mommy MD*

        Me too. It was such an inappropriate invasive question and it boomeranged right back.

      3. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I also enjoyed the irony. Hopefully this whole incident will make them rethink that question altogether.

      4. NoviceManagerGuy*

        I wish I could ask the interviewer what the best answer they’ve gotten to that question is. It feels like one of those questions where the best you can do is a boring, forgettable answer.

        (And it’s completely bizarre and inappropriate, but on top of that it’s useless!)

    2. T2*

      I have gotten this question before.

      My answer: “unfortunate decisions are a part of life. I do the best to make sure that I make the best decision all the time based on available information. I don’t really discuss such things. However realistically, in hindsight some of those turned out to be regrettable. In such situations, I do my best to learn the relevant lesson and move on. But I don’t dwell on what could have been. Ultimately I have found myself wiser for having to go through the experience. “

      It speaks to the question, and signals that you won’t allow prying. So anyone who has a problem with it, is likely to have a problem with me.

      1. Yorick*

        Wouldn’t it make more sense to give a professional example? At least then you will still answer the question.

        1. Allonge*

          Yes, if I could keep my wits together, I would probably be like “nothing personal comes to mind that I would like to share but let me tell you about the time we sent out a template with lorem ipsum text and spent two days with explaining how it’s indeed not English but it’s not meant to be anything than a placeholder…”. If they insist on the personal part after that, well – maybe I ask what exactly they are looking for here?

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            I think your answer is a good one. Your message is, ‘I’m ignoring what you asked me, and instead I’m going to answer what you should have asked me.’

        2. Washi*

          I agree. I can’t really fault T2 for giving a vague answer to such a dumb question, but I also think it would come across better to pivot and give a professional answer instead. You could even say something like “well, I don’t have a personal example that would be relevant to my work, but a professional example would be…”

          And actually, I think the LW had a decent answer considering being put on the spot like that! It was something personal, but not something that reflected badly on her or her candidacy, or was inappropriate for an interview. She just got doubly unlucky to be asked a silly question and that the interviewers dog happened to have died that day.

        3. Anonapots*

          The thing is, if they allow for personal experiences, they’re going to get personal experiences. The only way it works is to ask about professional decisions only. It’s not on the person being interviewed to know they should stick to professional examples when the interviewers opened the door to personal ones.

      2. Scarletb*

        It does depend where you’re interviewing. In my area the interviews are always of the behavioural type, and not having given a concrete example would be considered a distinct negative when the panel’s going through and grading. However, pivoting to a professional example after disclaiming the personal should be reasonable, since they ideally want a “what did you do” scenario… though to be fair, a question that *targeted* the personal like that would not make it through HR into the bank of potential interview questions in my organisation.

  2. Storie*

    What is with these weird personal interview questions? I’m hearing about them more and more and it feels like a disturbing trend. Am I right? Granted, OP’s was especially egregious. But I’m beginning to be so annoyed with interviewers playing psychologists with questions they think are so clever. Ask about the person’s work.

    1. Myrin*

      I’m very confused as to why they specifically wanted an experience from OP’s “personal life”. Like, they specified that. I’d understand if they wanted her to talk about a work decision she made which she later realised was wrong or something but it’s so strange to actively seek a situation from one’s personal life! It seems like they think the personal life part of this makes it more relevant for the work context, which is… exactly backwards and doesn’t make sense!

      1. Who Plays Backgammon?*

        Exactly! The question sounded plain nosy to me. Sometimes interviewers want to know more about an applicant’s personal situation than they have any right to, and sometimes they cluelessly seem to not know any better. But if they create a situation like this (and I sympathize with anyone who’s lost a beloved pet), they shouldn’t be surprised or upset by what they get in response.

      2. Marthooh*

        They wanted something raw and unscripted! But no no no, not that raw.

        They know it’s an inappropriate question, too. That’s why the OP was supposed to share how they came to make a bad decision, and how they overcame the badness, but not what the bad decision actually was. Because of course they wouldn’t ever pry into an applicant’s personal life.

        1. RecentAAMfan*

          Ya, and I’m trying to imagine the mental gymnastics involved in discussing that without mentioning the actual decision. Fun times!

          1. EddieSherbert*

            ^ Same! How would they even get anything useful out of a reply that totally avoids mentioning the actual situation or decision?

        2. Sparrow*

          Maybe since it’s an interview, they think people will downplay bad work decisions they’ve made but might be more candid in discussing something less work-related? I genuinely have no idea. I can’t recall ever being asked something like this, but I do always prepare work examples that would be relevant since it’s so common to be asked about mistakes/challenges. I would pivot to that instead.

      3. MusicWithRocksIn*

        I feel like it comes from some sort of place where they don’t want someone personal life interfering with work, but honestly I’ve known some people who were excellent workers but their personal life was a train wreck, and vice versa. Having your personal stuff well in hand does not mean you’ll be great at your job.

    2. EPLawyer*

      “interviewers playing psychologists ” Ding Ding Ding. We have a winner.

      Some companies are CONVINCED that there is a psychology of the perfect employee. Someone who will work hard, never complain, never get sick, never come in late, etc. If they just use the right combination of psych tests they will find it. hence stupid questions like this, Meyers-Briggs personality tests, and the like. Except they are trained psychologists so cannot use the information obtained properly to assess a candidate. Not to mention most of it is bunk. But lots of people get paid lots of money for convincing companies this is the RIGHT WAY to hire.

      1. Quill*

        Meyers Briggs, AKA corporate astrology, is just the white collar version of the “personality” quizzes that used to be popular when people started applying online for big box retail.

        A committed liar isn’t going to suddenly tell the truth on an online survey, and an actually scrupulous person will hesitate to rank themselves 5/5 in everything. Especially when some places say everything below 5/5 is a fail, and others put in a failsafe that says if you score 100% you must be lying.

        1. Vicky Austin*

          “Meyers Briggs, AKA corporate astrology, is just the white collar version of the “personality” quizzes that used to be popular when people started applying online for big box retail.”

          Or those online quizzes from Buzzfeed and similar sites asking you “Which Hogwarts house would the Sorting Hat put you in?” or “Which character from Friends/Sex and the City/Sesame Street are you?”

    3. Mockingjay*

      It’s “culture.” Unfortunately workplace culture – which should describe the working environment and the soft skills needed for it, whether the ability to work in teams, perform independently, conform to a rigid hierarchy, adapt in a small business wearing multiple hats – has become conflated with emotion and personal insights. This current trend of “emoting” and sharing every aspect of your life is terrible and contributes very little to the interview process.

      At ExToxic job, the interview process included a 1 1/2 hour culture interview with HR in which we danced around emotions and personal anecdotes. (Yes I took the job in spite of the red flag; I was laid off and it was the only offer I got.) All I could think of during it was the song “FEEEELLINGS. Whoa Whoa FEEELLINGS.”

      BTW, ExToxic Job went out of business last year.

      1. Sara without an H*

        Quel surprise! Glad you’re out of there.

        I, too, have been disturbed by the now-fashionable emphasis on “feelings,” “vulnerability,” and the like. I suspect employers are trying to get credit for “sensitivity,” which is easier and cheaper than fixing stuff like wages, hours, and working conditions.

        Sorry! Recent events have made me (more) cynical.

    4. College Career Counselor*

      I suspect* that they think this is a way to avoid getting a canned/polished work-appropriate response from the interviewee. Perhaps an example of a personal decision is viewed as more “authentic” and truer to the person’s character (and that’s probably what we’re talking about here) than a workplace situation. As someone who does mock interviews with students, I’ve been incredibly uncomfortable when students choose excessively personal examples to demonstrate their decision-making (e.g. student who lied about romantic partner to parents–I did NOT need to know that).

      At any rate, seeking insight into character is my attempt to explain the phenomenon. I certainly don’t condone it, and I agree that the OP has nothing to apologize for. That interviewer asked a spectacularly bad question and reaped the consequences.

      *no actual confirmation from anyone in HR/hiring

    5. People Person's Paper People*

      I feel like these types of misguided questions are coming from a culture of encouraging employees to bring their “whole selves” to work. Would actually love to read Allison’s take on that topic.

    6. pancakes*

      I don’t think it’s anything new, I think we just hear more about it because more people are sharing their interview experiences online. I’ve been asked inane questions by interviewers going back 15, 20 years. A lot of people have very silly assumptions that their work lets them keep intact, particularly HR people who don’t seem to have much in the way of training, just very basic ideas about which qualities are nice for candidates to have.

    7. Business Catto*

      I can’t remember if it’s a part of the “top grading” interview philosophy, but I worked for a place that followed top grading procedure, and they LOVED personal questions. Their reasoning was “culture fit,” but there are definitely better ways to find that than asking applicants whether they consider themselves to be lucky.

    8. TheLorax*

      The only personal question I ever ask in an interview is “what do you do for fun?” Not always, but sometimes if the candidate seems nervous – I really don’t care what they say, but talking about something they enjoy for a minute or two can lighten up the energy and it seems to help the candidate feel a little more at ease.

  3. Observer*

    #3- I essentially agree with Allsion. You don’t have to wear makeup if you don’t want to.


    Some things to think about.

    Not wearing makeup is one thing, being unkempt or not properly dressed is another. So, if you’ve been dressing down to a large extent move it back up to a higher level.

    When you wear a “full face”, is it very heavy, or high color so that you present as “the glowing picture of health” or the like? If so, then your normal (perfectly healthy!) face is likely to look rather pale in comparison. You would expect that he’d figure this out by now, but some people need to have things spelled out. So pointing out that what he is seeing is just the normal difference between make up and not, could be useful.

    Do you have dark shadows under your eyes or some other aspect of your normal complexion that is often associated with poor health? Again, you would expect someone to figure out by now that it’s fine (or you just don’t want to talk about it!) but again, sometime spelling it out can be useful.

    1. Courtney*

      This ^
      I was wondering if perhaps they used blush or bronzer to bring colour to a fair complexion? Personally I have natural dark circles under my eyes which I can’t get rid of to save my life, so I have got used to walking around looking like a permanently tired raccoon, and comments do happen! Thankfully not too often though.

        1. namelesscommentator*

          He doesn’t appear to be commenting on appearance. People give cues that we can’t quite pinpoint all the time for not feeling well – and looking a little run down, flushed skin, etc… is one of them.

          If he is used to seeing OP with make up on, he probably can’t quite tell what has changed. Most people who don’t wear it aren’t great at telling what is/isn’t make up.

          1. Turquoisecow*

            Yeah, if he doesn’t wear makeup or doesn’t live with someone who does, he might not even be aware that OP was wearing makeup in the office. He just sees paler complexion/dark eyes/whatever and perceives this as not being OP’s usual complexion. What could cause a person to look paler/have dark circles/etc? Illness, exhaustion. Or lack of makeup.

            I don’t wear makeup so I forget that other people do. When I see a person who normally wears a lot of makeup wear less or no makeup, my first thought is sometimes that they look tired. I probably wouldn’t comment on it, but then something will clue me in. For example, we spent a few days with my in-laws last year and in the morning at breakfast, I thought my mother-in-law looked especially tired. It was only when she mentioned going to get dressed and put on makeup that I realized why. I’m guessing OP’s boss just hasn’t made the connection.

            1. Circe*

              Seconding this. I grew up very much NOT accustomed to the world of makeup and would not innately recognize that as the reason.

              I’d assume good intentions from boss and just tell him that you’re not wearing makeup at the moment. Shrug it off cheerfully and say it’s been a nice break for your skin. He’ll most likely be embarrassed and never mention it again!

            2. Avasarala*

              I kind of agree with this. I think people who don’t wear makeup often can’t see when someone is–they literally don’t know what to look for.

              That said, it would be weird for the boss to call back later and check in multiple times (“Are you sure you’re ok?”) regardless of whether someone was wearing makeup. That’s pretty excessive.

              1. Alice's Rabbit*

                Not really. When all he’s got to go on is video chat and phonecalls, because everyone who can is working from home, he has to reach out directly to check in with his reports.
                Normally, he’d probably stop by her desk for a nonchalant conversation to make sure she’s not overworked or trying to push through an illness when she really needs rest. Casual conversation, and seeing her behaving normally despite the paler complexion/dark circles, would reassure him.
                He doesn’t have that option now. He has to specifically call her in order to check up on how she’s doing, instead of it coming up naturally.

          2. V*

            Absolutely! I could totally see myself doing this if someone I spoke too often appeared to me at random times to be a bit under the weather. Even though I might occasionally use BB cream or foundation I don’t really know anything about make-up and I’d probably be puzzled as well.

            Obviously there’s a problem if a manager is making these types of comments when someone isn’t wearing lipstick or the like, but this sounds like it’s just coming from a place of concern because the manager can’t figure out what they’re missing!

          3. Mama Bear*

            Also, many people look way worse on camera (any camera) than they do in real life. That’s why we have filters, and people on TV typically wear a ton of stage makeup. I’m sure OP looks fine in person. Either way, the boss needs to let it go after OP says they are fine.

            1. Deranged Cubicle Owl*

              I think this is the main reason. No make-up while OP usually does this in combination with the lousy effect by cameras. He sees something different but can’t pinpoint it, so him asking if she was okay, is understandable.

              To be fair: the boss should respect OP’s word though, instead of following up with “are you sure?” when she says that everything is fine.

          4. MCMonkeyBean*

            Yeah, certainly no one should have to wear makeup if they don’t want to–but you also can’t really be surprised if people notice that your face looks different than usual. They probably don’t even notice anything specific, just a general feel of “something looks different.”

            To be honest I have even leaned into this before. There have been a handful of times in the past where I woke up feeling a little off and I decided not to wear makeup so that if later in the day I felt really bad and wanted to go home sick my boss would be more likely to think “yeah, she doesn’t look great” lol

            I don’t think there’s any reason to beat around the bush with this. I would definitely go more with Alison’s second script over the first–I think trying to get him to name why he things you look unwell is only going to make things extra awkward. It’s all super normal, the next time your boss asks, just say that you’ve stopped wearing makeup and that’s probably why he thinks you look different than usual but everything is still perfectly fine.

          5. Alice's Rabbit*

            Especially over video conference calls, where the video quality blurs details. Really hard to tell if someone is wearing makeup or not over zoom.

        2. SS*

          Maybe we should stay away from assuming the OP’s skintone (“pale” and “fair” above). Personally, I would lean less toward commenting on make-up and more toward Alison’s first suggested script that challenges the manager to trust the OP’s words when they say they are ok. That would be more important to me: making sure the manager believes my words rather than realizing I sometimes wear make-up. But others may have different preferences about the message they’d want to send!

          1. Observer*

            The difference in how someone looks with and without makeup is not limited to fair / pale complexions.

            I don’t think that spelling out the makeup is mutually exclusive to expecting that the boss should believe the OP. Also, the key question is what does the OP want to accomplish. If she wants the boss to stop the comments, spelling out what is happening may be more effective that only reinforcing that she really means it when she says she’s ok.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              I’m naturally pale, and I embrace it by using fair or porcelain foundation and concealer. But I tend to get comments about looking tired or sick when I don’t use concealer. Undereye circles are a typical sign of being tired, and OP’s boss could be commenting on them more than anything else.

              Yes, I know men get those dark circles, too, but we’re more used to seeing them – most men don’t use cosmetics to cover them up.

              1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

                I have to say the one thing I loved most about switching to glasses permanently was the disappearance of questions about the dark circles under my eyes (I have small frames so the circles – allergy related, and never removed by allergy meds – are obscured by the frames). It will not work for all, but it helped me.

              2. sunny-dee*

                This; I have extremely dark circles under my eyes, and I’ve had comments ever since the dorm in college if I don’t wear concealer. My dad has them too (genetic) but since he doesn’t wear makeup, it’s just how he looks. I wear at least concealer and blush every single day, so any time I’m not wearing it, the difference is noticeable.

              3. Allison Wonderland*

                Just adding that sometimes lack of mascara will lead people to say I look “tired.” I have very light eyelashes, so mascara or light eyeliner is often the only makeup I use. Eye makeup has the effect of making the eyes look brighter, and can even make them appear larger. So I guess lack of makeup makes my eyes appear “droopy,” even though the only difference is the color of my lashes. But regardless of the cause, I wish people would realize that it’s rude to tell someone they “look tired.” Maybe they’re tired, maybe they’re not. But it’s explicitly a comment on their appearance and will likely make them feel self-conscious.

        3. EPLawyer*

          I agree. Is he asking men who appear a bit pale if they are okay? Men get dark circles under their eyes too. It’s just so sexist. “But you look so much healthier (prettier) when you smear substances all over your face.”

          1. Colette*

            I don’t see anything sexist about this. If a man who normally had a moustache shaved it off, he’d get questions as well. Some people would notice, but others would just register that something had changed.

            If the OP had never worn makeup, the boss wouldn’t think anything of her appearance because it would be how she always looked. It’s the change that is causing the reaction.

            1. MassMatt*

              The boss is not simply noticing a change in appearance, he is acting concerned, as though there is something wrong with the LW’s physical or mental health.

              Someone growing or shaving a mustache may get a comment or two about the change; mostly a fairly disinterested “oh, I see you’ve grown/shaved your mustache”. I have never heard someone commenting on a beard or mustache change with “are you all right? Are you SURE?”.

              1. sunny-dee*

                Yeah, but in this case, she’s working from home because of a pandemic and now also riots. He’s probably concerned because she could be ill or having a difficult time with the stress.

                1. pancakes*

                  If it’s genuine concern and not posturing, being a generally approachable & caring person goes a lot further than trying to solicit reassurance.

              2. Avasarala*


                Every sometimes-makeup-wearing person has gotten the “are you OK” question on days they don’t wear makeup.

                But the repeated questioning is weird and pushy. Take makeup out of the equation, pretend OP is tired or sick, but chooses to answer “Yes I’m fine.” Would it be OK to keep asking, “are you sure? are you SURE??”

          2. Observer*

            Men who normally don’t have dark circles, who suddenly show up with dark circles WILL get asked. People who always have dark circles generally don’t get asked more than once or twice.

              1. V*

                Because their appearance is changing based on whether they’ve put on make-up that day or not. That doens’t really apply to shaving off a mustache. :) After seeing that a few times I might also be wondering if someone was struggling at work / needed some time off. With everything that’s going on it’s easy to imagine someone might be struggling and I assume this is all motivated out of concern for the LW.

              2. Alice's Rabbit*

                But that’s because she keeps flip-flopping between wearing makeup and not wearing it. So one day, she looks “normal,” and the next, she looks different, and the only explanation he can come up with is that she’s ill. Or, at least, run down. And as her manager, it’s his job to make sure she’s getting the downtime and healthcare she needs to work effectively.
                Normally, he’d have other clues, like her body language throughout the day and how she interacts with her coworkers, to clue him in. But since they’re working from home, all he can do is ask directly.

          3. Nanani*


            Yes it’s sexist. No it doesn’t matter if it’s intentional or whether 500 commenters think the same thing.
            It doesn’t matter if OP wore makeup before.

            It’s. Sexist.

            Don’t comment on employee’s appearance, and for the love of all that is human stop policing women’s looks.

            1. lilsheba*

              I gotta agree with that. No one should feel pressure to wear makeup, or certain clothes, or ridiculous heels or anything, and this feels like pressure to wear makeup.

        4. Observer*

          Yes, the boss should stop commenting. No doubt.

          But given the specifics, it is possible that the OP’s appearance without makeup does legitimately trigger a concern that she is not well. Briefly spelling it out will take care of that. And if what’s going on is actually concern trolling as a way to push her to put on make up, this will expose it – and possibly also shut it down.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      I don’t wear much makeup and never have, but occasionally I would be asked if I was feeling okay on the rare day I’d forget to wear makeup to the office, yet never asked that when I was wearing makeup. Pale skin and dark circles were to blame, and sometimes office lighting can be brutal too. I hardly wear any makeup now because full time WFH, but sometimes I’ll put on face powder just to even out my skin tone and dull the shininess because *i* think I look a little run down (which, to be fair, is the case these days).

      Regardless, the guy needs to stop pestering LW3 and accept that she’s fine when she says she is. Pointing out the pattern should be enough to stop it, I hope.

      1. Temp anon*

        Yeah, repeatedly being asked “do you feel OK? How ARE you? No, REALLY!?” Sounds really exhausting. Especially at work.

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Right. It’s like ok, do you really want the truth, because I thought we were never actually supposed to answer the truth to that question? A lot of people are not ok lately with a lot of the bad things happening lately. But people don’t necessarily want to give a bunch of details, either.

      2. Dust Bunny*

        I have permanent under-eye shadows and get asked fairly regularly if I’m tired. Nope, I’m fine–I just got my grandfather’s face.

        Annoyingly, the person who asks me the most is my dad, through whom I inherited the face.

    3. Ginger ale for all*

      I think we are all going to see more folks going without make up during this pandemic. Foundation, bb cream, blush, lipstick, etc. are difficult to get out of mask fabric each night.

      1. allathian*

        True, and rather pointless if more than half of the face is covered by the mask anyway. How do healthcare workers who wear masks most of the time deal with it? Pre-covid, my dental hygienist wore (probably) foundation, mascara and eyeshadow, but she didn’t wear visible rouge or lipstick. She’d change masks between clients and only wear them when she was actually bending over her client, so I could see her mouth before and after.
        The dress code at my office is very casual. Jeans are fine, band T-shirts are looked at askance but I’ve never heard of anyone being sent home for wearing one. I wore makeup at my interview and during the first week, but after that I just didn’t bother anymore. Now I’ll wear makeup when I would otherwise dress up a bit (slacks, button-up blouse and blazer), usually for meeting with people from other organizations and once for a presentation about a project for our C-suite.

        1. MistOrMister*

          I saw something online with a blogger doing really elaborate eye makeup with a mask on. I don’t know if she had any makeup at all on the parts of the face covered by the mask, but the idea of the article was that people will likely start to do eye-heavy looks.

          I was feeling like I wanted to be fancy one day and did some eye makeup and lipstick prior to going out…..and then had to take the lipstick off when I realized I would he wearing a mask and it would be smeared all over everything. I guess matte lipstick would survive but that stuff is so drying that I just can’t wear it.

          1. Lora*

            I saw something similar and the next time I had to go to the pharmacy (because the pharmacy and the recycling center are basically…where I go, anymore) I had a lot of fun doing a smoky eye with different colors and picked up some of the wilder color creme and liquid shadows to play with. Because, you know, what else am I going to do.

            Pro tip: glittery or metallic eye shadow actually makes wrinkles less noticeable. It doesn’t sink into your wrinkles and highlight them the way even neutral colored matte powder does. So if you are an Old like me and gave up wearing much eye makeup at all other than BB cream, liquid liner and mascara because everything else made your wrinkles look cavernous and you’d rather be pale with bright lipstick and less-noticeable wrinkles…that metallic and glittery type is awesome.

            1. Autumnheart*

              That is definitely not my experience. Shimmery shadow brings out all the bags and crags like I drew arrows pointing right to them. Maybe my wrinkles are more temperamental than your wrinkles.

          2. JustaTech*

            Depends on the matte lipstick. My liquid matte came right off on my mask (thankfully it’s a dark color on the side facing me so it wasn’t noticeable).

            I think brightly colored mascaras are going to come back into style.

            1. Dancing Otter*

              Really? I remember green mascara in junior high school. I never expected to see it on adults, decades later.

        2. MusicWithRocksIn*

          You can focus all your energy on doing a really good eye and be done. My normal doctor usually does a great eye, but I’ve noticed she never does the lipstick thing.

      2. Amethystmoon*

        Yeah, I save make-up for Zoom meetings with multiple people on, or actually going into the office. I live alone and it’s a waste of use otherwise.

    4. Amanda*

      Honestly, I would be tempted to ask if the manager is asking male employees if they feel okay (several times!) when they don’t wear makeup. To me, it borders on gender bias/discrimination which is a poor place for a manager to be in. To be diplomatic, I encourage you to stick to the scripts Alison provided, but if you feel zesty you could also say something like “I’ve told you that I’m fine when I’m not wearing makeup. When you keep following up with me about it, it feels like you are holding onto outdated social norms which are sexist in nature. I’m sure that isn’t your intention! However, perhaps we can leave the comments on my appearance out of our professional conversations.”

      1. FIkly*

        I actually disagree on this, because I think it’s highly likely that while the person is noticing a difference in appearance, they have no idea it’s because of makeup versus no makeup, particularly if they are not familiar with exactly how makeup can change someone’s appearance in this way.

        I’m person who does not wear makeup, and never have, and unless it’s super obvious, I could not tell you if someone was wearing makeup. However, if someone’s face looked different in color, I would probably pick up on that, and my first thought would not be a difference in makeup, but are they under the weather in some way?

        1. Seven hobbits are highly effective, people*

          This. I don’t wear makeup (I decided to “opt out” of most of the female-gendered-only grooming rules sometime back around middle or high school, and only do the “for everybody” hygiene-based rules, so, for example, I floss daily and wear deodorant but don’t own any makeup), and I don’t regularly have people asking me if I’m “tired” for that reason because everyone knows this is what my face tends to look like. They’re used to it, so it doesn’t seem odd. (I am somewhat curious what they’d say if I showed up in full makeup one day, but not curious enough to buy all of that stuff and spend an hour on it in the morning when I could otherwise be sleeping.)

          On the other hand, one of my co-workers used to exhibit a more typical level of female grooming pre-WFH, and seeing her on video calls with no makeup and less attention paid to her hair does make her look different. I could see why someone might see that as “tired” if they’re not used to the idea of makeup/no makeup differences. People tend to use makeup to add contrast to different parts of their faces, so you may look “washed out” compared to their mental picture of you and I could see why that might make them wonder if you’re not feeling well.

          However, after the second time this was discussed, they should have gotten the hint to stop asking even if they have no idea what changed.

          1. Fikly*

            I would hope they would get the hint, but with everything going on, I feel them not even remembering the previous times they noticed/asked is possible.

            Also, attributing differences in appearance to a specific thing is harder than we tend to think. I have switched between contacts and glasses and had multiple people go “Something about you is different…?” and look at me for five minutes and not be able to figure it out. Brains are weird.

          2. Myrin*

            Yeah, I got bullied for my “ugliness” as a young teenager and started wearing makeup and contacts shortly afterwards. I generally got over the bullying pretty quick but it did put a dent in my confidence which was generally not super noticeable since I actually have a huge amount of confidence just naturally. However, my fear of having anyone but my family see me not made up remained the last vestige of that shaken confidence for about fifteen years. I started wearing glasses permanently again when I was 22 – and I learned that I actually have a “glasses face” which looks much better with a nice pair of glasses than with contacts – and went to uni completley barefaced for the first time at 25. It was a confidence boost, to say the least.

            At the job I started at 26, I very deliberately alternated between wearing makeup and not wearing it because I actively wanted people to get used to both of my “faces” (I’m a redhead with fair red lashes and a round face, i. e. lots of skin and I basically look like a completely different person depending on whether I’m made up or not). And my experience matches the one in your first paragraph, Seven – since people know what I look like barefaced, and, in fact, since it’s what I appear like before them about 60-70% of the time, no one has ever commented on my looking tired or exhausted except for like two instances where I did indeed look worse for wear and was genuinely unwell.

            Our perception of people’s looks hinges a lot on how we’re used to seeing them, so it’s very likely boss just recognises a difference. I do that too in my colleagues who are sometimes made up and sometimes aren’t, but since I’m very good at observation, I generally realise immediately that it’s because of a difference in makeup. But I understand not everyone does that (and it does annoy my feminist little heart that this is often interwoven with artificial constructs of beauty and thelike) and as such, I really like Alison’s third suggestion the best – it’s clear to the point and direct, and it might even spur the boss into thinking about this topic more broadly!

            1. Traffic_Spiral*

              Agreed. I once worked in an office that was mainly women, and most of them wore makeup around 50% of the time (generally if any clients needed meetings that day). One day a guy came in and my first thought was “are you not wearing makeup today?” Then I was like “wait, you don’t wear makeup,” so I asked him “uh, everything ok?” and he was like “up till 3am with my guy friends watching a world cup game in a smoky bar – oh sweet god I’m so hung over, please let me die, I’m too old for this shit.”

              So… yeah. Blotchier than usual complexion and dull eyes are pretty clear signs of illness, but if you’re doing subtle makeup, those are the things you’re enhancing, so it does sorta look like the difference between dead-hungover-in-your-30s and normal if a person doesn’t know what’s going on.

              That being said, guys should probably just figure out that it’s probably a makeup thing when noticing this on women.

              1. WellRed*

                Guys should figure out they just shouldn’t comment on a woman’s appearance in a work context.

                1. Alice's Rabbit*

                  But as her manager, part of his job is making sure she’s not overworking herself. So yeah, if one of his reports looks ill, he needs to check in.

          3. Karia*

            This is a complex gendered issue, complicated further by the fact that some men seem to have no clue what ‘no makeup’ looks like. I’ve seen dudes post pictures of ‘natural’ faces where the woman is clearly wearing lip liner, not to mention multiple face products.

            However while this guy isn’t necessarily being malicious, but he is being rude, thoughtless and potentially engaging in discriminatory behaviour – does he ask the makeup free men on his team whether they are sick?

            It’s also possible that he knows exactly what he is doing and is using passive aggressive behaviours to get her to conform to his ideas of what women should look like.

            E.g. the kind of boss who abstractly asks you to dress more smartly when what they mean is “we want you to wear heels but we can’t legally require it so read between the lines please”.

            1. Myrin*

              This is one of the rare cases where I don’t think “does he ask men the same thing” holds that much water – like Seven says, this kind of thing is mostly about what we’re used to and not about makeup per se (although, like you note, the broarder issue is more complicated than that). My sister has never worn makeup until very occasionally in her early twenties and she has literally never been asked whether she’s tired or sick, because people know that this is just what she looks like and nothing is ever different; same thing for myself after I started alternating wearning makeup and not wearing it (I described that in more detail in a comment above).

              So since presumably the men on his team have never been wearing makeup, he’d naturally not ask them that because they look like they always did. It would be much more of a problem if he made comments towards female employees who’ve never worn makeup before or towards male employess who had been made up and now aren’t but presumably that’s not the case (although OP wouldn’t necessarily know that).

              I do agree that he’s being thoughtless and obnoxious, though (and I have a special place of annoyance in my heart for men who seem unable to identify that someone is wearing a literal full face of makeup like come on, have you never seen a person before?), and that’s why I’m in favour of spelling it out clearly – it might even prompt him to re-think his stance in general.

              1. Myrin*

                Forgot to add that if he’s doing what you’re describing in your last two paragraphs, that would be in a whole different ballpark! I still think that being very straightforward about it would be the best reaction in that case, though, too.

              2. Mami21*

                My own mother still asks if I’m feeling ok, with great concern, when I skip makeup application. So did my first female boss. It’s just natural dark circles under my eyes that alarm everyone so much. I have taken this as confirmation that my makeup is in fact effective at making me look healthy and awake. I feel like maybe the manager in this situation is really just concerned that his employee looks like she’s not had any sleep. Sure it’s annoying because no one likes to be reminded that they look less then their best but it’s not a huge deal either. My go-to answer is ‘yeah I’m fine, just haven’t been by ‘Hair and Makeup’ yet.’

                1. Yorick*

                  I get that this is super annoying. But I don’t think it’s so bad if the boss is thinking, “ever since this very stressful time of pandemic and riots and whatnot has started, my employee has been looking more tired/ill/whatever than before, I need to make sure she’s ok.” It’s probably best to just go ahead and explain that you look different because you’re no longer wearing the makeup that you wore in the office.

            2. hbc*

              There’s a columnist at the Washington Post who shared in a forum that his wife hardly ever went out with makeup on, and natural is so much better, and blah blah blah. In his next chat, he said his wife had to inform him that she wore makeup pretty much every day that they had been together. He knew what order she put on her socks and shoes, but somehow missed the stuff on her face (and in the bathroom.)

              We can dig into what kind of cluelessness leads a spouse to miss this, but I think there’s a solid contingent of people who don’t notice makeup unless it’s approaching Mimi from the Drew Carey Show. And as much as I hate putting responsibility in this direction, OP would be making the world a better place if she told this guy the difference was makeup and there was one less dude whose idea of a natural-faced woman is one with zero visible flaws and expensive products.

              1. Ramblin' Ma'am*

                I wear makeup almost every day but go for a “natural” appearance. Usually just foundation, blush, and a subtle lipstick color. Once while talking to some female coworkers, I made a casual reference to needing to buy more makeup–turns out, they both didn’t realize I wore any.

                I am definitely one of those people who gets “Are you OK?” comments when I skip makeup, because people think my face WITH makeup is my natural, healthy appearance.

              2. The New Wanderer*

                I realize you’re probably paraphrasing the articles, but it made me laugh that you used as an example of something he knew (about his wife) is the order she puts socks and shoes on. Really, there’s just the one option…

                Also I informed a guy in college who tried to use me as an example of “no-makeup look” that he had never actually seen me without some amount of makeup.

                1. biobotb*

                  I vaguely remember a columnist (I think?) writing about how it flummoxed him that his wife put her shoes and socks on differently than he did. He put on both socks before putting on his shoes. She would put a sock on one foot and then put the shoe on that same foot before putting a sock on her other foot (followed of course by that foot’s shoe).

            3. Fikly*

              The question isn’t does he ask makeup free men whether they are sick?

              The question is, does he ask the people on his team, regardless of gender, if they are sick when he thinks they look sick?

              I don’t think, especially right now, asking if someone is feeling sick, is rude or thoughtless.

              Also, hi, woman who can’t tell when people are wearing makeup or not. We do exist.

          4. Amy Sly*

            Another possibility (just throwing it out there; I have no clue if it’s accurate):

            One of the warning signs for someone struggling with depression or anxiety is seeing them forgoing normal hygiene and grooming. Boss may be aware of this fact. If LW has traditionally been perfectly made up without a hair out of place and is now routinely barefaced and not nearly so “put together” in appearance as she traditionally has been, the boss may be concerned that she may be struggling mentally and wants to help.

            That scenario, even if it is accurate, still doesn’t excuse the repeated questions that are making LW feel uncomfortable, and she still needs to address him in a way that cuts off further questions. If this is a possibility (and LW knows far better than I do) something to add to the Allison’s script would be “Yes, I know I’ve changed my appearance lately, but I’m just simplifying my morning routine for now.”

            1. CmdrShepard4ever*

              I agree with this 100%, I am a guy and generally notice when my wife is wearing certain make up, like lipstick, eye shadow I think (the color stuff on top of the eye lid), eye liner, and I think rouge (red cheek stuff). But there have been several instances where she has worn more subtle make up “face powder?” that I have a harder time noticing right away if she is wearing it. This is a women who I have seen plenty without make up on, so I have seen her true “natural face,” and from a quick glance I can’t tell if sometimes if she has make up on or not.

            2. Alice's Rabbit*

              A very germane point. A sudden downshift in one’s appearance can be a cry for help. So it could be that he’s reading it that way, and trying to reach out and be supportive.

            3. Peter*

              Just on the repeated questions point – in the UK there’s an entire campaign for managers to ask twice about mental health. It’s part of the Prince William heads together campaign (because we know that the royal family are paragons of mental health).
              We have these posters up in the toilets.


              So don’t criticise the boss – he might have been trained to pry.

      2. LDF*

        > it feels like you are holding onto outdated social norms which are sexist in nature

        I agree that his behavior is sexist in its effect but this is quite harsh for your BOSS when you’ve never brought this up as a problem before. Maybe Boss thinks no makeup is horriblebad or maybe he literally just notices that OP looks different those days without realizing the reason, and is genuinely concerned. He should still stop of course but there’s no need to be zesty without at least trying what Alison suggests.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Whoa, no, that’s way too harsh! She presumably wants to keep a good relationship with her boss, and there’s no reason to scold him harshly when, as others have noted, he probably has no idea this is connected to makeup/lack of makeup.

      4. Karia*

        Yep. Plenty of men have sallow complexions, naturally pale skin and dark circles under their eyes. Nobody expects them to put comedogenic products on their face to look ‘professional’ or ‘healthy’.

        1. Amy Sly*

          No, but if the guys with that complexion wore makeup normally and then showed up one day barefaced with dark circles, people would wonder if they were okay too. To reiterate the many other comments, it’s probably not the lack of makeup per se, but the change in appearance.

      5. Koala dreams*

        I feel the same way as you do, and I don’t even wear make up outside of special occasions. However, I know it’s a common problem for women who do! I think the problem is probably getting worse due to only seeing each other through a camera, since the camera itself can make you look different compared to seeing you in person.

        It’s litte consolation that the people who make these comments probably are clueless and sexist and not conciously sexist. They simply don’t care. However, I think the more diplomatic script that Alison provided is more likely to get a better result. People tend to get defensive when you call out their sexist behaviour.

        1. Fikly*

          It’s the opposite of not caring. Noticing a change in appearance, not knowing what caused it, and asking if someone is feeling well is actually a demonstration of caring about someone.

          1. Koala dreams*

            It’s even ruder to comment on someone’s appearance if you think they are ill. Generally, ill people don’t want to hear that their illness makes them look worse. Also, plenty of people are well-meaning and sexist at the same time.

            1. Koala dreams*

              Sorry for repeating myself, I missed your answer below. I guess we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

            2. Alice's Rabbit*

              Except he’s her manager, and that’s his job: to make sure his reports are doing well.

      6. White Peonies*

        No this is bad advice. Like it or not the OP usually wears makeup to work and their boss was oblivious to that and now sees something off and can’t place it. Its not fair to say this to someone who it seems is concerned. Op either be upfront and say that you are not wearing makeup at home, or say it may be the lighting in your home.

        1. OrangeHat*

          I guess it depends on the relationship, but I think if anybody at my workplace asked me this I’d just laugh and say ‘Oh yeah, you’re probably used to seeing me with a full face of makeup on at the office! Don’t worry, perfectly healthy at home face’. I think making it A Thing is weirder than just saying exactly what’s going on?

          I have noticed that since lockdown all the men on my team look basically exactly the same and all of the women look like college students during mid-terms. Obviously that speaks to the traditional amount of effort women are expected to put into their appearance for public life – makeup etc., but we’re definitely leaning much more heavily into obvious leisurewear etc. than the guys are too.

      7. Alice's Rabbit*

        I don’t think it’s sexist. If a male coworker who normally styled his hair and wore tanning cream (yes, I have had coworkers like that) were to come in one morning with unkempt hair and a paler face, folks would wonder what was wrong, too.

    5. LemonLyman*

      I agree with others that if he doesn’t wear makeup, he’s probably ignorant to how it can brighten one’s face and make it look more awake and/or “healthy” looking. I’m also thinking that with everything going on with covid, he’s probably thinking that he’s just checking in. I’ve seen a lot of reminders on social media of how someone may look or sound fine but they could still be struggling. My guess is that he feels as your boss he should ask.

      Others in this comment thread seem to think he’s focusing too much on your looks or there’s some gender bias going on. But I like to think that people are well meaning when they ask if another person is okay, especially right now with everything that’s going on. So I agree that if you simply state “I’ve noticed that when I don’t wear makeup you tend to ask several times if I’m okay. I think you’re not used to seeing me without makeup which gives my face look brighter (or healthier or more awake). I appreciate that you’re checking in but this is just what I look like with no makeup. I haven’t really felt the need to put it on when I’m working from home. Really, I’m fine, but I’ll let you know if I’m not doing okay.”

      1. Gen*

        It could be the colour balance on the video. I recently realised that if I’m not wearing mattifying primer the webcam on my computer makes me look like a pale grey skull. I’m a very pale goth anyway but it really amplifies the blue tones, darkens my eye sockets and washes me out. I don’t really wear much make up anyway and the primer isn’t even tinted as far as I can tell, it just changes the way the light reflects off my face

        1. Reb*

          Yes, if you’re looking for a tactful way to word it, you could blame the webcam. “I think when I don’t wear makeup, the webcam makes me look a bit pale/washed out/grey/whatever it is with your skin tone. But I’m fine.”

          That way, you’re not accusing him of observing wrong, you’re accusing the camera of displaying wrong.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Definitely this. Add a bit of “the lighting in here” or the sun at the window going in and out of cloud, and an overexcited video calling app and it’s a wonder any of us has any discernable features at all.

        2. Joielle*

          I’m only medium-pale, but when I shaved my head earlier in quarantine it really amplified the “looks like a corpse on webcam with no makeup” effect.

          Blaming the webcam video is a good idea if the OP doesn’t want to get into the whole makeup issue – I don’t think it really matters that the boss knows why the OP looks different, just that she’s fine and he can stop asking about it.

        3. LemonLyman*

          Good point. I find that when I DO wear makeup the webcam + Zoom makes me look clownish. It really over saturates the colors.

      2. Koala dreams*

        People can be well meaning and sexist at the same time. And it’s generally not a good idea to comment on someone’s skin colour at work. Even people who actually are ill don’t appreciate getting comments pointing out how the illness makes them look worse.

        If it’s someone like you boss, you probably will get better results if you don’t call out their sexism. So far I agree with you.

        1. Fikly*

          That’s not what’s happening though. The boss made no comment on the skin color, or how good or bad they looked. They just asked if they were feeling all right.

          If they said wow, you look horrible, are you ok? Yeah, that’s a problem. But that’s not what’s happening.

    6. Timothy (TRiG)*

      Independent of makeup, camera angle and lighting can certainly contribute to the “dark circles under the eyes” effect. Go with strong under-chin lighting for full spook effect!

    7. Not my info to share*

      I hate the dark shadows assumption…. my family just has that, male and female. Including the personal trainer, the college team coach, and the professional dancer.

    8. Kiwipinball*

      I feel her pain. I have to make sure I wear makeup when I donate blood. I’m naturally quite pale (once had someone assure me they didn’t think I was a vampire…) so if I don’t wear makeup the workers are CONSTANTLY asking me if I feel okay (they do need to be alert to the possibility of people passing out, etc, so it’s understandable) and will mention that I look pale. I reply that I am pale, which reassures them a little bit. When I wear makeup (which isn’t that dark – I use the palest version but the lip gloss especially helps because I have pale lips apparently), I don’t get those questions. It’s annoying to need to put on makeup (I work from home quite a bit, so wear it when going to court, meeting clients, networking, etc, but frequently don’t when running errands) but worth it in those situations. Here, I agree it’s best to just address with the boss politely (I like the idea of blaming the webcam) to not have to constantly deal with it.

      1. Lily Rowan*

        Oh that reminds me of the time I gave blood with a pale friend — the staff asked me if that was her normal color! Which it was. Good times.

        Anyway, if I were that OP, I would quit makeup entirely and assume the boss would get used to my normal face. (That is what I would do because that is what I have done.)

    9. Baby Fishmouth*

      My husband’s grandmother is queen of the backhanded comments (not just to me; to every person in the family). She asks me all the time if I am sick. I always just cheerily say ‘Nope, just not wearing makeup today!’ and I get the response ‘Oh, that must be it’.
      I find just being matter-of-fact about these things is really the easiest way (ah, just not wearing makeup in quarantine, Mr. Boss!). Boss probably doesn’t realize the connection and OP doesn’t have to apologize for her face being her face, but pointing it out to the boss is likely to get the comments to stop, at least (in my experience).

    10. T2*

      Speaking as someone who has never worn makeup as I am of the male persuasion,

      What does it matter to anyone if you do or do not wear makeup? The need to even comment on such things escapes me.

      1. Coffee Cake*

        The thing is it sounds like the boss doesn’t know they are commenting on the ops makeup. The boss only knows the OP looks different (tired, likely from not wearing makeup to cover up things) and is asking if they are alright, the boss is unaware that some days at home OP wears makeup and some days they do not.

      2. Alice's Rabbit*

        Most women apply makeup to conceal flaws and look healthier/brighter/younger or older (depending on their actual age; most want the opposite of what they have). Common flaws include blotchy skin, dark circles under the eyes, redness around the nose and eyes, etc. All of which are also symptoms of being unwell, when they appear suddenly.
        So if someone never sees anything but a flawless face on you, and then one day you skip the makeup and they see all that at once… yeah, they’re going to wonder if you’re okay.

    11. kittymommy*

      I was actually wondering if the camera was affecting the way the LW was being seen. Regardless of complexion, cameras and the lighting (especially the ones found in a typical computer) can wash a person out or make them look a little “dull”, and that’s what was concerning to the employer.

    12. Not So Super-visor*

      This is what I thought of too. When I don’t wear makeup, I’m pale, pale, pale with dark eye circles– I’d understand why people thought that I was under the weather if they’ve never seen me without makeup. FWIW, I haven’t worn makeup since moving to WFH, and I’m considering not going back.

    13. Mockingjay*

      I didn’t put concealer on once, and all day long I got the same comments from male coworkers. Yes, I have dark circles under my eyes. So do half the men in the building. I never ask if they’re sick.

      OP # 3 doesn’t need to explain her appearance, her makeup habits, or her health. He asked once, she answered. The conversation should stop there. But it wasn’t the answer he wanted, so he kept on. That’s a bigger problem.

      1. jonquil*

        “Yes, I have dark circles under my eyes. So do half the men in the building. I never ask if they’re sick.”

        I feel like this is really key– whether or not people understand that someone’s appearance has been altered by makeup, the fact (in America) is that women are very often expected to have an unblemished, untroubled, pleasing appearance, in a way that men are typically not. Someone asking a woman who isn’t wearing makeup if she’s okay could be genuine, if misplaced, concern for her health; it could also be filled with a subtext of “your job is to increase my sense of comfort by being visually appealing or by disguising any possible negative feeling or experience; please get this fixed.”

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Except they don’t ask the women who never wear makeup. They ask the ones who they’ve always seen made up who is suddenly barefaced.
          It’s the *change* they’re reacting to, not the makeup (or lack thereof) itself.

        2. Vicky Austin*

          “is that women are very often expected to have an unblemished, untroubled, pleasing appearance, in a way that men are typically not.”
          Unless the men are on TV. Then they’re expected to wear makeup, too. I can understand why most men don’t want to wear lipstick, eye makeup, etc. as those are considered “feminine” in western culture. But
          I honestly don’t understand why most men are hesitant to wear concealer, etc. It only takes a minute to put on, and it makes you look better, so why not wear it?

    14. Mari*

      I get it, but at the same time, “women wearing makeup when they go out, but not at home” is not a well kept secret. It’s something that should occur to people as a possible explanation before moving forward with commentary.

    15. staceyizme*

      Exactly this! It can be disconcerting to have people show up as other than their normal, professional self and if your boss is commenting, it might not be about the make-up, but about the overall extent of the change. Every office has different culture, but if yours is “short hair/ full suit” for men and “coiffed/ made-up/ full suit” for women- he might be trying to tell you that you’ve gone a little further than he is comfortable with. Maybe sharpen the other “edges” of your appearance and see if that does it? It sucks to deal with the makeup/ heels/ hose and sundry other stuff. But then I guess lots of offices have guys that would like to skip ties/ dress shoes that pinch and restrictions on length of hair/ facial hair. It would be nice if everyone could be a little more focused on skills and implementation. But I guess that package and presentation in some form is always going to be part of that perception of competence…

    16. Lynn*

      I feel like lighting is an issue that is a more likely culprit.

      In my typical set up, I am back-lit and the only light in front of me is the LED of the computer screen itself. I look ghoulish most of the time in video — but that’s my current reality in my new sudden, unplanned WFH scenario.

      LW’s boss needs to tone it down.

      1. Quill*

        Due to having nothing to do but work in the yard and go on remote hikes, I’ve gained my usual summer toasted-marshmallow crust and probably look more alive on camera with my friends than I did all winter.

        (In before anyone asks: yes I wear sunblock but I’m from the upper midwest. If you wear makeup with sunblock ALL THE TIME up there you run the risk of having zero sun exposure for 2/3 of the year. My makeup routine is pretty much lotion, mascara, and concealer.)

    17. Jessica*

      I am a lawyer. One particular judge asked me a few times (each time on a different day) if I felt ok *on the record*. This was in a courtroom with probably 20+ attorneys and a large audience. I can’t help that as I age my skin tone is less even. I never heard him pose the question to anyone else. After a few times saying I was fine, I eventually responded “I’m fine, judge, just not wearing makeup today”. He seemed embarrassed and I’ve never heard anyone asked the same on the record again.

    18. Scarletb*

      What reads on camera is weird, too. The only makeup I wear habitually involves darkening my eyebrows, and I found that on zoom, if I haven’t done it, the back ends of my eyebrows are just invisible and it makes my facial expressions come across differently because the camera is less kind to reduced contrast – I look weirdly less engaged/awake.

      It’s very possible they’ve just not made a connection between normal makeup face and normal no-makeup face (and may be a little embarrassed when they realise), so would try out a “Totally fine, just no lippy* on today” if you feel like it, to see if it stops.

      *(or whatever)

    19. Quill*

      Personal anecdote time: when I was in high school, way back in the 00’s, we had a sociology class, and in it we took a poll of the students that said, among other things, that male students preferred the look of female students who did not wear makeup.

      My follow-up question to the boys in our smelly, sweaty quonset hut where we had to literally climb over desks to get in and out, was to point out which girls in the class were wearing makeup. Unsurprisingly, for anyone who wasn’t obviously wearing unnatural colors, they failed en masse.

      Since the teacher gave the same survey the next year I don’t think he learned anything, but maybe the boys did.

      Either way, there’s no need to assume that a makeup-less face implies that OP has been dressing down or not maintaining their heigeine. Redness, crow’s feet, etc are perfectly natural and it is highly unusual for them to be taken as signs of poor health or rest in a man unless they reach an absolute extreme.

      I’d suggest OP be kind but firm about how this is the face that they have and not give any thought to what part of their appearance is triggering boss’ comments. Ultimately, that’s a him problem, and one that you expect a grown man in 2020 to have the vaguest idea about.

    20. Vicky Austin*

      “Not wearing makeup is one thing, being unkempt or not properly dressed is another”

      And since the COVID-19 lockdown began, even the standard of being properly dressed has gone out the window. I’m reminded of Stephen Colbert’s interview with Cate Blanchette where she showed up for the Zoom interview with no makeup, messy hair, and in her pajamas! She was perfectly okay being seen on national TV in that state. Stephen even went so far as to accommodate her by quickly stepping into the other room and then coming back on camera in his own pajamas!

  4. Observer*

    #1 – You say that you brought up something that you shouldn’t have. But why would you say that? They specifically asked about a difficult decision you had made. So, you answered the question. You can’t really claim that answering a direct question is “bringing up something you shouldn’t”. If anyone did that, it was the interviewer.

    1. LifeBeforeCorona*

      An old manager used to say; “Don’t ask the question if you’re not going to like the answer.”

    2. Koala dreams*

      In hindsight, it might have been better to simply decline to answer that question. Of course, in an interview situation, it’s difficult to do that. You are too anxious to make a good impression.

      1. Allonge*

        Decline the question because it’s a stupid question? That takes some doing indeed!

        But LW seems to think they should have intuited that this would be a painful subject, and that is almost by definition impossible. We certainly should not have to decline to answer questions in an interview because our random personal anecdote may bring up something painful for the interviewers.

      2. Seeking Second Childhood*

        On the off chance that the interviewer may have been trying to get information they aren’t legally allowed to ask, I think OP was lucky to have a difficult decision that revealed nothing politically.

        1. mreasy*

          This is exactly what I suspect when it comes to these kind of personal questions. We can’t ask you about your membership in a protected class – we’re just hoping you inadvertently reveal it.

        2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

          Seriously. A bad decision from your personal life? Relationships and finances are the two areas that spring to my mind, and both of those are totally inappropriate for a potential employer to inquire into.

          1. Paulina*

            Yes, most things that are likely to be thought of quickly are very inappropriate for them to ask about.

            If it doesn’t have to be recent/ as an adult, and without details how would they know, I think I’d pick something that was a learning experience in my teen years. Certainly could be used to discuss growth, but it took a bit of rumination to come up with that idea. Otherwise, what, are they really looking for me to talk over whether dating my most recent ex was an avoidable mistake, a night that spiraled out of control, or more banal day-to-day choices?

            “Last year I waited too long to plant tulip bulbs. I have learned to plant earlier and not trust the long-range forecast.” WTF do they expect, really.

    3. CM*

      I hope this nudges the company to stop asking questions about people’s personal lives! Seems inevitable that when you mine somebody else’s personal pain, it will bring up your own painful memories too.

      I think the ideal answer to this question, if you were able to react perfectly in the moment, would be to say, “I’m not comfortable talking about my personal life in an interview, but one example of a decision I made at work was…” and then if they press on the personal aspect, reiterate that you’d prefer to keep the focus on work rather than personal life. You could even make a joke like, “I’m sure you’d rather hear about an example relevant to my work instead of the fight I had with my best friend in sixth grade!”

      1. Amethystmoon*

        I would just use something from volunteering life and move on. Nothing overly personal.

    4. Bostonian*

      Yes. If anything, OP gave the best answer they could under the circumstances. (Grappling with end-of-life care for a pet is pretty low drama in the realm of potential bad personal decisions.) It’s the interviewer’s fault for asking a really inappropriate question.

    5. CJM*

      They didn’t even ask about a “difficult decision”, they asked for a “bad decision”.

      1. JustaTech*

        What are you supposed to say there? “I made a bad decision to give my deadbeat brother money, so I’ve decided to end our relationship”? ‘Cause that’s not a giant can of worms.

        Or are they looking for “I made a bad decision to paint my bathroom pepto-bismol pink, so I painted over it with avocado green”?

        When you ask a question like that the answers can pretty much only be totally trivial or really, really personal.

      2. Fish girl*

        Yeah, I really can’t think of a bad, personal decision that would be appropriate for an interview.

        -I ate some leftovers that even though they smelled a little funny and had explosive diarrhea for 2 days afterwards?

        -I discovered that my new med definitely shouldn’t be mixed with alcohol after getting wasted from one mimosa at Sunday brunch with my family?

        -I got a concussion on a slip n’ slide and had to be taken to the hospital by ambulance?

        Which would they prefer, do you think? I’ve certainly learned my lesson from all of them. And these are”mild” bad decisions that I laugh about with my friends, not ones that are personally traumatic.

  5. Aggretsuko*

    I’ve never had a problem with saying, “I have therapy appointments during my lunch on Tuesdays, I take lunch at 11 those days” to all of my various supervisors. The only problem I have (now) is that I get Zoom meetings scheduled for me from 10-11 and then they frequently run for 2 hours so I have to cancel my therapy at the last minute. I don’t feel like I can speak up and say, ‘I have therapy at 11″ without being penalized, especially if they are making me run the Zoom meeting. I am really mentally Not Okay right now and I don’t want to call attention to how Not Okay I am by saying something.

    So, there’s my experience with therapy at work. Since it’s “lunch hour” they have less objection. If I had to come into work late every time instead, there would definitely be problems though.

    1. The Other Nigel*

      Can you get away with something like, “I have a hard stop at 11:00 today, so we’ll have to end on time.”? Or use a similar line to your manager/supervisor before the meeting, as a casual statement for her information.
      You mentioned that you have no problem talking about the therapy appointments with these supervisors, so this is just a tactful reminder.

      1. only acting normal*

        Yep. It’s fine to say you have to go by x time.
        People do that all the time, and almost never say *what* their next meeting is.

      2. CM*

        “Hard stop” works well for a single meeting. If it’s the same people who are scheduling meetings with you each time, you can tell them you have a standing meeting 11-12 on Tuesdays and will need to get off the call to attend.

    2. Amanda*

      Could you talk to your super/manager and perhaps remind them that your appointments are still ongoing, and the meetings you’re supposed to run interfere with your appointments? You could suggest the meetings start at 9 if they’re going to run late, or maybe occur in the afternoon if that’s a viable re-scheduling.

      If you need the help of your sessions, don’t let work steamroll you. This is a super hard and strange time for like, everyone. Now is the time for your supervisor(s) to be more compassionate, not less. They might think your sessions have paused, since a lot of services have been put on hiatus. Let them know that’s not the case and you still need your Tuesday lunch to happen at 11.

      Best of luck! Take care :)

    3. PollyQ*

      Another vote for using the “hard stop” or “another commitment” line, both at the beginning of the meeting and 5-10 min before the end. A meeting thats running late shouldn’t be treated as an emergency.

      1. Ace in the hole*

        Most of the time, I agree that a meeting running late isn’t an emergency. In some lines of work, though, the only reason a meeting would run late is because it is an emergency. For example, I’m involved in COVID response planning for an agency running essential public infrastructure… the only time our meetings run late is if there’s an urgent, hairy issue that needs sorting out pronto to prevent public health emergencies or unsafe working conditions.

    4. Koala dreams*

      If you run the meeting, it would be very nice of you to make sure the meeting stops when it’s supposed to stop. No need to mention your medical situation. You can just say: I have a meeting/appointment/something else after this, and I presume most of you also do, so I’ll make sure the meeting ends on time.

      Five minutes before the end, you’ll make an announcement that there are five minutes left, and then at the end time, you announce the meeting closed, and leave the meeting.

      If that’s not practical, then you can simply say that you need to leave, and leave the meeting yourself. It will also be a kindness to the other participants, since it normalizes that you can leave the meeting on time. “I need to leave now since it’s 11 o’clock, bye bye” is enough.

    5. T2*

      I would just say, I have a long-standing medical appointment Friday’s @ 9 am. I will be in then at 10. The medical appointment is the key as it explains the nature of the appointment while shutting down specific questions on the type of appointment.

      Not a request. Just a statement of fact. If I have a problem with the time, I will work with the person to suggest another one.

      1. Threeve*

        And therapy isn’t the only kind of long-standing weekly medical appointment–it might be physical therapy or acupuncture.

    6. ProdMgr*

      If a meeting is frequently scheduled for 1 hour and running for 2 hours, it’s worth figuring out how to change that. You’re probably not the only one whose schedule is suffering and nobody wants to be stuck on a Zoom meeting for 2 hours. What’s making the meetings run for so much longer than scheduled?

    7. #5 OP*

      I actually just ran into this today! I have my Zoom appointments how on my calendar, but I don’t think my boss noticed when she wanted to reschedule a meeting. I am going to tell her I have a standing doctor’s appointment at that time, so we shall see how it goes!

  6. Kiwilib*

    No. 3 – your boss possibly doesn’t realize you’re not wearing makeup. I never wear makeup, but with video calls realize how many of my colleagues do but don’t now they are working from home. I’ve had a few instances where I thought someone looked peaky then clicked this was their unmade up face which we don’t usually see. If he asks again, I’d just say this is your at home or natural look.

    1. RebeccaNoraBunch*

      Yep, this. I normally wear a full face of makeup (eyeshadow, eyeliner, mascara, eyebrows done, powder, blush, lipgloss) to work every day. One day many moons ago I just ran out of time and didn’t wear any and a coworker exclaimed “Oh my god, are you sick?!” the moment I stepped into the office. From that day on I have never skipped a day (when we are in the office).

      Particularly, for example, if your eyelashes are blond and you wear black mascara (like I do), I find it alarms people when they are used to seeing you that way.

      I also haven’t been wearing a full face (or indeed, much of any) makeup since we’ve been at home. I wore it a couple days ago so I could join a video happy hour with my new-ish wider team and feel a little more confident, but for my close team and coworkers I don’t wear it. Meh. It’s a lot of work to do every day when I’m not leaving the house.

      OP3, I might mention it and say you’re going bare-faced more now that we’re all working from home, but other than that you’re fine. He very probably doesn’t realize what’s happening. Hopefully his intentions are in the right place, anyway.

      1. AcademiaNut*

        Yes, I suspect that he doesn’t even notice that it’s a makeup thing, just that she looks different, and is concerned. A simple “No, I’m fine, this is just me without makeup.” would clear it up. Or if she doesn’t want to bring up makeup, blaming it on the webcam and lighting.

      2. NforKnowledge*

        This applies to much lighter makeup as well: a friend at university always wore a bit of eyeliner & foundation, but would (understandably) skip it sometimes for early morning sports practise. Every time she did people would ask if she was ill because she genuinely looked a bit yellow and her eyes looked so tired. This was only because we were used to seeing her face look a bit different, and we got used to it in a few days when she stopped wearing makeup altogether.
        So yeah, OP3, I would address it as Alison suggests and just keep not wearing makeup!

        1. Mary*

          I’ve always joked that it’s the best way to score a free day off–wear light make-up most days, come in without any, and you’ll have everyone going, “Are you OK? You look a bit…”

          A really quick and breezy way to refer to it is, “No, I’m fine, just not wearing mascara today!”

          1. Lawn Guyland Gurl*

            Developing an allergy to first mascara and then eye shadow in high school sucked. Long Island NY in the 80s was not the place&time to reward subtle mskeup.

              1. Vicky Austin*

                Oh, they were. I was an adolescent in the 1990’s, which was the decade of grunge. So everyone wore plaid flannel shirts, T-shirts, jeans, white socks, and sneakers. Most girls didn’t wear makeup except for special occasions. Unlike high school students in the decades before and since, we were always comfortable and didn’t have the pressure of keeping up with the latest fashions. Seriously, if you were to look through my high school yearbook, all you will see is an endless sea of plaid and denim!

        1. RebeccaNoraBunch*

          Thank you!! Best show ever, and I miss it every moment. I watch the songs on Youtube so much I should be paying Rachel Bloom a copay for the free therapy she’s giving me. :)

      3. londonedit*

        Yes! I have blonde eyelashes and dark hair, and I wear mascara to work every day because I think my eyes look weirdly small and tired without it. A couple of years ago I had a minor eye infection and couldn’t wear mascara so I turned up at work with bare eyelashes, wearing glasses instead of contacts. Everyone’s reaction was ‘Oh, are you OK? You don’t look well!’ I didn’t take it as ‘Jesus you look awful without make-up’, I took it as ‘I’m not wearing mascara, these people are used to seeing me with mascara, so now my eyes look smaller and more tired and that’s why they think I look ill’.

    2. MistOrMister*

      That was my thought as well, that he wasn’t making the connection between the change in looks with her not wearing makeup. I think it makes a lot of sense to just say it’s how she looks with no makeup. If he kept commenting on it after that point, THEN it would be weird. But right now it seems like it’s just cluelessness on his part.

      It really is amazing the difference makeup can make, even when not a full face. I had a friend in middle school who used to wear a whole face of very heavy makeup. She came in without it once and I thought, dear lord she looks like death! I guess your mind tells you that someone’s makeup look is their normal “healthy” looking state, so when you temporarily see them without it is jarring and you assume illness is in play.

    3. Potatoes gonna potate*

      It’s actually funny timing that makeup on video calls was brought up today as I have a video interview later in the day and I’m googling/youtube-ing Zoom-interview appropriate makeup (and lighting and all that). I love the idea of not having to commute in or wear pants, but oh boy is it a bit stressful to be seeing my own face in the interview!

      1. Scarletb*

        In case you don’t already know, previewing yourself using the virtual background setup, set to no background, can be really useful! I had a job interview over zoom about a week ago, and opened that up so I could spend time before hand and fiddle about with lighting, angles etc, making sure nothing weird showed in the background (as I was interviewing from my parents’ spare room while sitting on the bed!), that the camera was at a good height for chins and gaze etc, and that I could comfortably reach the trackpad to navigate through the little screen-share presentation I was going to have to give as part of it.

        If I’d had two screens with cameras, I’d also have been using the preview to check which one was the active screen. One of the interview panel member’s main screen was NOT the screen with the camera in it, so he spent the whole time staring off intently to the left where the zoom video panel was showing, while the camera was filming the side of his face. It was weirdly more comfortable than being stared at directly by all 3 sets of eyes, lol. A human moment.

        Best wishes for your interview! You’ve probably had it by now, hope it went well :)

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      I could excuse his ignorance if it happened once, but he asks every single time they aren’t wearing makeup. He needs to stop commenting on their appearance, period.

      1. CM*

        True, but if he has no idea why sometimes she looks radiant and glowing and other times she has dark circles under her eyes, I can understand the concern. It’s still not appropriate to repeatedly question someone like this based on appearance.

        I think explaining one time that it’s due to makeup (I like Alison’s “this is just my face” line) is warranted here. After that, you could take a harder line and say, “Hey, I need the comments about my appearance to stop.”

        This is why I don’t like wearing makeup — yes, it makes me look better, but I don’t want people to be horrified by my normal face!

        1. Environmental Compliance*

          ^That’s where I stand too. I can totally get asking once, as I will fully admit I look goofy without at least mascara on to brighten up my eyes, but as also someone who has had someone ask *repeatedly* if I’m okay, and not taking “yep, I’m good” as an answer…. it’s rude. It’s obnoxious. And I have 100% answered with a “I appreciate the concern, but I really am fine. This is quite literally just my face being my face.”

          Even more fun when you have rosacea that isn’t always visible, but rears up if it’s mildly warm/I had caffeine/whenever it damn well pleases, and someone won’t. drop. it. that your nose is now Vivid Red and omg EC, are you okay? And I quote: “What’s wrong with your face??!” said by a student, to me, in a warm lab when I had been on my feet running for the past 3 hours preventing said students from managing to light the lab on fire or otherwise injuring themselves. Good times.

          1. Quill*

            Props to you for keeping a lab full of students from disaster. I saw enough disaster during my lab time as a student, including a very memorable analytical chem lab that included ashing junk food to measure the iron content, and hearing a whoosh that ended in “Holy Duck, the Doritos are on fire!”

            And the time my temporary lab partner had dislocated three of his knuckles and was instructed to physically hold the samples in the ice bath…

    5. Ray Gillette*

      Yep, and he also likely didn’t realize how much makeup LW usually wore before. A lot of men don’t know how makeup works and can’t tell when someone is wearing it.

  7. namelesscommentator*

    OP #3, Particularly if you tend towards no makeup makeup your boss probably can’t tell why your face looks every so slightly different. And, presumably, your makeup makes you look “better” (otherwise why would you do it!), so your boss is probably just picking up on the slight differences that make up takes care of (skin tone evenness, helps open your eyes, looking a bit more awake, etc…)

    I’d be direct from the get-to “Nope, just my face without makeup” and move on. The first script reads as weirdly passive aggressive, especially when it’s SO likely that he just can’t pinpoint why you look ever so slightly different when he asks that.

    **No, not all women wear make up, not all women want to. But those who choose to typically do it to address minor cosmetic issues. I certainly look “rough” if you compare my sunscreen only face to my no makeup-makeup face. That’s by design.

  8. Heidi*

    It’s interesting to me how the first two letters are both asking about how to apologize for stuff that’s totally not their fault.

    What also strikes me about Letter 1 is that asking about how someone recovered from a bad work decision is a perfectly okay question and they went out of their way to make it weird.

    1. Yvette*

      But she was not asked about a bad work decision, she was specifically told to talk about a personal decision which is just weird and inappropriate. Don’t ask about personal stuff and then be upset if it strikes a nerve.

      1. Heidi*

        I meant that the interviewer went out of their way to make it weird when it would have been more intuitive to ask about a bad work decision in the first place.

    2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

      Yes, asking about a bad work decision would be a valuable interview question! I don’t understand what the “personal life” decision is supposed to reveal, unless it’s some convoluted test to see if people will give the type of work-inappropriate answer the question is begging for.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I could see if your interviewi g someone who doesn’t have a lot of work history or no experience. Asking a question where they could use their personal life but it’s really odd to ask someone who we can presume has a work history

  9. Bowserkitty*

    OP#3 – fellow occasional non-makeup wearer, get asked “are you ok?” person. it is so FRUSTRATING. At least I never got follow-up when I said “I’m just not wearing makeup. this is my face -_-”

    In an ironic twist, when I first stopped wearing makeup in my new country (Japan) many of my coworkers complimented me on how much younger I looked. When I told them people in my home country would comment more like the above, they were shocked!

    1. James*

      I’ve heard that European cultures (including the USA) and Japanese cultures focus on different parts of the face to determine emotions. This carries over into emojis–in the USA we use : ) for a smile, because the mouth is smiling. In Japan they use ^ – ^ because the eyes are smiling. I wonder if this plays a role here.

      1. Wing-N-Wing*

        Off-topic, but, this little factoid fascinates me! Thanx, James. I wonder how it will change as more people wear masks in the US?

        1. Bobina*

          There’s a great post I saw floating on Tumblr which delved into this more (ie not just Japanese culture but other cultures which are more social vs individual). Have a google if you want to learn more!


        1. Koala dreams*

          It works either way for me. If I see a cat, I’m happy, and if I see a smiling face, I’m happy too.

      2. Bowserkitty*

        This is fascinating; I’ve used emoji since middle school and I never knew this!! Thanks for that bit of trivia, I have things I can tell my friends now.

      3. Mameshiba*

        I don’t think it affects perception of makeup. Bowserkitty’s experience is different from mine–western makeup styles tend to go for sexy adult which make you look older, so removing it makes you look younger. Women are expected to wear makeup just as much in Japan as elsewhere (and heels).

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          Yes, but the way they wear makeup is entirely different. We try to look mature and sophisticated as our default. Sultry is also a common look, here in the United States. With a matte finish that honestly leaves skin looking a little dry, which reads as older.
          My Japanese friends, however, aim for a more minimalist, youthful approach. Dewey, almost shiny skin, very little in the way of contouring or even foundation. Pastel lips, pink cheeks, and pale eye shadow.
          So removing US style makeup can often make one look younger, especially to people used to a totally different approach to makeup.

        2. Vicky Austin*

          It depends how old you are. Most people look their best in their 20’s and 30’s; so teenagers want to look older and middle-aged/old people want to look younger.

  10. All Outrage, All The Time*

    OP#3 I get this all the time. I am annoyed on your behalf. Your boss is weird to keep asking. Feel free to tell him “This is just my face without make up. Can we move on?”

    OP#5 I actually disagree with Alison here. I don’t think you need to mention it’s a medical appointment. I would just say “I have a standing arrangement that I come in a little later on Fridays whereby I’m usually here by 10 or just after.”

    1. Lisa*

      Obviously up to OP #5 how much he/she wants to disclose, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with saying it’s a medical appointment – I personally think that gives the manager enough context without disclosing too much detail. People won’t necessarily assume therapy, or assume something serious – another very common reason for people to have standing medical appointment is physical therapy.

    2. Mike*

      The thing about identifying it as a medical appointment is that it adds weight to the information.

      I’m not going to dig into a standing medical appointment or challenge it. A “standing arrangement” would have me asking some basic questions to understanding what the arrangement was and why.

      1. Lisa*

        Yes, Mike’s comment is what I was getting at! “Standing appointment” raises some questions.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Yes! “Standing arrangement” sounds mysterious and also doesn’t convey the same importance as just saying it’s a medical appointment.

      3. NerdyKris*

        Yes it’s way too vague. A “standing arrangement” could be anything from a recurring medical issue, to your children needing to be picked up from school on Thursdays, to getting two hours for lunch because you’re the previous boss’s pot dealer. Just being a standing arrangement doesn’t make it something the new manager can’t question or refuse, and they’re going to want more details to make sure it’s valid.

    3. Tarra*

      I think the main thing is just NOT to present it as a new request – why would you do that? Your boss is changing but you aren’t!

    4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Same on #3. I used to work with someone who was very pale, and she usually wore bronzer. Every single time she came in without makeup on, another jerk co-worker would ask if she was sick.

    5. Amethystmoon*

      The one thing I can think of is that a manager might feel more free to ask that the employee change the appointment to another time, not at work, if it’s not medical. And many times, employees might not feel like they have the power to push back.

    6. #5 OP*

      Thanks for your feedback (and everyone in this thread)! My appointments have moved to virtual appointments since COVID, so now I have a private appointment on my calendar. I actually had to mention it to my boss today because they want to schedule a meeting during my appointment time (which I am asking if we don’t). I will offer to reschedule in case. I did say I have a standing Dr’s appointment, so I am hoping that language works well!

  11. Barbara Eyiuche*

    #3 I used to work in South Korea. I and my other white colleagues would regularly be greeted by gasps and questioned as to our health when we didn’t wear makeup. The men got it too, though not because of the lack of makeup. “OMG, you look terrible today! Are you OK?” “What’s wrong? You look so pale.” And so on. Some of my colleagues were really offended. After a while I just started explaining that I didn’t always wear makeup.

    1. Potatoes gonna potate*

      I’m part of a culture too where it’s very very common to comment on someone’s appearance in that same way, and I can see this exact thing happening in a workplace. I would still find it very irksome (and while I never worked there, random strangers constantly felt like they had the right to pick apart your looks/choice of attire, esp if you’re a young woman of marriagable age)….just one thing from the culture I never got comfortable with.

    2. Vicky Austin*

      Huh, that’s surprising. I’ve never been to South Korea, but the South Koreans I know who live in the United States have the same color skin as white people.

  12. MegPie*

    I’m thinking that behavior doesn’t matter as much as LW2 thinks if a yeller has made it to mid-level/senior without being fired.

    1. Fikly*

      Excellent point.

      It might eventually matter outside if they try to get a job elsewhere, but agree that boss’s behavior won’t reflect on reputation of people under boss – no one reasonable expects you to be responsible for your boss’s character.

    2. Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs*

      Agreed. I wonder how a boss who yells at colleagues has reached that level and kept their job in a place where “behavior matters” and reputation is king. For OP, I would be concerned about how that reflected on me, because my silence/position on the team could be seen as tacit agreement that his yelling is acceptable. Also, I’m not sure I agree with Alison that people will separate out the boss’s behavior from OP’s — if the perception is that X Department is difficult to work with, OP is getting lumped in with boss regardless of their own behavior.

    3. Feeling Cynical*

      I noted that the yeller is a man. $20 says a woman wouldn’t have made it to that level.

  13. 404UsernameNotFound*

    OP5: Hard agree with Alison here on it just being The Way Things Are. As an apprentice with a two-hour commute and lectures in the early evening twice a week, I have to leave early to get home in time because the alternative is staying in the office until eight, which isn’t healthy or productive. And admittedly, I work for a fantastic company who have been super accommodating of my other needs, but when I treated it as The Way Things Have To Be For Now (in my case, slightly apologetically in an it’s-out-of-my-control sort of way, but that’s optional at best) I’ve found people are willing to be helpful.

  14. Millie*

    Choosing euthanasia for a pet has been the most difficult decision of my life, but it was the best for my 19yr-old cat.

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      I had 4 cats around the same age, so I had to make that horrible decision 4 times in 6 years, most recently about 8 months ago. I found a Thing online that helped me so much: Imagine that there’s a pill you can give your pet that will keep it in its current condition for another year. (Not get better, and not get worse. Just the same.) Would you use that pill? Every time, that question gave me such clarity and helped me know that it really was time, and that I really was giving my pet the best and most loving gift I could.

    2. Quill*

      Support here for all the people who have had to put their companions down. I lost my labrador a year and change ago to a splenic tumor and I will always regret that he had to have a siezure from it before we took him in, though I think I would have always regretted it if we’d set a date after learning that he had an ongoing immune reaction. He was very happy right up to the end.

  15. Marcy Marketer*

    LW#3, my mom greatly prefers when I wear makeup and as I’ve gotten older, I’ve taken to only wearing it on special occasions. Every time I would come over without makeup, she’s ask me if I was feeling ok and comment that I looked tired. Every time, I would cheerfully comment “You always say that when I’m not wearing makeup!” Or “Yup, just no makeup today!” When I’d be wearing makeup, she’d tell me how nice I look and I’d respond “yup, I’m wearing makeup today!”

    Took me maybe 10-20 repetitions but now she never comments on my appearance. Okay, maybe like 20-40 repetitions!

    1. Yvette*

      Maybe she was trying to use positive re-enforcement to get your to wear make-up and finally just gave up!

      1. Nanani*

        Yeah, that’s… that’s exactly sexist social norms work. It’s about bugging people into conformity and making just so much easier to follow the norm.

        It’s still sexist.

      2. Marcy Marketer*

        Is it positive reenforcement to tell me I look tired?

        I wonder why she’s always commenting on my appearance but not my brother’s or husband’s… such a mystery.

      3. Quill*

        My mom used to do the same thing, but it never worked on getting my brother to get a haircut or trim his beard, and it certainly never worked on what type of makeup I wore past the age of like, nineteen, so she quit.

        I also trained her to not comment on anyone’s weight anymore but I had to bring the recipts about how terrible hearing that sort of talk is for children (she’s a teacher) to get that going.

  16. IrishEm*

    Oof, LW3 I had the WORST professional falling out with a manager over my not wearing makeup. Worst of all it wasn’t a male manager, but a woman who treated makeup as a part of how to be professional. I had worked with her as my grand-boss for 6 of 7 years until this fight set me off and now I just hate the idea of being obliged to wear makeup for anyone other than me. No advice, because I know I handled it badly, but so much empathy. That whole are you feeling okay – yes, I’m just not wearing makeup – *awkward silence* thing just winds me right up.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      There are so many women bosses I have worked with that no make up=unprofessional. Like you came into work with jammie pants, flip flops and white baby doll t-shirt on with no bra.

      It’s enraging.

      I’ve played the game, because I needed the paycheck. I’d put the minimal amount of spackle to keep the Mean Girls at bay.

      The are you okay comments had really nothing to do with actually caring about my health. It was my boss’s idea that working women needed to be perfectly coiffed (hour on hair, hour on make up, nails done) to take phone calls for 8 hours a day is insane.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Same. The weirdest part (to me) was that the jobs that I had to wear real business wear, where I wore a skirt to work most days? Could not care less about makeup. Literally no one commented, other than “wow that’s a really cool color, can you share what it is?” if someone really liked your look. The jobs that I could roll up in jeans and a t-shirt? Comments, comments everywhere. “EC, why is your face like that?”

        I don’t even wear that much makeup – I tend towards mascara, and sometimes throw in eyeliner for giggles. I curl my eyelashes so they don’t hit my glasses. I don’t use foundation, concealer…. you’d think that the differences aren’t that drastic. My dark undereyes are always there, ya’ll, I gave up on that a long time ago. And I have rosacea that likes to show up whenever it pleases.

        To be totally honest, I have never had a male coworker/boss comment. It has always been women. The only time I’ve had a male boss comment on my appearance I had a slight black eye because my horse jerked his head and connected with mine.

        When I was teaching, I did have a handful of students who would comment, but generally for them it was obvious it was really, truly, actual concern if EC was okay, and most of them upon figuring out that Makeup Is A Thing In This Situation, would drop it (a couple actually apologized, bless them). For that, it’s a totally different situation with them still figuring out how to Adult, and I was happy to be a person they could ask questions without feeling scared/embarrassed. That came along with my students feeling more comfortable to discuss more about what professional vs. personal boundaries are, and sometimes they’d misstep a little, but nearly all of them were just learning.

        Man, I miss teaching sometimes.

      2. IrishEm*

        And does your boss have an arbitrary appearance hoop for your masculine presenting coworkers to jump through or is it specific to you and other female presenting coworkers? Because yowza that’s ridiculously sexist.

        I literally looked yer one in the face and asked her why I had spent money getting a blowdry if she’s going to go off on me over not wearing *enough* makeup. She backtracked a good bit when she heard that I’d *gasp* spent money doing something traditionally feminine and she’d still managed to criticise my appearance. But not that much. Wagon. Karma got her in the end.

        1. IrishEm*

          I mean that she got transferred to a much less convenient to get to branch and demoted her, not that she got some kind of retribution, btw, just reread my comment and it looked weird.

      3. JustaTech*

        Y’all are making me really glad I work in a lab. Heck, for folks in one department they are explicitly prohibited from wearing makeup (for safety/ environmental cleanliness reasons).

        The one time my (guy) boss has commented on my appearance I’d just gotten my hair cut and straightened. I’m sitting in my cube and he walks by and shrieks because he thought someone else was at my desk. (We’re both easily startled.) But my boss has also seen me after an international red eye flight, and 14 hours straight in the lab, so he knows the difference between “no makeup” and “tired”.

        1. Quill*

          Former lab rat and yeah. There are so many potential makeup problems in some labs (and such a large majority of lab techs are female in the industry I’m in,) that I’m honestly shocked that LW’s boss hadn’t ever seen a makeup / no makeup difference on a lady before.

    2. Aquawoman*

      Unless your job is modelling, I consider that gender discrimination. I’d have a “falling out” with that person too.

  17. IrishEm*

    Also, to LW1, I was asked in an interview was there anything I regretted, either personally or professionally, and I was able to joke about regretting getting a take away the night before, so I could take a breath and come up with one of my STAR answers and just reword it for the context. But I genuinely said that I had never been asked that either personally or professionally in the moment just to signal that it was a weird thing to ask. You’re not a psychic so how you could have known that would upset your interviewer is beyond me, they chose to ask and you gave a considered answer that touched a nerve of someone who was hoping to get something juicy out of you. Don’t feel badly about it.

  18. Potatoes gonna potate*

    #1 – that’s such an awkward question! There’s no way I could ever answer that question pulling something from my personal life without even choking up about it or triggering the interviewer. I feel bad that the interviewers’ dog died, but hopefully that convinces them to leave htat question out of interviews!

    #2 – I too wondered about this but on a different scale. It would really suck to be associated with a bad employer when you did your best at a job and weren’t part of the bad actors.

  19. Potatoes gonna potate*

    #3 regarding makeup – why oh why someone feels the need to comment on your appearance beyond the generic “you look nice!” I will never understand.

    I love makeup. I love wearing it and reading about it and buying it.

    But there are days when I don’t want to wear it so….I don’t. Maybe coworkers got used to it or didn’t care or didn’t notice. nbd. I had a few close friends I could joke around with and and since they knew I loved makeup, they could tease me about it. But rando guy (and it was always a guy, rarely a woman who said that), stop commenting on my face and MYFB.

    1. Cordoba*

      I think there’s some legitimate value in confirming whether somebody isn’t feeling great.

      If I had a meeting schedule with a colleague who I knew was under the weather I’d try to wrap it up more quickly, only hit the critical points, perhaps not ask them complex questions if possible, and maybe not play the video of a machine rattling and clanging around on a shaker test unless we really had to.

      I don’t know that asking “Hey, are you feeling alright?” is “commenting on your appearance” even if the root cause is as simple as not wearing makeup or similar.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        I agree – the issue is knowing when to drop it. Ask if everything’s okay, and if the person answers in a way that doesn’t invite discussion, move on. There’s a pretty big difference between the two situations though, and to be honest I think is something Alison has hit on a lot – having the social knowledge? skill? awareness of norms? to ask in an appropriate, tactful manner, and then move on if someone is indicating it’s not up for discussion, for a variety of different topics.

      2. Potatoes gonna potate*

        I think there’s some legitimate value in confirming whether somebody isn’t feeling great.

        I don’t disagree with that but my comment was based on my experience in my workplace. For hte most part, if people were sick they’d take the day off or would openly say it.

        But in my case, the comment was always “You look sick” when I’m in the kitchen refilling my water. To me, “you look sick/tired” is different from “are you feeling OK?” One is more appearance focused while the latter can be seen as genuinely concerned.

  20. anonanna*

    #3 is so funny because THATS MY GRANDMA. No makeup? She asks me if I’m sick or tells me I look tired. Thankfully she’s gotten better about it! I’m in my early 20s so I feel like if I can’t be confident without makeup now, when will I ever be? Quarantine has been great to learn that it’s okay to not look pretty all the time and furthermore, I don’t owe that to the world.

    1. MicroManagered*

      I’m in my late 30s and had it ingrained in me since middle school that I “look bad without makeup.” Quarantine has taught me that, no, I don’t. This is just my face. Yes I have blonde eyelashes and not thick long black eyelashes that curl upward, but that’s ok. Most people don’t!

  21. George*

    Regarding makeup… Some of the computer cameras can be really…. Challenging. They bleach. Or they mute colors… Or if you have a high quality camera, they can show every minor imperfection in glory detail. And it depends on the recipients’ screen quality too (imagine your face on a big high-def monitor). I can look jaundiced on video am if my lighting isn’t good. Makeup will mute any of these effects. And if you do natural-ish type makeup (rather than heavy or obvious makeup), it can be hard to tell on a screen… So my guess is that there is a day to day difference and that’s what is being picked up, but the person can’t pinpoint what that difference is. Add that to people being nervous about health die to covid, and you get these comments.

    None of that makes it ok, but I would go for something like, “I’m fine but the lighting isn’t great in here” or I’m fine, but aren’t these webcams brutal?” Or something similar if the person isn’t otherwise problematic. Just because health is really on a lot of minds lately.

    1. AvonLady Barksdale*

      I am Very Red on a webcam. It’s been commented on a few times. There’s nothing wrong with me, I’m not sunburned, I’m just redder than usual. So yup, I agree with this.

    2. Sara without an H*

      Yes, this was my thought. OP#3, check the lighting. While I agree that your manager is harping on this to an obnoxious degree, it’s possible that the lighting in your workspace may be making you look “off” in some way. It’s worth checking.

      But if you’ve made all the local adjustments you can, then George’s scripts should be fine. “I’m fine, but webcams don’t like me,” or words to that effect.

  22. James*

    #5: I know that our culture has weird hangups over therapy, so I wanted to say that what Allyson said is exactly what happened with someone in our office. We are all exempt employees as well. One guy at the office started attending therapy, and found it did him a lot of good, so he set up a standing appointment. We all told him that we were glad he was taking care of himself. No weirdness, no push back. None of us have pushed for details as far as I know.

    Here’s the way I think of it: If I had to go to therapy for an injury or illness, I wouldn’t have any issues telling my boss that I needed to schedule therapy. I know people who have standing obligations at their churches, or who routinely volunteer somewhere, and at least one caring for an elderly relative, who also have standing time off. Therapy is no different. From a managerial perspective the issue (aside from the humane desire to make sure a colleague is okay) is making sure your workload is covered during the time you’re gone–which, if it’s a standing appointment, is pretty easy, because everyone knows it’s coming.

  23. mreasy*

    I am honestly surprised to hear about all these workplaces where everyone feels fine commenting on others’ appearance! I’m really easygoing as a colleague and manager but unless someone gets a new haircut (“did you get a haircut? Looks great!”) it has on cute shoes or glasses or something…it’s really unkind to comment on someone’s general face appearance! Older women are more likely to be told they look “tired” with light or no makeup, too. I just don’t see what the upside of this conversation is meant to be. “You look tired, are you ok?” either gets a “yes” (but apparently not looking up to your standards for my face), or a “no, I am at work but I am peaked and feel terrible because of [reasons that surely I would have otherwise shared if I wanted to].” What does the asker achieve here, other than making the colleague feel bad that they don’t look healthy? Also nobody should feel pressured to put on makeup for Zoom if that isn’t the norm. I would just respond “nope, I’m fine, this is just my face. Are YOU ok?” and try to return awkwardness to sender.

    1. London Calling*

      Anyone tells me I look tired (especially a manager) I just tell tham it’s because I work Very Hard.

    2. Colette*

      Sometimes what the asker achieves is that the person who is not feeling well says something like “I have a huge headache but I have a meeting with Bob this afternoon” and the asker can say “Oh, take some sick time, I will look after the meeting”. It’s OK to express concern for people you see every day!

      But in this case, the coworker hasn’t figured out that the reason the OP looks different is because she’s not wearing makeup. It’ll probably be solved by following Alison’s advice.

      1. I'm just here for the cats*

        I know. I could see the first time or two, especially if there were meetings between where she did have makeup. But he should get a clue!

        1. Alice's Rabbit*

          How, pray tell? If no one tells him, and he has no idea why she looks different, what clue is he supposed to get?
          Give him one (admit to not wearing makeup, and don’t make a big deal about it) and then see if he catches on. But it’s not his fault that he doesn’t know this. Most guys – and even many girls who don’t often wear makeup – don’t know it, either.

    3. James*

      In a normal office environment I would agree. However, some jobs do comment on how you look, especially if you look ill. I work with construction folks, and for a company with a strong safety culture. If you look ill, someone’s going to say something–because having an excavator operator with gastrointestinal difficulties is not just disgusting, but very, VERY dangerous. There’s also heat stress issues that we watch out for, and visual cues are one of the things we’re trained to watch for. I wouldn’t hesitate to tell someone they looked unwell; it may be their life I’m saving (it’s come down to that a few times in my career–both me being the one sick, and me saying something to someone else to get them to go to the hospital).

      Also, currently we’re not in normal times. We’re all on the lookout for Covid symptoms, and we’ve all heard stories of someone powering through only to find that they had the virus. I think at least some of these come from a place of genuine concern.

  24. Jules the 3rd*

    OP2, I also have a yelling superior, and Alison’s advice is spot on. It does get awkward when internal clients ask me what’s going on, but I just quietly point them to my grandboss: “I can understand, but I’m not in the position to address this,” with a small emphasis on ‘I’m’. The yeller did get reprimanded (yelling is Very Not Done at my employer, the yeller is a recent outside hire), and they’ve switched to only yelling at outside vendors.

    Things you *can* do are
    1) Document – date, time, words as closely as possible, audience. Written down, it will help an investigation if anyone does ever take it over your boss’s head.
    2) You might be able to check whether a different format would cause less yelling – if it’s a video call with internal people, does he yell less? Phone calls can affect some like road rage – they get mad at faceless entities and don’t connect that with real people. If it turns out that seeing faces keeps him calmer, you can encourage video calls.

    Good luck, and *all* my sympathy.

    1. Reba*

      Your experience shows what I think is true for a lot of yellers. It’s a tactic. They are not “out of control,” because they are able to not-yell at certain people while still yelling at others. At some level they are choosing to do this.

      1. Post 2*

        Thank you for these great suggestions. Different formats are a possibility and it will be interesting to see what happens. I cannot recall if it’s happened on a video call. I’m intrigued by the idea of the behavior being a tactic. It vibes with what someone commented above, that the behavior must be condoned by the yeller and the employer if the person has continued to a position of leadership.

        1. Jules the 3rd*

          It *can* be a tactic. It can also just be that it’s easier to treat people as ‘not people’ when there are barriers between people. When you remind people of their targets’ humanity, they often act more compassionately.

    2. Observer*

      Do find a way to let the outside vendor know that you realize that it’s not ok, and who they can talk to at your employer.

      Because I can tell you that if I have a vendor I like (because they provide good value for the money), I don’t want people mistreating them. And if they are bad and I don’t know it, I don’t want people mistreating them, I want to know about the problem so I can either fix it or find a new vendor. I’m not an outlier in my organization. And, I don’t think we are unique.

      1. The New Wanderer*

        Seconded. The behavior isn’t tolerated at your company, manager has already been reprimanded, grandboss needs to know the behavior hasn’t stopped (just been redirected).

      2. Jules the 3rd*

        I have no access to / connection with the vendor I heard my boss berate. I work on different accounts. I reached out to grand boss to let them know about it. Grandboss has a relationship with the vendor and can reach out appropriately.

  25. Retail not Retail*

    I’m going to stop now, but what is the consensus about complimenting make up?

    For context i work outdoors, it’s the south, we get filthy. I brush my hair down to submission and never wear makeup. My sartorial choices are which glasses and which funky socks to wear.

    One of my female coworkers will wear noticeable lipstick and i tell her she looks spiffy today. (I have said spiffy) i’ve also complimented another when her hair was really nice.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      I think that’s fine! In general, if it’s obvious someone put effort into something (like a new hairstyle, or an outfit), it’s not a bad idea to compliment them about it. Personally, I appreciate it it when someone acknowledges that stuff. It’s just weird when people point out when you DON’T do that stuff. (I’m traditionally a low maintenance person who doesn’t style hair or makeup – and I’m a girl – and have had people actually comment on the fact I don’t do these things. In my early twenties, I experimented with dressing up a bit more, but have given up on it.)

    2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      It’s tricky and I think it depends on your relationship with the other person. My boss asking me if I’m okay only when I’m not wearing makeup (unless we were super close) would bother me because they are basically telling me I look like crap. I equate it to a stranger telling me I need to smile. They don’t know anything about me or what’s going on in my life, and they’re inferring that I’m cranky because I don’t have a smile plastered on my face. It’s just my face.

    3. Reba*


      I love that you have signature accessories.

      I have to say, I do like it when people complement my lipstick — I tend to wear bold colors, so it’s noticeable — and my hair. (My hair is my true vanity, ugh)

      For myself, I try to avoid saying “you look ____” and just point out what they are wearing that is great. e.g. “Great dress!” “Great earrings!” “Nice kicks!”

      I think it is better to complement something they chose rather than their overall appearance, which is getting close to talking about someone’s body. Maybe that is a distinction without a difference, but that is how I think of it.

      1. JustaTech*

        I think it’s a very important distinction! When you say “awesome earrings” you’re complimenting the other’s person’s choices, and not the parts of themselves they can’t change.

        To give an example, over at the Fashion blog Tom and Lorenzo, they have a rule that you don’t talk about people’s bodies. You talk about how a dress doesn’t work on them, but it is the dress (or the makeup, or the hair style), and not the person underneath, that is at issue. I think it’s a really healthy way to frame things, I and I try to apply it in my life as well.

    4. Amy Sly*

      I would generally say comments are fine the first time when they’re short, not too detailed, and sincere. “You look spiffy today” or “I like what you’ve done to your hair” are fine compliments. “You feeling okay?” once is okay for someone who’s not looking good. “Your lipstick makes your mouth look so pretty” is getting into creepy territory.

    5. Grace*

      Personally, I like it when someone compliments a makeup choice, like coloured eyeliner or glittery eyeshadow or a lipstick that’s a fun colour. I don’t see any difference between that or something like “cool socks”. I know some people consider them as having different contexts, but I treat my makeup choices in the same way as I treat my clothing choices, as a form of self-expression that sometimes needs to be toned down or adjusted for certain contexts, with no moral value attached to that choice.

      If you’d say my sloth socks were cool, feel free to do the same for a purple lipstick or something. Within, y’know, reason. “Those socks make your feet look great” is just as creepy as “That makeup makes you look hot”.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        I do have a coworker who wears sloth socks and will show them off if she’s in pants so we can’t easily see them.

        I think I veer into the “you look sick/tired” when i did the “what’s the occasion” once. She told me she just likes wearing it and I guess lipstick holds up better than other types of makeup. (I’ve worn it once so I’m totally lost)

        People do notice my glasses/socks/mask and comment which is great! I have a neon green pair and 2 guys were like they practically glow all we had to do was find the bright color and we’d find you.

        I really need to practice office job appropriate convos.

        1. Anxious cat servant*

          I’d say some of it’s work culture as well. At my retail place it’s normal to compliment each other in general and if someone took extra time on hair/makeup/clothes, it’s practically expected to compliment them. I stick more to “I love your hair, that’s such a great style on you!” but it’s not uncommon to hear more personal stuff like “you’re so gorgeous!”

          At other jobs that level of commentary on others’ appearances would be creepy.

          So I’d say study what the norms are and match that within your comfort level and general standards of professionalism.

          1. Retail not Retail*

            Ah retail the great soap opera. It’s nice to get compliments when you’re about to face people who won’t even register you as an individual.

            And grocery retail is similar to my current job in terms of appearance. Some at my store wore makeup, some didn’t.

    6. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      My rule of thumb is to compliment things that are choices the other person made. Clothing choices are an obvious example of this, but noticeable lipstick would also apply, as would a hairstyle or an obvious choice of hair color. (Obvious choice of hair color to me means a different color than yesterday, or a color obviously not found in nature like the purple highlights my friend did recently.) I stay away from things like body shape/weight, skin tone, eye color, or hair color when I can’t easily confirm it’s a deliberate choice.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        My nemesis will “compliment” our hair at lunch when it’s clearly hat/humid hair. My supervisor told him to cut it out.

        He commented on a shirt i was wearing (“tie dye’s back?”) and I ignored him. My more chipper coworker was like yes it is, she’s wearing it!

    7. Retail not Retail*

      I forgot a minor pet peeve “did you get some sun yesterday?” Yes. With you. Working. In the sun. Did you forget?

      Hey the mask means no sun on the face! I’m in trouble later this summer once I lose the wrist brace.

    8. Jamie Goralski*

      I guess I’m the outlier, but I don’t like being complimented on my make up. I take it as commentary that I look much worse with lighter/no make up with may be true but I don’t think it’s my co-workers place to comment on it.

      Don’t get me started on weight loss compliments. I have specifically told people to keep their assessments of my body to themselves, even when they think they mean well. (after saying it nicely several times first.)

      Clothes, accessories, shoes…all fine to mention how cute something is. It’s less personal than body/face stuff.

      1. Retail not Retail*

        Ah great point! It is noticeable on my team bc the reality of outdoor summer work makes makeup just… you do you.

        And I never ever address weight. We all wear the same stuff anyway so bodily stuff is more whoa gnarly bruise or oh no you’re bleeding.

    9. Quill*

      In general, appearance comments must be 1) positive 2) focused on something that the compimentee can control.

      At least according to my inner miss manners.

  26. MAB*

    For LW2- the fact the he is aware of it and doesn’t change his behavior makes it worse. Apologies without behavior change are not real apologies. This is a him problem, not a you problem, and I’m sure the sharp people in your office are attuned to the pattern of his behavior.

  27. Essess*

    I had a coworker that would constantly ask me if I was feeling well, and would not drop the topic that they felt I looked unwell. I finally snapped one morning when he said I looked unwell and told him that I HAD been feeling great and upbeat and happy with my appearance that morning and that it was really upsetting to keep being told that my normal appearance was unpleasant.

    1. MatKnifeNinja*

      If you are selling beauty cosmetics, yes, your make up game needs to be on point. Work in front of a camera, you need the make up to handle the issues with lighting.

      I have very curly hair, and am pale. I wash. Wear shoes and clothes in line with what everyone else is wearing at work. I’m not being the edgey rebel wearing my outfits from Hot Topics. So comments on how extra curly my hair is (humidity, and I do pull it back), or how much cuter it would he with high lights, or helpful tips from the make ninja master boss is beyond rude.

      All the jobs I’ve had where make up comments flowed freely, never came with the salary to plow a couple hundred dollars per few months for decent make up that didn’t melt my skin.

      I’d be tempted to roll in with a paper bag over my head, since my face is so off putting sans make up.

      1. Essess*

        I worked in a locked office sitting behind a computer and writing computer code all day with ZERO interactions with anyone other than other coders.

  28. lazy intellectual*

    #1 – As others and Alison have pointed out, you didn’t do anything wrong. However, given how unreasonable this employer seems, they might still hold it against you and not hire you. In this case, however, I think you would be dodging a bullet. Either way, you don’t need to worry. Continue job searching.

  29. Delta Delta*

    #2 – I worked for someone who was sometimes a yeller. I am not a yeller. I have been told by numerous people they’re glad I got away from that boss because his bad behavior reflected poorly on me. So, you know, kind of an interesting twist.

    #3 – There’s always one commenter who says this, so it might as well be me. I’d be tempted to slather on WAY more makeup than usual one day and see what he says. Maybe look like Mimi from the Drew Carey show or Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served (complete with wig if you have one).

  30. blink14*

    OP #3 – I definitely know how this feels! I think for most people, they are genuinely picking up in the fact that you look a little different and don’t know exactly why (and often men probably won’t realize the lack of makeup, in my experience). Your manager seems hyper focused on this change, so perhaps the best thing to do is mention to him that you’ve been taking a break from makeup during this time, and that may be way you look a little different. Also, a lot of people just look different on camera!

    Before all this craziness and working from home full time, I wore makeup to work everyday – not a lot, but a standard look. Two reasons, for me: feeling more awake and pulled together, and also hiding/minimizing paleness and dark circles that come with having chronic medical conditions. Some days I just do not feel well, and trying to minimize that makes me feel better, but also cuts down on people asking me if I’m ok.

    Kind of ironically, as much as I do genuinely love makeup in my personal life as well, I find it a creative outlet, I haven’t worn any makeup in the past few months at all. I absolutely refuse to have my webcam on for work calls (I find it really invasive), and I know I have days where I look rough from stress, illness, and my sleep pattern being all over the place, but this time has shown me that unless I have an event to go to where I want to do a fun makeup look or I’m going to work and want to look put together, I don’t really need the makeup.

  31. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    #2 in addition to everything Alison said, I also think you need to re-frame your opinion of this person. You say he’s “not a bad person and makes good points”, which sounds like you’re excusing his behavior. But that’s irrelevant. And while he may not walk around and kick puppies, he’s not a good person if he thinks that yelling is acceptable behavior in the workplace. Good points or not, he’s behaving like a toddler who hasn’t figured out how to use their words.

  32. Ancient Alien*

    #1 Personal Question: The first thought in my mind was “play stupid games, win stupid prizes”. I’ve never been asked that in an interview, but I’d like to think I’d just decline to answer it. I think this shows very poor judgement on the organization’s part and you should probably step back and think about any other red flags you’ve noticed.

    #2 Yeller: OP, you say your yelling boss is not a bad person. I would submit that he IS a bad person. Maybe not a serial killer, but someone that can’t even exhibit BASIC courtesy, respect, and professional behavior. I agree with AAM that his behavior doesn’t directly reflect on you, but it is certainly not doing you any professional favors either. Food for thought: are you being passed over for special projects or other opportunities in the organization because people don’t want to have to deal with or go through this jackass?

  33. CM*

    For OP#2, it sounds like you’re concerned your manager’s behavior is already reflecting poorly on you. Is it possible for you to de-escalate within a meeting? For example, after your manager yells, you could say something like, “To respond to Manager’s concerns about X, one possible solution would be…” — in other words, calmly, respectfully, and constructively move on. You could also try building individual relationships with the people who get yelled at, so they see what you’re like on your own instead of always associating you with your manager.

  34. someone in the same boat*

    #2 – Alison is wrong on this – it will reflect badly on you, and will hurt your ability to move up in your current organization. My career was derailed because everyone in my very large organization hated my boss, and heard several times that promotions I was passed over for was because no one wanted someone even associate with him in their part of the organization. I had to leave a place I loved working to get my career going again.

    1. Ancient Alien*

      I’m rethinking my response to this question above and landing more on what you are saying here. I’ve never had it happen to me (that I know of), but I’ve certainly seen other great employees tainted or blackballed because of a bad boss. The association is still there in everyone’s mind and does influence decision making even if, when directly asked, people would probably say that it’s not a factor.

    2. Richard Hershberger*

      On the other hand, I worked for Terrible Boss for three years. He had a vivid reputation within the industry. I never got the impression that his name on my resume hurt my chances. It gave us something to talk about in interviews, many interviewers raising it. I wondered if it might not actually be helping me get interviews. While I never said it explicitly, there was a clearly implied “If I put up with him for three years, nothing you throw at me will faze me.” I ended up with Terrific Boss, and have been with him over ten years.

      1. SemiAnon*

        That unspoken implication always makes me smile. I get that frequently as well.

      2. JustaTech*

        I worked (indirectly) for a guy with a heck of a reputation (he liked to make people cry in meetings with other departments). It never impacted me directly because I wasn’t in the same physical space and was far, far to lowly for his notice (fine by me!).
        I was so isolated from it, in fact, that I didn’t realize the depth and range of his reputation until after I left that job and people were like “Oh you worked for Phil? How did you survive?”

        On the other hand, his reputation could have hurt me because when that lab lost funding he was so disliked that no one was offering to take on his employees or projects until he could get more funding. If I’d wanted to stay in academia it would have been a problem, but I wanted out anyway, so it was mostly pitying remarks in interviews.

  35. sometimeswhy*

    RE #5 – Alison’s advice is exactly how I did it when my boss retired and I got a new one. “I have a standing medical appointment on Thursday afternoons so I leave at 2:30 and am entirely unavailable the rest of that day.”

    I’m also salaried, exempt and even with that early departure, I still work >>40hr/wk. I was prepared to make that explicit but didn’t need to. Newboss didn’t even bat an eye.

    1. #5 OP*

      Thanks for your feedback! I’ve yet to talk to my boss about it but will soon. I’m working from home and my appointments are now virtual so I am able to schedule appointments to not really affect my work time.

  36. CupcakeCounter*

    I found that the lighting in my home office was not flattering to my skin tone via certain video call programs (Zoom being the worst, Teams the best). The only time I did full makeup was when I was meeting with high level people or international folks I hadn’t met yet. The rest of the time I simply used a tinted moisturizer (Olay) to even things out and a little mascara and tinted lip balm (which is my normal weekend routine).
    Also changed the bulbs in the light fixture – they had a yellow hue that made me look sallow when combined with cinnamon wall color…room looks warm, cozy, and inviting but I look like death warmed over!

    1. BenAdminGeek*

      This happened to me! One of my team members looked skeletal and very pale all of a sudden- I thought she was perhaps sick (there was lots of COVID in her area so it was very concerning). Turns out, she had just moved the lighting around in her office and didn’t realize that the way her desk lamp was shining it was making her look terrible.

  37. Bluesboy*

    #2- I had a client for about three years who was absolutely nuts (no longer a client because I changed company). He was a screamer, with absolutely no idea of what could realistically be expected. This isn’t me saying that because I couldn’t keep him happy, this is literally him expecting results that were just absurd (for example, when Covid-19 hit the stock market he screamed because his stock went down. Err…dude? Bigger things than you are happening).

    Anyway, he worked with a woman, Angela, who was a serious professional, and generally kind and helpful. We all adored her. We thought she was remarkable for being able to put up with him, and yet still work professionally and reasonably.

    I think the trick here is not that you are associated with him – I suspect we had a higher opinion of Angela BECAUSE she worked successfully with the screamer – but that he doesn’t make you do his dirty work. I’ve heard so many times about people who have to micromanage because their boss insists, or criticise their employees excessively because the boss thinks they’re soft etc. But as long as you are able to represent yourself, and not Screamer Mark Two I think you will be fine.

    1. SemiAnon*

      This is in line with what happened to me. My first professional job in my career in my current industry and location, “screamer” doesn’t quite adequately convey. We’ll go with “functioning drunk with screaming tendencies”.

      Anyone who knows my work history and knows this “gentleman”
      1. Shudders that I cut my proverbial chops under this circumstance.
      2. Never questions if I have the mental toughness to deal with any situation.
      3. Never questions my integrity as there were public incidents of me being absolute screamed at and belittled for refusing to cut corners/do improper/etc.

      Even in the rare case when this has come up in conversation at industry events – its more in my favor that I learned how to successfully deal with such a person. If I can manage that, anything else is reasonably easy by comparison.

  38. Environmental Compliance*

    I used to work for a Yeller. It was….very draining, to say the least.

    For context: they were the head of that county gov’t department. I was the only one doing septic permitting. However, contractors would call in, Boss would answer, and they’d get into yelling matches. All. The. Damn. Time. Homeowners would call in with questions and Boss would belittle them, be curt, loud, dismissive. It got to the point where I was running interference – the reception clerks would route questions to me, instead, because I would just answer the question and be helpful. My job, you know, public service, etc. It also made my job easier down the line during the actual permit process. I got sent out on inspections as well, which would be horrendous if the contractor had talked to Boss before and not me, because I would immediately get screamed at onsite. I worked my butt off creating a separate reputation for me, and it worked. Contractors worked well with me. I rarely had pushback (other than the normal jerks you get every now and then, but they were like that to everyone). Contractors wouldn’t call the main line, or Boss, they’d go to me directly. I never made decisions that weren’t in line with the regulations, the code, the policies, or Boss’s opinions. We’d be saying the exact same thing – but in completely different tones. Contractors had told me that they had a higher respect for me because I was working under Boss and that’s “gotta be f*cking awful, jeezus”.

    Just be professional and do your job the best you can. People will separate you out from your boss’s antics.

    (FWIW – contractors & homeowners galore had started complaining to Boss’s Boss about Boss’s antics, and I had flagged it to same person. I left after the shenanigans mounted, which I’ve summarized in other posts, and Boss later got managed out entirely. As in, Boss is no longer even in that county, or anywhere in the surrounding counties. They carried that reputation far and wide.)

    1. SemiAnon*

      And yes. Draining. So draining. I used to hold it together until I turned left onto the freeway at the end of the day.

      (And well, he eliminated my department. I found a better position and have moved to much better company; he managed to lose everything in bankruptcy and last we knew, back in the field as a general hand.)

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Yeah. I’d get home and just fall apart some days. Doing the unsafe housing condemnations on top of it was a recipe for disaster. I was done after a year of that crap.

        Apparently Boss has moved to a county 3? hours away, in a slightly different role but still county gov’t, so hopefully they have better checks and balances there to railroad Boss into not being a raging bag of jerk.

    2. Quill*

      Pig lab from hell boss was a yeller.

      Fortunately I’ve had enough jobs since now (and he’s such a small fish in the local pond) that nobody asks me about him.

  39. Oof*

    #1 – I’m so sorry! I would have felt awful as well, but there was no malice here, just a poor question, and a terrible coincidence. I’ve used a version of this question before looking for work related examples, and I’ve received personal ones instead on occasion. I think that would be the only way this could have been reflected badly on anyone, but that’s also because the candidate had no bad calls in there work history. For some positions, knowing how people can respond to a plan going south is really important, so that would be the first issue, not so much any coincidences. My condolences on your dog – I went through that with my cat years ago and know the difficulty.

    #3 – the lighting on video can make SUCH a difference! Just address it directly next time someone asks. It’s not a big deal, but dang it can be concerning to see someone look healthy and then look like a zombie. Unless you wear a specific skin make-up, or heavy make-up, I guarantee it is the lighting and cameras. At certain times of day, I look so red you would think I have been drinking heavily, or just came in from a long, long run. But I am not red at all! Different time of day, my skin looks like a romance novel level alabaster. Neither is what I look like, but I’m comfortable enough with my team for jokes about either the red or the white, because it startles me more than them. (Once they knew the red was lighting that is – they were worried I was sick, and I did get a question the first time, the white is pretty obviously from lighting)

  40. Persephone Underground*

    #3 – Oh, I feel such second hand embarrassment for this guy! I assume he just notices you look different, maybe paler (and on video chat it might look more dramatically different than IRL, it’s not that you have a sickly looking face or something, video chat is just seriously unflattering), but because men usually don’t wear makeup it doesn’t entirely connect in his brain that that’s the reason, so he’s actually concerned you’re ill. I definitely notice a difference when, for example, co-workers who wear eyeliner every day skip it, but I realize why they look different after a second. It will probably be a kindness to just say something so the guy can remove the foot from his mouth.

    1. Observer*

      While I do think that the OP would probably be better off spelling it out, I do think you are giving the boos a bit too much credit here. For one thing, this keeps on happening. For another, the boss is making it clear that he doesn’t believe the OP. I mean, he’s making follow up calls!

      When someone tells you “I’m fine” you need to realize that either they ARE fine or they do not want to talk about it – and either way, you need to BACK OFF! And when it happens multiple times, you need to realize that it’s time to stop asking.

      1. Ray Gillette*

        I think the lack of pattern recognition on the boss’s part may be genuine cluelessness, but the scheduling follow-up calls is completely inappropriate and he needs to knock that off yesterday.

      2. Alice's Rabbit*

        It keeps on happening because her no-makeup-days are sporadic. If she stopped wearing makeup entirely, I guarantee that the comments would stop as he got used to her new normal appearance.
        It’s not the lack of makeup itself that sparks the comments; it’s difference between her two looks. Even the most minimal makeup can really change how you look on video chat. So the difference is probably far more drastic on his screen than in person, too.

    2. Nanani*

      So either he’s trying to push a sexist norm of makeup wearing, or he’s trying to pry into health conditions that are none of his business?
      There’s no “kind” option here, dude needs to cut it out.
      Everyone needs to stop commenting on their colleague’s appearance and especially need to stop pushing garbage double standards on women.

      1. Alice's Rabbit*

        Wow, you are just determined to be negative. He’s not pushing makeup; likely, he genuinely doesn’t realize that is the difference he’s seeing. He’s clueless, not malicious.
        And while specifics about her health are private, as her manager, he absolutely needs to know if she’s unwell, or overwhelmed, or too tired to function, or whatever, so he can be sure not to load her down with time-sensitive or labor-intensive projects. That’s literally his job.

  41. cncx*

    re OP2, early in my career i worked for someone with a “reputation” and the most i ever got from an interviewer was “oh you worked there huh? i bet that was…entertaining…” with a knowing smile. i think a lot of people out there recognize most people are just trying to get paid and barring really morally icky jobs, it isn’t an issue.

    I also think it’s one of the times where job hopping is overlooked- staying with someone with an industry-wide reputation for like 20 years would be more of a dent on the resume IMO.

  42. Roy G. Biv*

    In my experience:
    Friendly, interactive greetings for your coworker or employee: Hi! How are you? How is your day going? And maybe, IF you have the work relationship where you would share such things – Is everything OK? Or better yet, a completely open-ended “What’s new?” This allows the other person the opportunity to tell you everything, or to go with bland pleasantries, or somewhere between the two extremes.

    Annoying, unnecessary, and I’m going to start building an unflattering opinion about your emotional intelligence comments: You look tired. You have circles under your eyes. You look pale/flushed/really red (rosacea). You look angry. (Why, thank you for noticing I was deep in thought and calling it out for no good reason)

    These are comments that are couched in “But I’m concerned about your well being,” but they’re really comments upon one’s appearance. To which I say, Knock it off! Seriously!

    Can you tell this touched a nerve?

  43. Aquawoman*

    It seems like people are really making an effort to excuse the boss re the makeup. He asks the LW every time, he doesn’t drop it when she says she feels fine. That’s an extra level of clueless that I think people would take note of in other situations and he’s getting a pass because oh chuckle clueless men. I don’t think he has bad intentions and I wouldn’t castigate the guy, but I do think he should be held to the same standards as other adults and not be given a pass because guys can’t possibly get it. I think a failure to stop singling out a person when they’ve repeatedly deflected being singled out is a him problem, not a her problem. This is like any other letter where the LW has tried to polite deflection and it isn’t working.

    1. Observer*

      I agree that the boss is the one who has a problem. But, it can still be useful to understand a but more about how the issue is coming up. Spelling it out for the boss is not about excusing him, because he most definitely SHOULD have realized by now that he needs to back off. But by spelling it out, provides clarity that takes away any excuses. And it makes it easier for the OP to push back more firmly if she needs to.

    2. Jean*

      Agreed. He knows what he’s doing and it’s not cool. He needs to be called out, politely and professionally.

    3. Avasarala*

      Agreed. He is asking multiple times. Remove makeup for the equation and it makes no sense. We’ve had other letters here about why it’s not OK to keep asking if someone is sick or unwell.

    4. Alice's Rabbit*

      I disagree 100%. If she had stopped wearing makeup entirely, and he was still commenting on it weeks later, you might have a point.
      But OP said the non-makeup days were sporadic, meaning she still normally wears it. So all he knows is that she looks different (likely paler, possibly redder, maybe with dark circles, all of which are symptoms of ill health) occasionally, and he seems genuinely concerned. He doesn’t have the normal in-office secondary signs to go off of, like body language or watching her interact with co-workers, so he has to run with what he has.

  44. Matilda Jefferies*

    #1, I agree with Alison that this is a ridiculously inappropriate interview question. But I disagree about mentioning it in your thank you note. I don’t think you need to apologize for your response, but I do think it would be kind to reiterate your sympathies for the interviewer. She’s a human being too, and she’s probably stressed in all the ways we all are right now, and I’m sure the last thing she needed was to have her dog put down and then go to work right after.

    It doesn’t need to be a big deal, just something like “Dear Everybody, it was a pleasure meeting all of you today, and Jane, I was so sorry to hear about your dog. Here’s something I learned in the interview, etc.”

    The interview question was a mistake, absolutely. But there is so much crappiness going on in the world these days, there’s nothing to lose by being kind and acknowledging other people’s sadness.

  45. Phony Genius*

    On #1, I hope we get an update on whether the OP gets an offer. If they get rejected, we’ll never know for sure if that question had anything to do with it.

  46. Jean*

    OP 3 – call him out! There is absolutely no reason for him to keep harping after you have already said that you’re fine. The fact that he does that says to me that he knows exactly what he’s doing, and he’s trying to manipulate you into wearing makeup every time so you’re “more pleasant” for him to look at by making you self-conscious under the guise of “concern.”

    2 can play this game. Use the 2nd script Alison suggested and ask him (in a calm, friendly, inquisitive tone of course) to explain why he feels so concerned that he needs to keep asking. Ask it like you’re genuinely confused. I guarantee he will stop. I promise you don’t look sick when you’re not wearing makeup, you just look like yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with the way you look with or without it.

    1. Nanani*

      This is a good plan. Polite confusion is a great way to go.

      It’s sexist behaviour reinforcing a sexist norm, and it doesn’t matter if it’s conscious or well-intentioned (and it absolutely doesn’t matter how many random strangers think makeup = professional).
      You do not have to play this game.

    2. Feeling Cynical*

      This. He’s trying to police LW3’s face for his own gaze. Eff that.

      I like script #2.

      Generally speaking, if it were me, I wouldn’t mention whether or not I’m wearing makeup. It’s nobody’s damn business if I do. I do it for myself, not for anyone else

  47. Gaia*

    OP 1: how horrible for everyone! They were in the wrong to ask that question. And for what it is worth, I’m sorry about your pup. That’s never an easy choice.

    OP 3: your boss is being rude. I used to worry about not wearing makeup on camera (I worked full time remote even pre COVID) but I finally realized I should not worry about my face and if anyone says anything that is really on them.

    OP 5: I have a weekly therapy appointment and a new boss so I know the nerves. I presented it matter of factly “I just wanted to let you know that have a recurring appointment each Monday at X time which means I come in at Y time on those days” It was very much not a thing. She asked once if it was flexible, I said it really isn’t because it is scheduled out months in advance and very difficult to move. We both carried on with no further discussion needed.

    1. #5 OP*

      Thanks for your feedback! It hasn’t been much of an issue since working from home and the appointments becoming virtual. It did actually come up today, because I could only get an appointment during work hours and my boss asked me to move a meeting to that time. I let them know about my appointment using Allison’s suggestion! I plan on following up with her about it in my next one-on-one with them.

  48. Probably Taking This Too Seriously*

    Isn’t it possible the interviewer in OP #1,s question meant a professional misjudgment? Still not a great question, but not that far removed from “tell me about a mistake you made,” which I’ve answered many times.

    1. lazy intellectual*

      “They mentioned that this decision should be from my personal life, but I was told that I didn’t have to share what that decision was.”

      So it’s not a misinterpretation. They solicited a personal example, and got upset when OP gave it.

  49. Betsy S*

    If you’re using Zoom, there’s an option in video settings to “touch up appearance” and it makes a big difference! When I am on a non-Zoom video call I always feel like I look ill. Haven’t found a similar option in other apps (I use Linux) but I believe they exist as plugins for windows/mac

  50. #5 OP*

    Thank you for your advice, Allison! I’ve been working from home since I wrote this letter, so I’ve been able to schedule my appointments around my work schedule.

    However, my appointment this week was scheduled for a time during work hours and my boss has asked to move a meeting to that time. I used your language to see if we could schedule the meeting for another time. I plan on mentioning it when I have my next one-on-one meeting with them.

    Thanks again to all the commenters as well! I appreciate your feedback!

  51. gbca*

    OP #2, this is a rare time I kind of disagree with Alison. While I agree that people aren’t going to blame you for your boss’s behavior, over time – especially in a very relationship-based company – being connected to the right leaders can have a big impact on your career growth. If the leader you are connected to is not well-respected/well-liked, that can impact you. I wouldn’t panic about this right now, but I would think about the kind of leaders at your company you want to be your advocates and think ahead to how you’d like to path your career away from this boss.

  52. Essential-Potatoes*

    OP 3 – I 100% agree with Alison’s advice and speak up when it happens. Since like, I’ve seen a few commentators say, your manager might not be aware of makeup vs no makeup whether you’re doing a full face or even just enough to hide dark circles and the like. Pointing it out when it happens is the best thing you can do in this situation, since they might be asking out of concern rather than another reason.

    I also want to say that your situation reminded me of a skit from Black Lady Sketch show that they did specifically about how others perceive no make up look sometimes (it’s on youtube if you want to check it out, may give you a little laugh about what’s happening with your manager too).

  53. GDub*

    #2 — I had a boss that was a yeller, and we actually worked together pretty well. HOWEVER, it affected my reputation in one bad way — I got a reputation as a person who dealt well with difficult people, so then I had to deal with all the difficult people. Watch your step!!!!

  54. Absurda*

    Regarding #3:

    My mom is very fair skinned and at one point she switched to a new foundation that was a very close match to her natural skin tone. Her colleagues kept asking if she was feeling okay because she was so pale! She started mixing the light foundation with a bit of a darker shade and the comments stopped.

    I’m also pretty fair and I usually don’t wear makeup. I had some health problems and was tested for anemia twice in the last 3 months by two different (female) doctors because I looked so pale. Nope, not anemic, just haven’t been out of the house in months! My (male) boss also gets the “are you okay” and “are you anemic” questions because he is also fair skinned; we joked about it together.

    So, the “are you okay” comments may not be a sexist thing or commentary on makeup. It just happens to a lot of us regardless.

  55. Tidewater 4-1009*

    Could we please not use walruses as a reference on the site? I saw something very sad on a Netflix nature show that involve walruses. Don’t need the reminder.

  56. Jeffrey Deutsch*

    #1: We need to rein in our emotional selves in many ways to be a decent human being.

    One of them is not holding it against someone — or even appearing to hold it against someone — when they say something that’s legitimate, even if it happens to push one of your buttons.

    Take care of your sore spots on your own time.

  57. Sled dog mama*

    LW #1 thank you, I now know that there are people out there who think this is an appropriate question to ask and I can prepare my answer.
    To any interviewer who thinks this question is a good idea let it be known that there is a woman out there who is ready and willing to tell you about having to decide if we should keep fighting or take our daughter off life support when her heart began to fail, and I will relish every single awkward moment of it.

  58. Lynn Marie*

    Make-up. What a very strange thing we do to ourselves and it’s crazy thatit’s so normalized that not wearing it seems odd and unconventional. Just a thought after reading all the comments. I mean, how would you explain it to someone from out of space. I’m not stoned – just having a moment of zen.

    1. Quill*

      Humans are essentially reverse bower birds, and this entertains me a lot, mostly because when I bring it up to people they always visibly think twice.

  59. Robin*

    I understand that maybe the guy in Letter #3 is oblivious about makeup, but I would love it if people could just stop commenting on other people’s appearances. If one of my coworkers comes to work looking a little run down or tired, of course I notice it, but I don’t say anything!

Comments are closed.