Do women need to wear warpaint to achieve success?

Photo: Getty Images

Make-up artist Charlotte Tilbury thinks so, and sadly she’s not wrong says Laura Craik. In a world where women are judged harshly on their looks, we can but hope for a time when lipstick needn’t be a weapon 

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By Laura Craik on

Do women need to wear warpaint to achieve success? According to Charlotte Tilbury, we do. “Women need make-up to get ahead in life – in their careers, in their personal lives, whatever it is,” she said, speaking at a Bafta gala earlier this week. “Make-up is very empowering and women should celebrate this weapon in their arsenal. There have been studies that prove women earn up to 50 per cent more money by the way they do their make-up and hair.” 

Tilbury would say that, wouldn’t she? After all, she is a make-up artist: one of the most successful in the world, with her own line of cosmetics and a celebrity client base that includes Kate Moss, Jennifer Aniston and Amal Clooney. Vested interest apart, though, I fear she has a point. Unless you are genetically blessed and/or super-confident, there are certain careers where a made-up face puts you at an advantage. 

Tilbury made her remarks as a riposte to Helen Mirren, who last November mildly commented that “it would be wonderful if it became more fashionable not to wear make-up” while promoting her appearance in the Pirelli Calendar. While she emphasised her admiration for Mirren, Tilbury had no qualms about saying she disagreed with her on this point. “She’s absolutely wrong. Why would anyone, in a world where everyone is judged by their looks, not wear make-up?”

Make-up should be a choice, and that’s really all there is to say about it. Or would be, were it not for the fact that thousands of women have had that choice taken away from them

Therein lies the rub. No-one in their right mind would disagree that women are judged by their looks far more harshly than men are. George Clooney = getting better with age. Kate Moss = scrutinised mercilessly for signs of “wear and tear”. Man with crow’s feet = sexy. Woman with crow’s feet = let herself go. It’s why Hillary Clinton, in her first post-election appearance, was judged to look “exhausted”, “haggard” and “washed out”, when really all she’d done was dare to venture out without make-up. That such a brave, gutsy move should be turned into a negative (also: that I’m even describing the simple act of not wearing make-up as a “brave, gutsy” move at all) rather backs up Tilbury’s claims. Yes, it would be tremendous if women could do their jobs make-up free without fear of opprobrium, but we can’t. Some of us can, sure, but not those in the public eye. Not actresses, not TV presenters, not politicians. Witness the furore over Alicia Keys, who in an essay last May laid out her reasons for ditching cosmetics. She wrote of “the harsh, judgemental world of entertainment”, of “never fully being who I was but constantly changing so all the ‘they’s’ would accept me” and of “feeling that, as I am, I was not good enough for the world to see.” Famous or not, how many women, reading those words, could fail to relate?

At first, Keys was applauded for her stance. Then came the backlash. She was rich and naturally beautiful, so it didn’t count. And wait – what’s this? – here she is wearing make-up again, shot for the February issue of Allure. “I’m not a slave to make-up. I’m not a slave to NOT wearing make-up either,” she recently qualified, adding that “I’m all about a woman’s right to choose.” 

Make-up should be a choice, and that’s really all there is to say about it. Or would be, were it not for the fact that thousands of women have had that choice taken away from them. These women aren’t rich, powerful celebrities: they’re air hostesses, waitresses, receptionists and many others whose employers deem their “outward facing” roles demand that they look a certain way. Which is why it’s such good news that yesterday, MPs concluded that the government must enforce the law to ban sexist dress rules at work. In commissioning a joint report, they were inundated with complaints from women who said they had been victimised by sexist rules about their clothing, citing examples ranging from being asked to wear shorter skirts and higher heels to being asked to wear specific colours of nail polish and lipstick. Some women even said they were asked to reapply make-up at specific intervals. 

So yes, it would be wonderful it if became more fashionable not to wear make-up. Better still, it would be wonderful if it became mandatory for employers not to dictate that women have to. Until then, Charlotte Tilbury is on hand with her Matte Revolution lipstick and her Rock ‘n’ Kohl eyeliner. Wear it, don’t wear it: it’s up to you. And if it isn’t, it should be. 


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Photo: Getty Images
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Laura Craik

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