Friday, January 24, 2014

Hillary Clinton’s New Hair – Sexist Comments or Psychological Signals?

In an article titled "Let’s face it, the ‘beauty premium’ exists at work" published on January 10, 2014, in the Toronto Globe and Mail, Leah Eichler flirts with the idea that attention to Mrs. Clinton’s bangs – and to any women’s appearance – might be unfair and, perhaps, even sexist. Lamenting the fact that, “The hairstyles of prominent female leaders never fail to make the news,” she mentions "The Beauty Premium" as one explanation.

Interpreting our fixation with Mrs. Clinton's hair as an aspect of the "beauty premium" misses the
Janet Mayer - Splash
point. We look at the hair of any person of influence and power to discern whether they can function in their role in an effective and expected way. We do judge books by their covers and before we say, "oh, that isn’t right; that shouldn't happen," think about how we label a person in tattered clothes pushing a shopping cart along the street. Do we think "corporate executive?" Or "homeless?" Undercover Boss tells us we probably judge “homeless.” That’s just the way we do it. It's in our DNA.

And before we lament the fact that attention is paid to Mrs. Clinton's hair - again - let's look at the hair of some men. Malcolm Gladwell's deliciously unruly locks work for him because he’s a writer who thinks thoughts the rest of us only dream of. That hair would work against him if he aspired to be, say, a bank president and any of his male mentors would be quick to tell him so. The same with Einstein and his wild locks. The Reverend Al Sharpton is another case in point. As he has moved more into the mainstream, he has tamed his signature James-Brown-tribute hair. And on January 21, 2014, ABC Evening News’ Senior National Correspondent Jim Avila, in reporting on Chris Christie’s inauguration said Christie was "sporting a more presidential haircut." So … "they" just say these things to and about women? Obviously not. Perhaps men follow the rules so much that they don’t need the comments. My money is on the latter.

Rich Schultz - AP Photos
Though we can always find the few exceptions that prove the rule, more conventional positions almost always necessitate conventional hair. We, the people, require  it. We make judgments on competence (and 16 other qualities) within 3.5 seconds of meeting someone and those conclusions, once made, are visceral, deep and long-lasting - a point tangentially made in Malcolm Gladwell's blink!

So Mrs. Clinton's hair is not a beauty issue. It is a can-we-trust-her-to-be-the-chief-executive issue. It is a question of what her clothes and hair project, an issue, finally, answered by looking through the prism of The Silent Language of Clothes©. And here are some points she could think about in choosing her hair style and her wardrobe: 

  • Get the hair right quickly. Frequent hair changes signal a flip-flopping mind and your opposition will use that to their advantage. "She just seems unstable" they can say and many people will resonate with that deep in their core without quite knowing why.
  • Choose a style that projects the elements you need for the job and for the campaign trail. Among the qualities we look for in our president are: authority (you will be the commander-in-chief, of course), effectiveness, authenticity, trustworthiness and friendliness (when relating with the public).
  • Project these qualities in your clothes every day, taking into consideration the venue and your audience. Though you have more than amply demonstrated these qualities in your stellar public service career, every appearance is a mini first impression and you must visually reinforce these qualities each day. Your opponents will be doing so. Don’t let them get the edge.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Why Wear Makeup?

A few years ago I heard that women who wear some make-up – not too much, not too little – make 11% more money than women who go without makeup or wear excessive amounts.

This immediately resonated with me. Women in a professional setting with no make-up look so unfinished, so raw, so, well … unprofessional.

Then the feminist in me took over: how unfair. Why should women have to wear makeup and men don’t? I continued to do what worked for me: a certain amount of make-up in professional situations – not too little, not too much. And I continued to tell clients and audiences this statistic – though shakily, because I could never find the research. And I continued to puzzle over the unfairness.

I also wondered:  if the statement is true, how does one know what is too much or too little? When has one crossed the line? As an image professional I was fairly certain that I was within the boundaries, but how could others be so sure? What guidelines could I give my clients? Then one day it hit me:

A woman should spend as much time applying make-up as a man spends shaving.

Men's Health
Though this idea was still based on my gut feelings rather than research, here was the symmetry, the fairness, the gender-neutral prescription: a certain amount of face time in the mirror each morning if we want success. Women aren’t unilaterally asked to do something men don’t do. We are expected, if we want success, to follow the same rules that successful men follow, but in a feminine way. The female version, if you will.

So: how much time does a man spend shaving? From five to 15 minutes. Spend that much time on your make-up, ladies! And see what happens.

Nancy Etcoff and the Harvard Study

As true as this prescription felt, it was still based on my gut, on a hunch. But now there is research. Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D., author of Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty, Assistant Clinical Professor at Harvard University and Associate Researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital Department of Psychiatry, has led a team of researchers from those institutions in association with Procter & Gamble, Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute that looks at how women are perceived by others when they wear different makeup styles.

The bottom line of the study is that all makeup applications – from light to heavy – made the woman appear more competent, likeable, attractive, and trustworthy than the face without makeup. (This buttresses research done in Germany in 2009 that men find evenness of color more attractive than splotchy faces in women. Psychology Today) The most made up looks, however, were judged less trustworthy. And the most heavily made up look was seen as less dependable and stable.

One interesting aspect of this study is that it didn’t only look at whether makeup made a woman more beautiful. It also looked at competence, likability, trust, hireability – all qualities we need for effectiveness in the workplace.

Here is the design of the study. Participants looked at five photos of 25 women aged 20 to 50 from a range of ethnic backgrounds. In the first photo each woman appeared without makeup; the other four photos had makeup styles ranging from light to heavy identified as Natural, Professional, Glamorous and Sexy. Professional makeup artists created the looks with the difference between them being the contrast between the lips and eyes and the natural skin, called luminosity level. The Natural and Professional styles are slight progressions from No Makeup. Glamorous is a significant step up from Professional with darker eyes and dark red lips. Sexy had very dark eyes and pale lips.

Volunteers looked at the photos in two stages. In a quarter-second first-impression glimpse, all four makeup styles all increased the attractiveness, competence, likability and trust compared to the same face without makeup.

When given an unlimited amount of time to look at the photos, however, attractiveness, competence, likability and trust were higher for the Natural and Professional photos than for the face with no makeup. The most heavily made up faces, the Glamorous and the Sexy, were considered equally likeable and very attractive, but less trustworthy. And the Sexy look was judged the least dependable and stable. Dramatic and Sexy makeup was only an advantage when participants saw the photos quickly (for a quarter of a second). And women wearing no makeup got the lowest ratings on competence, likeability and attractiveness. (You can read more about the study at NY Times, Marie Claire, Psychology Today or P&G.)

This research is exciting to me for many reasons.
First, it documents the statement I heard years ago.

Second, this research is not about beauty which so much of the writing on makeup is. For those of us who are not great beauties, this is comforting. It is only about enhancing – and making the most of - what is already there.

Getty Images
Third, the study brings makeup into the gender-neutral realm. By showing the benefits and pitfalls of the feminine practice of makeup application, we can see the parallels to the similar routine men perform each day. Men spend about 10 minutes of face time with themselves in the mirror each morning. Women can use a similar amount of time in a feminized version of this meet-the-world ritual using that 10-minute average to apply just enough – but not too much - makeup.

We can further see that both practices are about more than looks; they are also about success. This adds a tool to women’s arsenal that men have used for centuries: Men shave and groom their beards to guarantee success; women have, of course, applied makeup for centuries, but smart women will now add this new intention to the application of their makeup.

To figure out the level of makeup that will bring you success – Natural, Professional, Glamorous or Sexy - take your work and/or social culture into consideration. If you work for a non-profit organization the culture might respond better to a more Natural look, whereas a bank Vice President or a politician might need a more Professional look (think Sarah Palin). In sales you would generally match the level of your client. And working at Vogue might require something between Professional and Glamorous. Context is key. Culture is key. Look and learn.

Dr. Etcoff says, “For the first time, we have found that applying makeup has an effect beyond increasing attractiveness – it impacts first impressions and overall judgments of perceived likeability, trustworthiness, and competence. … the results of the study have broad implications.”