According to multiple studies, women are likely to be tipped higher, awarded prestigious jobs, or seen as more competent in the workplace when they wear makeup. But this is not completely a win for women. It still points to twisted expectations and gender inequality. Men don't have to layer on foundation or mascara, yet in every country they (still!) earn more than women for doing the same job. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Olga Khazan refers to this disturbing correlation between spending on cosmetics and rising through the professional ranks as "makeup tax."
It may seem like a petty issue, but the cost is not just a social one. "Women invest time and money into doing their makeup because it impacts…their paychecks," Olga explains. As such, the term "tax" is quite appropriate. Women essentially have to pay-a lot-to gain privilege at work. In fact, each year, they spend enough on cosmetics to make it a US$60 billion (S$84 billion) industry.
Filipina professionals are among these consumers. In a country that is known for its low wages and high beauty standards, yet where NARS and MAC cost as much as anywhere else, the "makeup tax" becomes a weightier issue.
From the outset, Filipino job applicants are expected to be attractive. They know to submit photos of themselves to prospective employers-a practice that isn't standard, and even frowned upon, in other countries. "In the Philippines, a picture is important, and hiring decisions by senior management may be made on looks [for certain postions]," explains Atty. Federico Tancongco, a senior vice president at BDO. That no one speaks out against this, points to a tacit understanding that the hiring process is partially a headshot pageant.
In fact, Dr. Jonathan Exiomo, president of Alliance Graduate School, who oversees the hiring process of students and also grooms them to find employment, encourages this mindset. He believes "the face is the exteriority of what's inside"-that is, inside the company. So it is in the applicant's benefit to look the part.
Not everyone is as rigid though. Cuit Kaufman, chef and co-owner of The Bowery says that when he's hiring, "Physical attractiveness is of course considered." But charisma is equally important. He adds that these standards are "for customer service jobs only, [but] for other positions, attractiveness is not really a consideration."
Although both men and women endure looks-based hiring processes, the standards are even more demanding-or should I say taxing-on the latter. Before a woman poses for a resume photo, she has likely spent money and time on makeup first. And this just gets her to the interview room.
So what happens when high beauty standards, low income, and patriarchy converge? We could look to Brazil for an answer. Our South American counterpart's obsession with beauty is well-documented, as is their poverty, and rampant accusations of sexism. Stemming from a similar past as we do, their present may become our future. In 2012, the homeland of Gisele Bündchen and Adriana Lima shocked the world when they announced that free plastic surgeries are now available for the poor.
Perhaps the Philippines won't react this extremely to the trappings of "makeup tax," but in paying it, we seem to echo the Brazilian pro-surgery cries of "beauty is a right" and "the poor deserve to be beautiful." Sentiments rooted in the belief that beauty, like education, can tip the scales in favour of someone who would otherwise be disadvantaged. Alexander Edmonds of The New York Times agrees. He says, "[W]hile attractiveness is a quality 'awarded' to those who don't morally deserve it, it can also grant power to those excluded from other systems of privilege."
We may never bring plastic surgery to the masses, but it's clear that we, too, wield attractiveness with ambitious intent.
So should Filipina women pay the "makeup tax" and pursue beauty as a means of claiming power? It's one possibility, although Olga of The Atlantic offers another viewpoint. She urges those in power to "speak out against appearance discrimination and gender bias." And, you know, it's so crazy, it just might work.