Breaking the Bias about Beauty and Brains
I love the month of March for many reasons. A time of the year where seeds are planted and new life sprouts. Spring bring us change after a long winter and hope for warmer days ahead. As you should already know, International Women's Day (IWD) also occurs annually on March 8th. IWD exists to celebrate the social, economic, and cultural achievements women have made and to raise awareness of the challenges we face toward achieving equality.
This year's IWD theme is #BreakTheBias and we have the honour of introducing this month's guest blogger, Brooke Johnson Isaak, the brilliant mom + lawyer behind The Monday Best. This is a must-read for any of you who have ever experienced beauty bias. Read about it below and how breaking this bias ignited change in Brooke's life.
The theme of International Women’s Day 2022 is #BreakTheBias. Bias is something that women are intimately familiar with as we are exposed to it in an array of contexts. From sports (“you throw like a girl”) to politics (“women are too emotional to lead”) to the workplace (assertive men are viewed as promising leaders while assertive women are perceived negatively as bossy or bitchy), women encounter gender bias at every turn. These biases make way for inequalities to form and thrive.
Being that you have landed here on Lip Republic’s website (welcome!) I am going to operate on the assumption that you have at least a cursory interest in beauty, fashion, and the like. There is an unfortunate prevalent societal perception that an interest in beauty and fashion is accompanied by a lesser intellect. We have seen this play out time and time again on the big screen, most popularly through the one and only Elle Woods. You have probably encountered this in the real world at some point as well; hearing someone call a woman a “ditz”, a “bimbo”, or a “dumb blonde” based solely on her appearance. This is known as the beauty bias.
Unsurprisingly, contouring and highlighting has no impact on our intelligence. A woman’s interest in fashion and beauty is not vain or stupid or substance-less – instead it’s a very logical and rational response to the enormous weight society places on the appearance of women. In a 2017 study by Pew Research Centre, it was found that society values physical attractiveness as the most important trait a woman can bring to the table. The study found that important characteristics such as honesty, loyalty, competency, work ethic, and ambition were all less valuable than a woman’s physical appearance. When we are continually bombarded by the notion that attractiveness is our most important asset, it shouldn’t be surprising that a significant number of women take an interest in fashion, beauty, and the like. It’s not dumb, it’s survival in a world that places a tremendous amount of worth on the way women look.
As a lawyer in the corporate world where intellect is highly valued, it struck me a number of years ago that the corporate dress code seems to reinforce the beauty bias. We are told that to look “professional” makeup must be minimal and natural looking, hair is to be pulled back and not too long, and clothing can’t stray far from a dark coloured pant suit. Women in the corporate world are constantly warned that they won’t be taken seriously if they step outside of these narrow confines. The (misinformed) idea is that intelligent and competent women don’t preoccupy themselves with the trivial topic of beauty and fashion. The corporate dress code perpetuates the notion that intelligence and an expressed interest in beauty and fashion can’t coexist.
I wholeheartedly disagree and I wasn’t willing to abide by the dress code as it stood so I chose to buck the corporate uniform and instead dress explicitly feminine, colourfully, and not shy away from a heavier hand when it came to one of my favourite things – makeup. I set out to demonstrate that women do in fact have the mental capacity to be many things at once. We are multifaceted. Our competence in one area does not diminish our competence in another. I can
express my interest in beauty and fashion and simultaneously be an excellent lawyer. My desire to disrupt the misconception that women can’t be both intelligent and interested in beauty and fashion was one of the propelling forces that led me to create @TheMondayBest where I draw attention to an array of gender based biases.
International Women’s Day provides an important opportunity to assess what needs to be done to achieve gender equality on a collective scale and also what each of us can do individually to work toward that goal.
What biases are you going to break this year?