Makeup, Fashion, Lookbook

Virgin Airlines will finally drop their mandatory, sexist makeup rule—but is it a win for women?

Change is happening, but it still isn't enough

Most airlines have a policy when it comes to the uniform. Those rules include the way the uniform should be worn, the shoes they’re allowed to wear and how to look presentable.  Mandatory uniform policies are not unusual, but they have always been inherently sexist. Many airlines require female colleagues to wear skirts, heels, and make-up as a mandatory rule.

I completely understand the need to be presentable at work. Employees represent the company and customers expect a certain standard that employees should meet. However, is the issue with all employees looking presentable or just women?  Women can only be seen as presentable when they’re caked in make-up because imperfections don’t make women look presentable to a company standard.

It is important to note that these policies regarding the way women are viewed in the air are not limited to just make-up standards. Other airlines like Virgin have very different policies in regard to gender equality. British Airways, the UK’s leading airline still has the make-up rule in place, so it’s obvious that big competitors do not want to follow suit in even looking remotely diverse or changing with the times.  It is also thought that British Airways did not consider trousers as part of women’s uniform until 2017 when their rules changed. Norwegian Airways also have a mandatory requirement for female stewardesses to wear high heels. Qatar Airways, an airline that has fired female members of cabin crew for being pregnant as it ruined the company’s image.

When talking about skin and make-up specifically is important to note the effect it can have. Specifically, when flying, the cabins atmospheric pressure changes which affects how much moisture our skin is able to produce. Applying heavy make-up can dry out the skin further and lead to a breakout. For anyone with already severe acne, eczema or psoriasis, this would become a major problem if done on a regular basis. If being a part of a cabin crew is a full-time job, then this would mean consistently putting on make-up time and time again. Employers clearly do not understand that this can have a damning effect. It should be acknowledged that all skin is different so not everyone will feel this way but it doesn’t excuse the fact that it should not have been a mandatory part of the uniform, it should always have been a choice.

Not to mention the fact that Virgin Atlantic has ‘welcomed’, cabin crew to follow the palette of foundation and lipstick set out in its guidelines. It just seems condescending at this point. They clearly don’t understand how expensive make-up is. Surely, if it’s part of a ‘uniform’, or has been up until they lifted the rule, the airline should be providing the make-up or give compensation in order to fund it. That is not an unreasonable request and it should be fulfilled.

It could also be argued that the move is not under the stance of gender equality but instead so that stewardesses could save time. There is nothing in the policy that discusses the freedom to not wear makeup. It was just taken away as a mandatory rule. If that doesn’t show how the airline is obviously discriminating based on sex, then I don’t know what is. When regarding women and their right to wear standard uniform items such as heels and trousers, the sexist message remains the same.

This policy clearly does not take into account that men are not required to wear make-up too. Or that male colleagues can look presentable without make-up, but this rule isn’t the same for female colleagues. This seems like a patriarchal requirement, where the onus is on women to look good.

The longstanding sexism within the airline industry extends beyond uniform policies as mentioned above.  It’s not uncommon to see these practices but there is change happening. However, the slow pace is not inspiring to those who just want an equal workplace for all.

  • Sara Hussain

    Sara Anum Hussain is a recent graduate in Criminology with Quantitative Methods from Manchester Metropolitan University. She has taken part in projects including Voices of Survivors: Hearing Women for Change and small student publications as well as having her own personal blog. With a flare for writing and a passion for tackling women’s rights issues, she’s taking the next step to ensure she’s in a position to do so.