Japan is known for many things that go against the grain compared to the rest of the world.
This latest one has women being told to not wear glasses at the workplace because it made them look “cold” and “unfeminine.”
Watch to find out more of this incident!
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One anonymous woman in her twenties, Ms. A, who works at a department store as a receptionist, said that her superior informed her that “glasses are prohibited.”
“He said this as though it were obvious,” she said. “I told myself at that time that we weren’t allowed glasses because we needed to look feminine, that it just wouldn’t do to wear them.”
“Now that I think about it, perhaps it was that they wanted us all to look uniform,” she said, “as though we were part of some kind of gymnastics squad.”
Since she wasn’t allowed to wear glasses, Ms. A had to wear contact lenses for over 12 hours each day which resulted in eye irritation due to dryness and fatigue. Sometimes, she would just close her eyes to relieve them while she was on her break.
“There are times when it’s bad whatever I do,” said Ms. A, “and there are often mornings where I just think to myself, ‘I wish I could wear glasses.'”
“In those first few years I started working, I was told over and over that I needed to look sweeter and more feminine,” she said.
But it extends beyond eyeglasses. Makeup that isn’t “conservative” is also banned such as glittery eye shadows or eyelash extensions. Even an employee’s hair color is strictly regulated in the company guidelines.
It’s considered good manners in Japan to wear a face mask if you feel you’re about to go under the weather so that you don’t infect others. But Ms. A’s company also disallows masks.
Ms. A said: “I was worried that if I got a cold, I wouldn’t be able to go to work. It’d be discourteous to customers [to turn up without wearing a face mask].”
Those are the rules for every female employee. Only the salespeople who interact with customers can wear glasses and lower-heeled shoes or use a face mask if they’re coming down with something.
But wearing glasses is totally fine for male receptionists.
It was the same story in another company Ms. A previously worked for. Their rules on hair were so strict that they would ask the employee to redo their hair if it wasn’t considered presentable enough.
Not wanting to spend 30 minutes a day just fixing her hair, Ms. A had it cut short instead.
“Suddenly, I realized I wasn’t being paid for the time I was spending on doing my hair, and I felt depressed,” she said. “I felt the same about the contact lenses and make-up.”
“It seems like only women are being asked for the appearance of beauty and feminine that isn’t imposed on men,” she pondered. “I just don’t understand.”
“I like working in customer service, and I take pride in my role,” Ms. A continued, “but I don’t want to be ‘feminine’ in the workplace. It should be the thoughtful attitude I have towards clients [rather than my hair] that matters. I want the rules to be reviewed.”
Ms. A added that looking “intelligent” can also be a minus when looking for work.
While the hospitality industry is open to the use of glasses, some job recruitment sites that encourage female applicants to use contact lenses instead. And it’s a practice that’s prevalent all over Japan.
Business Insider Japan conducted a survey and found that women in showrooms “have a very narrow set of rules, covering hair color, nails, and glasses.”
One twenty-something female student said in the survey: “In the hospitality sector, I was told to switch to contact lenses because wearing glasses is unhygienic.”
And in companies where glasses aren’t specifically prohibited, the employers still said they simply didn’t like female employees to wear glasses.
According to one recruitment site, wearing glasses makes it hard for others to read your facial expression and you could even be seen as unfriendly or cold. Or even smart.