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November 11, 2019

Women in Japan’s workplaces banned from wearing “cold” and “unfeminine” glasses

Women in Japan’s workplaces banned from wearing “cold” and “unfeminine” glasses

Several news outlets reported this week that Japan’s working women are being told to remove their glasses for reasons that range from them giving a cold impression to customers to masking the makeup of women who work in the beauty sector.

In her IZA World of Labor article on whether it pays for workers to invest in beauty, Soohyung Lee says: “The efficient allocation of human capital is crucial for a country’s economic success. Discrimination based on characteristics irrelevant to a person’s productivity may impose a sharp cost on the efficiency of an economy.” 

Given fairly widespread beauty-based discrimination, Lee believes “it is important to assess the extent to which a person can mitigate such discrimination through goods and services to enhance beauty.” Her research indicates, however, that “at the current stage of technology, scope for improvements in beauty remains fairly limited, and the monetary costs generally outweigh the monetary benefits.”

Preventing women from wearing glasses in the workplace is just the latest in a list of prescriptive beauty standards imposed on professional women in Japan. In March, women questioned the common requirement that they wear makeup at work. While another recent controversy involved rules requiring women to wear high heels to work. Actor and writer Yumi Ishikawa launched a petition calling for Japan to end dress codes after being made to wear high heels while working at a funeral parlour.

Whether or not the glasses bans are based on specific companies’ policies, or simply reflect what is considered to be socially accepted practice in those workplaces, Japanese women have taken to social media in large numbers for a heated discussion. 

Kumiko Nemoto, Professor of Sociology at Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, says people in Japan are reacting to the “outdated” policies. She says the reasons given for why women are not supposed to wear glasses just don't make sense: “It’s all about gender. It’s pretty discriminatory.”

“Women are evaluated mostly on their appearance,” she said. “That’s the message that these policies are sending, at least.” 

In her article, Lee says that “[p]olicy interventions to develop legal measures and encourage social practices that can directly address discrimination based on physical appearance may be warranted.”