Ask a Young Clergy Woman: Cosmetic Quandary Edition

Post Author: Askie

Eyeshadow Palette

Eyeshadow Palette

Dear Askie,

I’m not a young clergy woman, but I’m a little puzzled, and hoping you’ll be able to help me out. The wonderful office administrator of the church where I’m the pastor retired recently, after almost thirty years of faithful service. We found a talented new office administrator, and she is doing all kinds of great work reformatting our bulletins, getting us onto social media, and the like, as well as keeping up with the regular administrative tasks of the church. The problem is this: one of our congregants just made a visit to me to speak about the new office administrator. The Ladies’ Fellowship is concerned that the office administrator doesn’t wear makeup to the office. Apparently, one of the ladies told her that she “really ought to” wear makeup, but she still doesn’t wear makeup. They’d like me as her supervisor to tell her that she must wear makeup every day. I’m a single guy in my 40s, so I feel a little out of my depth. She looks fine to me, but if the ladies are concerned, maybe they’re seeing something I’m not. Should I talk with her about this? And how should I frame that conversation?

Confused by Cosmetics


Dear Confused by Cosmetics,

No. No no no no no no no no no.

Okay, maybe that was a little strong. But no, do not tell your office administrator that she has to wear makeup. This is not only a triangle you don’t want to be involved in, it is also an employment situation that could get ugly very quickly if you don’t watch out.

Don’t get me wrong, makeup is great. Askie has (ahem) plenty of it. Browsing for new lipstick colors and such can be a lot of fun, for those of us who are so inclined. And as a pastor, I find that wearing makeup for worship leadership is tremendously helpful: the sanctuary is a large space, and having a bit of eye and lip makeup on helps make my facial expressions visible to congregants who are seated further away. Many young women clergy find that we are taken more seriously when wearing cosmetics, and some of us choose to wear makeup regularly for that reason. Others wear it because we enjoy it!

But you didn’t ask whether Askie thought it was advisable for female pastors to wear makeup, Confused. You asked whether it was appropriate for you as a supervisor to require your office administrator to wear makeup at the behest of the Ladies’ Fellowship. That is a different question altogether.

Some internet searching reveals that it’s probably not illegal to make such a requirement. Gender-based dress codes are typically found to be non-discriminatory by courts, unless they impose a much heavier burden on one gender. (Makeup requirements have not typically been considered to be overly burdensome, although Askie suspects that the judges making these decisions have never used an eyelash curler.) So it might be legal to require the office administrator to wear makeup, but is it ethical for us as Christians? I think it probably isn’t. What messages about faith and the church would such a requirement send?

A few that occur to Askie:

  • The church cares more about women’s physical appearances than about their gifts, talents, and contributions to the life of the church.
  • Women, although made in the image of God, are only considered “presentable” after applying cosmetics.
  • Our faith community is willing to defer to secular society’s beauty standards, whatever they may be.

In fact, Confused, a pretty good case could be made for Christians to not wear makeup, if one were so inclined… From the ways that the beauty industry idolizes youth, to the ways it hyper-sexualizes women and girls, to the ways it reinforces racism, there is much for us to be cautious about in society’s obsession with cosmetics. And let’s not forget the New Testament and early Christian texts discouraging women from adorning themselves (although Askie does not read those passages literally).

There are a whole host of practical reasons not to require makeup, as well. I suspect that the Ladies’ Fellowship has pretty clear (and perhaps generationally specific) ideas about what types, colors, and amounts of makeup are appropriate. What would you do when the office administrator’s makeup didn’t meet their standards? If she never wears makeup and doesn’t own any, would the church be willing to reimburse her for the substantial expense involved? Who would oversee her adherence to this requirement?

It seems to me, Confused, that you’re going to need to let the Ladies’ Fellowship know that, while you appreciate their concern for the church’s image in the community, it isn’t appropriate to require staff to wear makeup. Speak warmly about some of the wonderful work she’s doing; once they start to appreciate her contributions to the church’s ministry, they might be a little less hung up on her physical appearance. Since they’ve spoken to the office administrator, I would encourage you to speak to her as well. Let her know that you’re aware of the comments they’ve made, and that you don’t agree. Clarify what expectations you have in terms of professional image (it sounds like she’s been meeting them), and empower her to disregard any further comments about her (lack of) cosmetics.

God bless you, Confused, God bless your office administrator, and God bless the Ladies’ Fellowship.

Grace and peace,




Image by: Courtney Rhodes
Used with permission
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