Do Online Teachers Need Makeup?
First and foremost, appearance has nothing to do with our teaching ability; how we choose to present ourselves is a personal choice. However, teaching online brings about another challenge–the camera. We are forced to think of our appearance a bit differently. Both men and women, whether wearing makeup or not, make conscious decisions about how to best compose themselves to engage students and help them succeed.
My words aren’t meant to be only directed at women, but it is a topic that they have grappled with for a long time. I’ve seen posts from female colleagues who were asked, in parent feedback, to start wearing makeup. Sometimes the feedback was merely a kind suggestion, and sometimes they were given less than five apples. In all of these separate incidents, the teachers were left feeling a little wounded, and a mile-long thread of discussion ensued. I am a woman, and I get it. It doesn’t feel good to be criticized, however constructively, in this manner. On the other hand, at the risk of sounding like a Good Housekeeping article from the 1950s, I’d like to provide another perspective on wearing makeup, and how such a tiny thing can make a positive impact on our careers.
The Curse of the Webcam
I look perfectly fine in real life if I’m not wearing makeup, or if I haven’t even brushed my hair. Stick me, in that state, in front of a webcam and an entirely different person will emerge on the computer screen. That person on the computer does not represent me. She is a pale imitation of me, slovenly and unkempt, with flaws starkly in focus (okay, I’m being a little hyperbolic). My brightly lit office doesn’t help matters any–the megawatt illumination washes me out even more. This might be okay for a scary movie, but it could be a bit frightening to a young child.
I’m not alone; most people, even A-list celebrities, can hardly forgo makeup before appearing in front of a camera. Even a so-called “natural” look requires makeup on film! I’m almost positive that I would not have my high retention rate if I did not spend those 10 minutes every morning brushing out my hair and putting on makeup. My routine isn’t complicated, but it does wonders for myself and my teaching. When I see myself on the computer looking ghostly and slightly sick, I don’t feel ready to take on the day. I’ve only gone without makeup for a single day of classes, and I distinctly remember that the kids did not respond as well to me.
Society has changed since the mid-1900s…right?
Let’s set aside looks for a moment. The reason why actors and news anchors wear makeup is not only to look better, but also to bring their facial features into focus. The online ESL profession has another set of issues that face-to-face teachers won’t encounter. Distance learning requires us to be more animated and more exaggerated. With makeup on, our facial expressions are sharper and the movement of our mouths is clearer.
Maybe makeup isn’t as popular among the male teachers in our community, but men also have ways to enhance their appearance. Teacher Devin (Instagram handle @vipkidguy) spoke with me about why he made the move to shave off a long beard and mustache which he had worn before he began teaching online. His facial hair had been a part of his persona for a long time, so it was a big step to remove it. One of the main reasons for taking this step was to make his face and mouth more visible. He felt that he could more easily correct pronunciation without the beard and mustache.
Teacher Devin with his beard and mustache.
Teacher Devin clean-shaven!
Wisdom from Other Teachers
Teacher Lili (Instagram handle @vipkidteacherlili) says that she “will usually wear eyeliner, mascara, and the VIPKid red lipstick.” To minimize a disheveled appearance, she makes sure to brush her hair and prefers to put it up in pigtails. This is a short ritual, but it makes a world of difference to her.
I asked Teacher Dana (Instagram handle @vip_dana_gogo) her opinion on the parents of our Chinese students asking (in feedback) that instructors wear makeup. She had this to say:
“I think that these Chinese parents are paying a lot of money and want to see a professional on the other end. Because this is all online, these parents can only see you through their computer/iPad screen. Appearances are gold here and we can try to manipulate our lighting, but we look paler because of them. It can make you look tired, worn out and it can be downright unflattering. I don’t think people need to wear a full face of makeup. I do think that some lipstick, some mascara and maybe some color to your cheeks will brighten your appearance and complexion. I noticed that if I use a pink shade of lipstick rather than red, I will get asked on WeChat If I am tired. For some reason, lipstick color brightens your face and will give a fresh look every time.”
Teacher Jennifer’s quick makeup routine, shown in 15 seconds!
Teacher Jennifer loves looking her best for her young students.
I’ll conclude with advice from Teacher Jennifer. She had posted a time-lapse video of herself on Instagram (@eslteacherjennifer) getting ready for the day. She said:
“Do I do my makeup every morning? Yes!! I believe that a nice and clean look helps me with my lessons. It keeps the children’s attention and shows that I cared enough about them and myself to look presentable. I don’t think I would have such luck with bookings or classes if I appeared tired and worn out. Good teaching + looking presentable = 100% booked every week (40-50 classes).”