When I have a very early morning flight--as I did traveling to Western City yesterday and as I will on my return on Monday--I try to sleep as late as possible, packing the night before and taking only the briefest of showers. I do wash my hair, and I dress nicely but comfortably. However, I do not put in my contacts and I do not put on any makeup.
And no matter how well I'm dressed, when I'm wearing my glasses and un-made-up, I get treated completely differently. To some degree this is my intention: I don't want to interact with the world at that hour or in those circumstances, so I'm not wearing my public face. But it's still unnerving. If I accidentally bump into someone, and smilingly apologize? If I make a joke or two with an airline agent or small talk with a TSA employee? Old, young, male, female: everyone I encounter is far less likely to respond, to smile, to engage with me in any way.
I guess this is something I've long intuited, and it's probably influenced, over the years, the way I present myself. But it pisses me off to be reminded of what we value and respond to in others. On an overnight flight to Rome last year, the flight attendant checking my passport made an exaggerated, comic routine out of not being sure whether I was the woman in my photo. And at a conference hotel I once ran into a colleague as I was checking in immediately after getting off a 6 a.m. flight. I said hi, and he (after figuring out who I was) said, "wow, you look really. . . tired."
I was tired, and I know that every one of us sometimes has difficulty recognizing people when they change their appearance or are out of their usual context. But I also know that what we read as "awake" and "rested" involves concealer and mascara.