Navigating Appearance-Based Challenges in the Workplace: Insights from Filipino Employees

In the Philippines, many workers face unique challenges related to their appearance when it comes to employment. From cultural expectations to societal norms, employees may encounter barriers in the workplace that can impact their professional success. In this article, we’ll explore some of the critical challenges that Filipino workers face and offer insights on how to navigate them.
Filipino Job Seekers

The Impact of Physical Appearance on Hiring and Promotion

Physical appearance can significantly impact job opportunities and promotions in the Philippines. In many cases, employers may consciously or unconsciously make hiring or promotion decisions based on an individual’s appearance rather than their qualifications or experience. This can be particularly challenging for individuals conforming to traditional beauty standards or cultural expectations. Appearance-based discrimination can have a negative impact on an individual’s self-esteem, confidence, and career prospects. 

For example, height, weight, and skin color are all factors that may be viewed by employers when making hiring or promotion decisions in the Philippines. Taller individuals may be perceived as more authoritative or competent, while overweight individuals may be seen as less disciplined or less attractive. Skin color can also impact hiring and promotion decisions, with fair-skinned individuals often favored over darker skin in some roles and industries.

Research has demonstrated the impact of appearance on employment opportunities in the Philippines. For instance, a popular job search website study found that physical appearance is one of the top factors employers consider when making hiring decisions. In addition, another study by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that appearance-based discrimination is a common experience for Filipino workers, particularly women. These statistics highlight the importance of acknowledging and addressing the impact of physical appearance on employment in the Philippines.

Looking Happy Business Women

Cultural and Societal Expectations Around Appearance

The Philippines has a rich culture that strongly emphasizes appearance, particularly when it comes to grooming, clothing, and hygiene. There are many societal expectations around appearance in the Philippines, such as the importance of maintaining a neat and tidy appearance, wearing appropriate clothing for different occasions, and having good personal hygiene. These expectations are often reinforced through media, advertising, and cultural practices. 

These expectations can significantly impact employees, particularly those who may need to conform to traditional beauty standards or cultural expectations. For example, there may be pressure to conform to a specific dress code or wear makeup or groom oneself in a certain way to be perceived as professional or competent. This can be particularly challenging for individuals with limited financial resources or who may not have access to the same beauty products or services as others.

Navigating these cultural and societal expectations around appearance can be challenging, but it is possible to do so while still maintaining individuality and personal expression. One strategy is to find ways to incorporate personal style and expression within the parameters of professional dress codes or grooming expectations. This could mean adding a personal touch to an outfit, such as a unique accessory or piece of jewelry, or finding ways to style hair or makeup in an authentic way while still being appropriate for the workplace. Recognizing that societal expectations around appearance are not universal is also essential. It is also okay to embrace one’s individuality and personal style, even if it may deviate from traditional beauty standards.

Employer interviewing an Employee

Tattoos and Piercings in the Workplace

Tattoos and piercings are often viewed differently in different workplaces in the Philippines. While some employers may not have any issue with visible tattoos or piercings, others may view them as unprofessional or inappropriate. This can impact job opportunities and promotions for those with tattoos or piercings. For example, an employee with visible tattoos may be passed over for a promotion or job opportunity due to perceptions of unprofessionalism or concerns about customer perceptions. 

Employees with tattoos and piercings may face discrimination or bias in the workplace due to these visible markings. This can manifest in many ways, such as negative comments or assumptions about the employee’s character or work ethic. This can be particularly challenging for employees who may have tattoos or piercings that are important to their identity or personal expression.

To navigate this issue, it’s essential to be mindful of the type and location of tattoos and piercings, particularly during job interviews or client meetings. Depending on the workplace culture and expectations, it may be necessary to cover up tattoos or remove piercings in order to be perceived as professional. However, it’s also important to recognize that not all workplaces may have the same expectations, and some companies may have more progressive policies toward tattoos and piercings.

Some companies are adopting more progressive policies towards tattoos and piercings, recognizing that these visible markings do not necessarily impact an employee’s ability to perform their job duties effectively. This can positively impact the workplace culture and employee morale, as it can help to create a more inclusive and accepting work environment. By being open to these changes and advocating for more progressive policies around tattoos and piercings, employees can help to shape a more inclusive and accepting workplace culture.

Middle Age Filipino Sitting on a Big Truck

Addressing Discrimination and Bias in the Workplace

Discrimination and bias related to appearance can manifest in many ways in the workplace, such as through microaggressions, implicit bias, or overt acts of discrimination. For example, an individual may be subjected to negative comments or treatment because of their appearance or may be passed over for a promotion or job opportunity because they do not fit the employer’s expectations around appearance. Appearance-based discrimination can be particularly challenging because it can be difficult to prove and may be subtle or indirect. 

To address and combat discrimination related to appearance in the workplace, it’s essential to speak up when you witness it or experience it firsthand. This can be difficult to do, particularly if you are concerned about potential retaliation or negative consequences. However, speaking up can be an important first step in raising awareness and encouraging change. Seeking out support from allies and advocacy groups can also be helpful, as it can provide a sense of community and validation for those facing appearance-based discrimination.

Building resilience and maintaining confidence in the face of appearance-based discrimination can be challenging, but it is possible. One strategy is to focus on your strengths and accomplishments rather than your perceived shortcomings or areas where you may not fit traditional beauty standards. Surrounding yourself with supportive friends and colleagues can also be helpful, as it can provide a source of validation and encouragement.

Finally, it’s essential to recognize that appearance-based discrimination does not reflect your worth as a person or your ability to succeed in your career. By identifying your value and worth, you can help build resilience and maintain confidence in the face of adversity.

Filipino man sitting in a waiting room of an office lobby


In conclusion, physical appearance and cultural expectations around appearance continue to play a significant role in employment and career progression in the Philippines. Height, weight, skin color, grooming, clothing, and hygiene are just a few factors that can impact job opportunities and promotions. Therefore, it’s crucial for employees to understand the biases and perceptions around appearance and to navigate these expectations while still maintaining their individuality and personal expression. 

Additionally, as acceptance of tattoos and piercings in the workplace continues to evolve, employees must be aware of the potential impact of their body art on their professional lives. While some workplaces may still view tattoos and piercings as unprofessional or inappropriate, others are adopting more progressive policies towards body art, particularly for the BPO and Call Center sectors. By being mindful of the potential impact of tattoos and piercings on their professional lives and working to create a more inclusive and accepting workplace culture, employees can help shape a more positive and supportive work environment for themselves and their colleagues.

For more helpful employment tips and career advice, follow us at LocalTalent.PH.

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