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Ever wonder how long it takes Kim Kardashian to get ready in the morning?

I do. Not out of envy but sheer curiosity, as someone who can barely find the time to apply eyeliner at some point between 6 a.m. and whenever I walk out my front door. When I look at photos of the celebrity icon and multimillion-dollar businesswoman – she reportedly earned $28-million (U.S.) last year – I start calculating the financial impact her regimen has on her day.

Professional makeup applications can take up to 45 minutes. Blow drying and styling her hair, I imagine, takes about the same amount of time. Multiply that by five mornings a week, and 20 or so mornings a month, and the hours add up. And that's just hair and makeup. When you add to that manicures, waxing and facials, not to mention clothes shopping, that could take a day each week and a week each month.

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Then again, her appearance plays an important role in her beauty and fashion empire, so the time spent makes good business sense. Luckily, we mere mortals outside the beauty industry don't need to put in that much effort. Or do we?

For Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens, who writes about work-life balance, relationships and parenting, it wasn't her words but her head-shot photo that set off a storm of angry e-mails from men and women alike. Readers questioned her insight and her intellect all because her tresses didn't fall the way her audience expected them to. She summed up the response to her hair in her column Hate mail lesson: Uncombed hair threatens the natural order.

As Ms. Stevens explained in her column, she isn't a famous politician or business person, but still her hair launched an Internet storm.

"Is this really where we're stuck as a culture? At a place where we drown out women's voices with critiques of their hair?" she wrote.

This remains problematic for me since it's 2015 and yet we still can't separate women's accomplishments from their looks.

Recently, the National Review wrote about U.S. congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard and the first thing the story said about her was that she is young, beautiful and hip, and only then recounted her accomplishments, including her military combat background.

The issue of appearance is bound to come up again with Hillary Clinton, who is soon expected to announce her run for the U.S. presidency. Everything from her hair accessories, to her bangs to her preference for pantsuits has always made headlines. She jokingly entertained the idea of calling her memoir The Scrunchie Chronicles: 112 Countries and It's Still All About My Hair.

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The problem in not only that the public deems it acceptable to attack the appearance of any female businesswoman, politician or even columnist who decides that their voice will be heard. The other problem is that there is no standardized uniform for the archetypal successful woman and anything they wear can and will be held against them.

Sure, women have suits, as do men, but colour, fit, skirt length and whether to show cleavage seem to open up women to criticism. Outside of traditional business, the appearance of success seems even more elusive. In the startup world, many men pull off a jeans-and-T-shirt look but I'm not sure women can do the same. Is there a female equivalent for Steve Jobs' turtleneck?

This gets more challenging as your seniority and stature rises. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer created a controversy when she appeared reclining upside down on a chaise longue in the fashion magazine Vogue. For Hillary Clinton, her appearance will remain a never-ending concern. As Emily Greenhouse recently wrote in an article for Bloomberg, "When it comes to image, there is no template for the way the most powerful person in the country ought to dress if that person is female."

This is not a male-versus-female issue. Society, generally speaking, reads too much into women's looks, forcing women into a "beauty paradox," where they need to look good enough to get ahead but perhaps not so good that it becomes distracting.

This results in a lose-lose scenario for women. We shouldn't fear that our unruly hair will ignite a controversy. We need to collectively take a closer look in the figurative mirror and realize that looking the part of a successful business woman may be more elusive than imagined.

For my part, I'm going to worry less about my bad-hair days. They happen. While I may feel inclined to spend less time at the hairdresser, it really won't affect my ability to lead, think or write.

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Leah Eichler is founder and CEO of r/ally, a mobile collaboration platform for enterprises. Twitter: @LeahEichler

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