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The utility of makeup for women
Note how makeup and longer hair make the face look more feminine (look at the picture with either left- or right-half hidden). I got this image from a journal article but don’t recall which one.
Since makeup can make a face look more feminine, and femininity is a powerful correlate of women’s beauty, makeup is of great value in increasing the attractiveness of women. It cannot be simply argued that patriarchy makes women put on makeup when women use it to appear more feminine.
Make up affects more than mere attractiveness ratings:
A study by Nash et al.(1, pdf) – The study explored whether 4 Caucasian women would be evaluated differently on 4 social measures depending on whether they were presented with or without makeup. Participants – 152 men and 171 women – were split into 2 groups and were presented with the women’s facial photographs either with or without cosmetics. Women presented wearing cosmetics were perceived as healthier and more confident than when presented without. Participants also awarded women wearing makeup with a greater earning potential and with more prestigious jobs than the same women without cosmetics. The results suggest that women can successfully employ cosmetics to manipulate how they are assessed, which may be advantageous in social situations where women may be judged on their appearance, such as job interviews.
This should not be seen as patriarchy creating a social structure where people have a more favorable view of women with makeup, thereby forcing women to use makeup. If women are using makeup to appear more feminine and youthful, given a natural appreciation of youth, blemish-free skin and femininity in women, there will be a halo effect of attractiveness on other attributes.
Nash et al.’s results differ from a previous study by Kyle and Mahler,(2) which showed that the professional competence of makeup wearing women was rated lower and they were designated lower salaries by judges, but this was only shown for women applying for lower status professions such as secretarial positions. Kyle and Mahler explained their find by suggesting that the judges perceived women with makeup as more feminine and hence less assertive and less self-reliant. But there is a study that showed no effect of cosmetics on the perceived competence of women applying for prestigious positions such as accountancy,(3) and Nash et al. also cited a paper showing higher use of cosmetics by better educated professional white women in urban areas.(4) So cosmetics are of potential benefit in job interviews, especially since enhanced attractiveness increases the likelihood of favorable evaluations in job interviews, but there are surely right and wrong kinds of makeup for the workplace/job interviews, and I will likely have more to say on this later.
A common theme in women’s makeup is to make the eyes (eyelashes and eyelids) and lips darker than the surrounding regions. Russell(5, pdf) used a series of experiments to assess whether the luminosity (brightness) of the eyes and mouth contrasted with the luminosity of the surrounding regions is related to attractiveness ratings in white men and white women. He found that if the face was made brighter or darker as a whole, then attractiveness was unaffected, but making the eyes and mouth darker relative to the rest of the face tended to increase the attarctiveness ratings of women but decrease the attractiveness ratings of men.
The question is does this preference among the judges reflect the fact that women are much more likely to be seen with makeup than men and the difference perceived as feminine or does it reflect the fact that women tend to naturally have eye and mouth regions darker than the rest of the face, and if so then the makeup is simply increasing the sex difference in the direction of greater femininity? Russell cites literature showing that when men have used makeup, either in the present or past, they have rarely attempted to change the relative brightness of different parts of the face. There is a possibility that there is a natural sex difference regarding the relative luminosity of different parts of the face, but this requires further investigation.
- Nash, R., Fieldman, G., Hussey, T., Leveque, J. L., and Pineau, P., Cosmetics: They influence more than Caucasian female facial attractiveness, J Appl Soc Psychol, 36, 493 (2006).
- Kyle, D. J., and Mahler, H. I., The effects of hair colour and cosmetic use on perceptions of a female’s ability, Psychology of Women Quarterly, 20, 447 (1996).
- Cox, C., and Glick, W., Resume evaluation and cosmetics use: When more is not better, Sex Roles, 14, 51 (1986).
- Chao, A., and Schor, J. B., Empirical tests of status consumption: Evidence from women’s cosmetics, J Economic Psychol, 19, 107 (1998).
- Russell, R., Sex, beauty, and the relative luminance of facial features, Perception, 32, 1093 (2003).