To make-up or not to make-up? That is the question…

OK, so who wants to see a picture of two beautiful women? You do? OK, here we are then:

Maggie and Judi

Not what you were expecting?

Why not?

These two women display a wealth of intelligence, talent, and wit – what’s more beautiful than that?

They’re aging with style and grace and by the looks of it haven’t succumbed to the temptation of surgery or chemical injections. What’s more to admire?

Oh, and they’re not wearing any make-up.

Now there are many reasons why women don’t wear make-up. Some like the way they look without it, some feel it’s better for their skin. A few feel it’s too much effort, others that it’s too much money. Or that wearing make-up may make them look fake. Some don’t want to give into cultural pressures, others choose to stand apart from the crowd. All valid reasons.

It’s also valid to want to wear make-up – put on as much or as little as you like. In fact, some women talk about how make-up increases their sense of worth and their self-esteem although hopefully it’s not the only thing that is giving them that inner belief, that sense of confidence in their self.

There is a true story following the liberation of a concentration camp at the end of World War II where, with a lack of appropriate foodstuffs and medicine, few of the former prisoners were responding well and many continued to die. This was then further compounded when the next delivery turned out to be boxes of lipstick. One astute female officer however suggested these be given to the female captives and the impact was transformative: after all the horrific deprivations they had suffered, the simple act of putting lipstick on allowed them to look and feel like a woman again and the recovery rates in the female population improved dramatically. That’s powerful.

There are those who say make-up is anti-feminist – women should not be ruled by this device that is aimed at solely pleasing others, typically men. Or maybe it just empowers women in a different way – just look at what Cleopatra achieved.

But how about having to wear make-up? Now that’s an altogether different proposition.

Yet this all came to a head not too long ago at a Bafta event when a celebrity make-up artist, Charlotte Tilbury, stated that ‘women need make-up to get ahead in life – in their careers, in their personal lives, whatever it is.’

Well she would say that wouldn’t she?

But it sparked a response from another great theatre dame, Helen Mirren, who challenged women to adopt a bare-faced look – now she would know!

But it does raise a worrying question: as a woman, do you need to wear make-up to get on in life?

A recent study at Stirling University asked men and women to assess a range of made-up female faces for levels of attractiveness, prestige, and dominance. Whilst both genders were in agreement over the aesthetic appeal, they differed in their judgements of prestige and dominance: only women rated faces with cosmetics as higher in dominance, whilst only men rated them as higher in prestige.

This naturally led on to a second experiment which concluded that women experience more jealousy toward women wearing make-up and that it is often interpreted as a sign that she’s more attractive to men and more promiscuous.

What’s worrying in all of this is that, as the opening to this article suggests, there’s a lot more to a woman’s personality and appeal than just her appearance, yet it still holds so much sway. Just imagine if you are a woman going for a job interview – are you going to be assessed over the important qualities for a job – your actual skill, intelligence, and experience – or are members of the interviewing panel forming an opinion based on your make-up? Should you ‘make-up’ for a male interviewer but ‘tone down’ for a female one?

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and it is very much driven by social norms. It’s not that long ago that being plump and light-skinned were considered good indicators of wealth and health for a woman in European quarters – you were well fed and able to afford to keep out of the sun. Yet current trends are the opposite as we see women apply fake tans and pursue diets with sometimes appalling physiological consequences.

But there’s also something else that maybe we just have no control over, when perhaps it is more psychologically rooted in the fertility aspirations of a very base human need.

Women with red lips are perceived as more attractive and bright lipstick apparently influences how quickly a man will approach a woman at a bar.

Foundation evens skin tone and gives a stronger impression of health and symmetry.

Eye make-up – liner, shadow, mascara – exaggerates facial attractiveness by making eyes appear larger and hence more youthful. (As do small noses and large lips – plastic surgery/Botox anyone?)

Blusher apparently corresponds to the mid-cycle during ovulation when women are most sexually viable.

So, the modern cosmetics industry targets those features that make sense from an evolutionary perspective linking a woman’s fertility to her youth and health, and we all unwittingly fall into line.

In general make-up is seen to make women look healthier, appear more confident, and, in an unusual strive towards equality, have greater earning potential, than a woman who doesn’t wear any. (For the record, since men don’t have any limitations on their reproduction window they get away with merely displaying their wealth and resources as ‘qualities’ to attract a partner in return.)

I daresay our three dames starting out had to use all their guile, cunning, and make-up, to get on but once they were on their way then their abilities, thankfully, have been allowed to come to the fore. And as many a man knows, whilst you may be inexorably drawn to the good-looking beauty stood at the bar, a meaningful relationship works so much better when deeper qualities such as kindness, intelligence, and a sense of humour, to name but a few, abound. And I’m not making that up.

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