If you use any kind of social media it is likely that you will have seen LOTS of photos of women minus makeup. This is part of an effort to raise money for Cancer Research.
For me this begged a question. Normally the things we do to fundraise – running marathons, shaving our hair off, bathing in baked beans – are quite an ordeal. Could forgoing makeup really be such a big deal?
In a desperate effort to procrastinate from my studies, I looked into this.
As a starting point we can be very clear that how you look matters. It clearly shouldn’t but it does. It influences your success not just in obvious areas like work and relationships but also in more surprising matters like your prospects of staying out of prison. And unsurprisingly it is more important for men than women.
These effects trivial are also far from trivial. Yale economist Daniel Hamermesh found that people with above average looks generally get a ‘beauty premium’ in their earnings of 5% or more, while less attractive people suffer from a ‘plainness penalty’ of up to 9%.”
I’d already heard about studies like these before I started researching this post. However, I still guessed makeup would have little impact. This was because I assumed it would have only a marginal impact on overall attractiveness, which I assumed would depend overwhelmingly on things like age and bone structure.
Well it turns out I was wrong. Two experimental studies in real world situations by Nicolas Guéguen of the Université de Bretagne-Sud showed that applying cosmetics does have a big impact. One suggested that a woman sitting in a bar will – other things being equal – be 33% more likely to be hit on if she is wearing makeup. The other indicated that wearing makeup doubled the average tip received by a female waitress from male customers.
In both these cases, the observed change seems to have come about because women wearing makeup were perceived as more attractive. However, there are also studies that show a broader range of effects. For example, “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.”
In addition, to influencing how women are perceived by others, makeup also seems – as the Cancer Research campaign would suggest – to impact their own perception of themselves and therefore their self esteem.
So it seems that my instinct was wrong. Wearing makeup or not wearing makeup really does matter.
P.S. Lest you are wondering, yes the authors of at least some of the studies above have taken steps to separate out the impact of cosmetics on women’s self perception and how they are perceived by others.
P.P.P.S: There is also research on which makeup makes the most difference: “A recent study has found that eye makeup has the most powerful effect on female perceived attractivity, followed by foundation; lipstick, surprisingly, was found to have little independent effect (Mulhern et al., 2003).”