Those who like their foundation heavy may be a little disturbed by a new study that shows that they are perceived as less human and not taken seriously under the layers of makeup. But what if that’s the desired effect?
In the study, 1,000 participants, mostly from America and the United Kingdom, were asked to evaluate women’s faces with or without heavy makeup. Most participants reported as heterosexual and the sample included women as well as men. Both men and women perceived heavily made up women’s faces as possessing less humanness, less agency, less experience, less competence, less warmth, and less morality than faces without makeup. Tell us what you really think!
The results were the same whether they looked at photographs of models or ordinary women. Furthermore, eye shadow had a stronger dehumanising effect than lipstick. Scientific proof then, that the au naturel look is best?
Make-up is all about signs of fertility — whatever feminists say
The research comes from the Université libre de Bruxelles in Belgium and the Subtle Prejudice Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Previous research from the same team had concluded that women posed suggestively in lingerie are also dehumanized; that is, they are attributed less agency, competence and morality.
This is less surprising–striking a sexy pose in lingerie is not the way to go if you want men to think of you more as a strong and independent woman, and less an inanimate object to be admired.
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But makeup is not so different–it is just another, perhaps more commonplace tool women use to enhance their appearance.
And, of course, women wear makeup, dye their hair, and bare their skin to appear more attractive to potential partners, not for the sake of some vague self-empowerment, which in any case would depend on social norms of beauty.
But fuller red lips, bigger eyes with larger pupils (an effect created by eye shadow) longer eyelashes, flushed cheeks–these are no social norms, but rather ancient signifiers of fertility. Men are hyper-attuned to reading these subtle signals of face and body.
This, of course, does not mean that women are constantly seeking male attention, much less seeking to attract a new male partner. If you ask women why they do these things, they will simply, and truthfully, tell you “to look nice”. It just so happens that the parameters for ‘nice’ have been forged by eons of sexual selection.
Drawing the line
So the question becomes, do women deliberately make themselves less ‘human’ if that makes them an exaggerated symbol of attraction? Essentially, ‘dolling up,’ to use a phrase that is commonly uttered, without thinking about the implications.
Or are they slathering on too much makeup, until even the targets of their interest no longer recognize them as belonging to the same species?
Whichever it is, it is best to stay on the conservative side when going for a job interview, or other official function, the study’s authors counsel; they recommend minimal makeup, or none at all. You don’t want to be perceived as a floozy or an exotic bird.
That’s, of course, assuming that you don’t want the hiring manager to be subconsciously attracted to you.
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