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Why makeup matters

October 11, 2011 Reviewed by admin 5 Comments
Yet another reason to read Kristen Arnett’s wonderful Makeup Memo column, if you aren’t doing so already: apparently, makeup matters. A lot.

According to a study headed by a Harvard Medical School assistant professor, not only do people perceive you as being more attractive if you wear makeup, but they also identify you as being more competent – and likeable and trustworthy.

I get the attractive thing. I don’t know many (or actually any) women who look better sans makeup than they do with a little concealer and mascara. But is it just me, or do you find it pretty unfair that I need to literally put on a different face in order to be deemed capable, amiable and reliable? I’ll tell you right now; the days that I wear makeup to the Truth In Aging office are few and far between. But Marta seems to find me an adequately competent employee.

Still, you only get one chance to make a great first impression. And now that I think about it, I wore makeup every single day for at least the first two weeks of work when I started at TIA – perhaps enough time to let that first impression sink in? Is this study telling us something we already know? I have worn makeup to every interview I’ve ever gone on in an effort to look good. I often look tired without a trace of makeup on, and maybe a little sloppy, perhaps even a little lazy. And I can definitely see how tired plus sloppy plus lazy might add up to incompetent in the eyes of an employer.

All right, so makeup makes me seem prettier and more competent to others. But more likable and trustworthy? I still find the basis of those characterizations to be unfair.

And here’s more stereotyping for you; if you do don a glamorous night-on-the-town makeup look, people will find you even more attractive and competent than if you’re wearing simpler makeup. But you will be judged as being less trustworthy, ladies, so I suppose the sexy smoky eyeliner is best kept out of the office, unless you want your boss to think that you’re the one who has been stealing the company’s office supplies.

It’s not just your boss who will judge you, either. Even newborns have a preference for attractive faces.

So maybe this is one of those “if you can’t beat them, join them” sort of lessons. Or we can even view this whole makeup-must positively, as one of the study’s researchers does: “This means that makeup really can be seen as a tool in a woman’s arsenal that allows her to actually control the way the world sees her.”

Or maybe we can all take a page out of Kristen Arnett’s book; yes, as an international makeup artist, she’s adorning faces with cosmetics all the time. But she also knows the truth about real women, and the truth is, we should be confident about ourselves in our natural state. And when we do put on makeup, whether it’s every day or once a year, it should be about improving our own perceptions, and not the perceptions of others.
  • November 23, 2012

    by Marnie

    I know a few men who have realized the power of concealer! It does make an impression! Great article.

  • October 14, 2011

    by Gina

    I am not surprised at the Harvard study findings. Women who wear make up usually extend that principle to dress. These people often feel good about themselves, making them appear confident and more likeable to others.

    When women wears make up appropriate for the setting and their role in it, she appears ‘together’ and capable--competent. So I guess the opposite is true. Many people believe that if a woman cannot attend to the basics, then more than likely she cannot attend to anything else.

    Trustworthy at a glance is puzzling. However, it must connect to competence--unconsciously. Taken to the extreme, people who routinely neglect grooming habits are viewed as odd, which leads to suspicion--not too far from trustworthy.

    Sadly, it boils down to pre-judging the abilities of people by appearance—another instance of discrimination. So I’ll keep on wearing my make up, as I always have. Luckily, a little goes a long way!

  • October 14, 2011

    by G~

    I am not surprised at the Harvard study findings. Women who wear make up usually extend that principle to dress. These people often feel good about themselves, making them appear confident and more likeable to others.

    When women wears make up appropriate for the setting and their role in it, she appears ‘together’ and capable--competent. So I guess the opposite is true. Many people believe that if a woman cannot attend to the basics, then more than likely she cannot attend to anything else.

    Trustworthy must connect to competence. Taken to the extreme, people who routinely neglect grooming habits are viewed as odd, which leads to suspicion--not too far from trustworthy.

    Sadly, it boils down to pre-judging the abilities of people by appearance—another instance of discrimination. So I’ll keep on wearing my make up, as I always have. Luckily, a little goes a long way!

  • October 12, 2011

    by JustD

    Great article and I agree with Ha. I feel sexier, more assertive, more confident and overall just better putting my best face forward. I'm more engaging and I know I look better. I like my bare skin, but I want to be at my best also and since I'm comfortable with me more than ever before, yes, makeup matters and flatters. It's an important part of who I am and how I want to be seen.

    There was a segment on Bachelor Father that I saw as a youth that stuck with me for a while; a pretty blonde was sitting across from him in a restaurant and, if I recall correctly, she took out her compact and dabbed at her nose and cheeks. When she finished she looked at him and said something like, "Makeup. Makes us what we ain't." For a long time I adopted that attitude, but now I feel that makeup enhances me and enables me to project even more of who I see myself as. Don't know what I'd do without it.

  • October 11, 2011

    by ha

    When I first heard about these findings, I was confused, too. I think it's because when people put make up( not talking about the over the board/clubbing make up), they look more alive, more refreshed. It's just more pleasant over all.

    People can look fine without make up, but make up just makes a good face better.

    Not advocating for make up everyday all day though.

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