Face Value? Study Claims Makeup Makes Women Appear More “Competent”


The NY Times reported on a study of 25 Black, White, and Hispanic women between the ages of 20-50 who were photographed wearing various levels of makeup.

By Ophira Edut

Does the mascara make the woman? The New York Times published results of a study (see the article here) claiming that a moderate amount of makeup “increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness.”

Granted, the study was funded by Proctor and Gamble (which makes me arch a penciled eyebrow), but it was designed by some scholarly folk, too. It’s yet another piece to fall into that uncomfortable realm of human-as-animal/biology-as-destiny that’s such a strange bedfellow with feminism and progressive ideals.

The notion that a woman has to wear makeup to be deemed a solid citizen is about as sophisticated as the old “are you a fall or a spring” palette method. I know plenty of bare-faced ladies who run empires. And trust me, nobody would dare questions their cred. However, I’ve also read studies that the brain can make a lasting first impression within as short as 1/10 of a second. I’m guilty of doing so. And I always get a laugh when people refer to Gloria Steinem as the poster girl for this stereotype of de-gendered feminism. Back in the day, Gloria’s feminist cred was suspect because she was so pretty. Gloria knows the power of being polished, even as she delivers a radical message.

I’ve been swiping on the same five-minute combo of eyeshadow-eyeliner-mascara for about 20 years. I do feel more polished and together with makeup on, though I skip the foundation and blush routine unless it’s a bigger event. I brave the trendy streets of New York makeup-free, too, but usually it’s just to run errands. So I guess along the way, I’ve been socially conditioned, too.

Part of the girlieness I enjoy is getting to play with colors, polishes and powders. It’s fun for the imagination, and harmless to a point. As long as we’re not talking Toddles & Tiaras “glitz” pageants and THAT slippery slope, of course. And thanks to Nirvana, Pete Wentz and the JoBros, boys can dabble in the fun, too. (Guyliner, anyone?)

The danger of such studies, though, is that makeup becomes compulsory, instead of fun.

We can no longer discount neuroscience completely. However, we can’t just take studies like this at, ahem, face value either. Findings like this discount the soul, the essence, the “anime” that we sometimes call inner beauty. Without charisma—which can’t be painted on—all the makeup in the world can only help so much.

Related Content:

Warning: Feminist Wearing Makeup Ahead. Look Both Ways Before Crossing




  1. […] Face Value: Study Claims Makeup Makes Women Appear More “Competent” […]

  2. […] Face Value? Study Claims Makeup Makes Women Appear More “Competent“ Filed Under: Beauty Standards Tagged With: Beauty, body image, Feminism, makeup, mascara, Women […]