Amongst four identical women sent to market clothing merchandise, the two who were wearing makeup were perceived to be more confident.
The ancient Egyptians were probably the first in recorded history to popularise the concept of painting the face to accentuate our God-given features. It is quite amazing how, despite the deadly effects of some ingredients such as lead in lipstick and mercury in mascara, women endured the risk of insomnia, irritability, mental illness and sometimes even death, all in the name of beauty and vanity.
Some scholars even claim that in addition to the use of lead-based products such as pots and wine vessels, the use of lead in makeup and hair dye played a significant part in the contribution of lead poisoning to the fall of the Roman Empire.
Over the years, the use of makeup and other cosmetics such as deodorant and perfume has continued to attract admiring glances from those around us; and to further emphasise its great influence; makeup has become a multi-billion dollar industry and tremendous investments in research and development are constantly being made in order to ensure the safety of wearing it.
So what is it that prompts this trend in the application of makeup, which has been on a vast rise since the days of Cleopatra? Why has it nearly become an essential aspect of the daily routine for most women?
Simply put, makeup is used to enhance a woman’s (or man’s) appearance. Scientists have further explained that its correct application aims at increasing aspects of facial contrast, such as the redness of the lips and accentuation of the eyes, as these would make the face appear younger and more symmetric. In the general opinion of human beings naturally, youth (or the perception of it) is an indication of good health, wellbeing and beauty.
This scientific description may explain why make-up is worn in the manner it is and how women like Marilyn Monroe used it to her advantage to attract a multitude of men. But here is something interesting: Did you know that on some nights, Marilyn would go to a bar makeup-free and would not be recognized? So yes, we can say that Marilyn Monroe mastered the skill of using makeup as a tool for attraction.
Moving on to today, however, the use of makeup is sometimes taken to what I call an “attention-seeking extreme”, just as the likes of Lady Gaga, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry and some interesting characters like Bobrisky do so. It is, however, amazing that some people follow these artistes like a fashion trend, whereas the manner with which they apply their makeup is only a part of their act. You would rarely see these artistes on a normal “non-working” day looking like they do when they perform.
On the other hand, there is also an observation that some women tend to over-do it when, for instance, all the colours of the rainbow somehow appear on their faces; or when they use the wrong shade or texture of foundation against their skin. I think this void in knowledge or practice that results in the mismatch of colours and suitability of textures is the reason why when you ask men nowadays, they would indicate that when it comes to makeup on women, less is more.
I understand this opinion because really, makeup should be worn to accentuate your features, not to make you look like a completely different person or a drag queen.
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Additionally, with all sorts of hairstyles we Nigerian women have on these days, going all out with makeup confuses the men even further. I remember attending an event with some friends, and saw a male friend there. One of my female friends said hi to him, and they had a conversation that lasted about 5 - 10minutes. Can you believe he came back to me discretely and asked who she was as he was not sure because at the time he met her, she had a different hairstyle on and variations in makeup further complicates matters.
However, in spite of this opinion of less is more, the truth is, less might not necessarily be more because it could take the same amount of time and effort for women to achieve that natural look that men seem to prefer. This requires a high level of precision in the application to create flawless looking skin, and don’t forget the monthly visits to the salon or spa for the threading and waxing of facial hair in order to perfect the clean natural look.
Additionally, as much as some deny this, many studies have shown that majority of men are, in fact, more attracted to a woman when she wears makeup than when she doesn’t. One study conducted in France tested the reaction of men to two women who sat at a bar, first without make up, then at a separate time but at the same bar, with make up on. The results revealed that when these women had make up on, they attracted the attention of 30% more men than they were when they were not wearing makeup.
Another experiment conducted by Allan and Barbara Pease, the authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language revealed that amongst four identical women sent to market clothing merchandise, the two wearing makeup were perceived as more confident; and despite the fact that they were all similarly dressed, there was an assumption from the feedback they received that the women wearing make up had on shorter skirts. Therefore, they also concluded that makeup presents a sexier image, as men’s approach towards women is also naturally driven by testosterone.
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These studies are based on the perception that the men’s reactions lie on just on the physical aspect of these women wearing makeup, but there is a mental side on the women’s part, in that, aside from looking nicer and more put-together, the fact that she has make up on gives her that “feel-good” emotion, which boosts her confidence.
So it is the physical and mental combination of women wearing (tasteful) makeup that attracts men. This could be the reason why a study published in the International Journal of Cosmetics Science found that people judge women wearing makeup as higher earners with more prestigious jobs.
Researchers have even taken further steps to identify the components of makeup that men find most attractive and a recent study found that eye makeup was identified to have the most powerful effect on the perceived attractiveness of women. This was followed by foundation.
Lipstick, surprisingly, was found to have little effect on its own; but looking at my personal experience, it occurred to me that I have this red lipstick that my brother detests. But then, I also have a purple one that he doesn’t mind.
So bearing all of this in mind, when it comes to makeup for women, it is all about finding out what really suits you and how to apply it to highlight your best features; and like Marilyn Monroe did, you will eventually capture your prey.
Written by Oyin Egbeyemi.
Oyin Egbeyemi is an engineer-turned-consultant-turned-educationist, runner and writer.