If you ask any pretty girl what’s in her makeup case, she could probably go on for hours explaining every single mascara, lipstick, and powder compact; the brand, color, pigmentation, application, etc. Each cosmetic item chosen and purchased with great deliberation to highlight or conceal her features and make her look beautiful. Because every pretty girl knows that beauty can be a great advantage.
Recently the NY Times published an article about how makeup makes a woman appear more capable, reliable, and amiable (article here). “It increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she does not overdo it) her trustworthiness, according to a new study, which also confirmed what is obvious: that cosmetics boost a woman’s attractiveness.”
My first instinct was to think “Well yeah, that makes sense.” Unattractiveness is associated with everything from sickness (rashes/sores/physical deformation) to lack of personal hygiene (ratty hair/grubby clothes), while beauty often implies the opposite (good health, good personal upkeep). And cosmetics are a way for women to enhance their beauty. A woman with red lipstick and perfectly manicured brows projects and image of confidence and attention to detail.
The article quotes Professor Nancy Etcoff, a professor of psychology at Harvard, and the author of the study as saying, “Twenty or 30 years ago, if you got dressed up, it was simply to please men, or it was something you were doing because society demands it … Women and feminists today see this is their own choice, and it may be an effective tool.”
Although the study found that women wearing any amount of makeup (even a heavily made up sexy “glamour” look), made participants consider a woman more trustworthy, Etcoff argued that in certain situations, looking too glamourous and sexy could be disadvantageous. For instance, it would not be appropriate for a politician to be wearing the same amount of makeup at a pop star. Yet for both of these people, how they present themselves in public is of the utmost importance. And makeup choices and physical appearance are a big part of public presentation. Achieving the proper balance can be very advantageous.
However, you could argue that makeup, by definition is not empowering. Why should women have to alter their appearance in order to be accepted or trusted by others? Why should how much lipstick you wear affect how much your co-workers trust you or even how big your paycheck is? Makeup is just another status symbol, and does not empower women at all.
My personal opinion is that cosmetics can be empowering. That is not to say that women should feel pressured to spend 30 minutes in front of the mirror every morning, but even a quick sweep of $6 drugstore lipstick on special occasions can make a woman feel more beautiful and confident, and people will definitely see her as such.