I'm never been someone who uses makeup to any real extent. Actually, I never learned how to apply it when the pre-teen window of opportunity to do so was wide open. As a result, it rarely dawns on me to put any on before I leave the house and truth be told I'm just a bit lazy about it. A little of blush, a little mascara, some clear lip gloss. Most of what I own is probably past its use date. Let me be clear, I take no issue with women wearing makeup nor do I believe that she must have a poor body or self image just because she uses it. I get it, some women just really like it. When I can remember to put it on I like it too...sometimes. I personally know quite a few women who rely on their makeup routine to the extent that they won't leave the house without it. That's where the title of this blog comes from, you know that commonly uttered expression, 'I have to put my face on'.
Tara Without Makeup
Tara with Makeup
Even the word 'makeup' suggests replacing or masking something, remedying a failure or righting a deficiency. We can make a number of arguments about why or how women in general are enslaved by their beauty routines in the same way we can argue that they're oppressed by unrealistic body standards. These arguments (all different ways to say the same thing) stem from a much bigger problem that relates to our dual-obsession with personal achievement and physical perfection. That's a big conversation and not one easily tackled in a blog. That's for sure. For now, we need only remember that it runs deep and, to this day, it informs what we do more than we know. It's not enough to conclude that we act simply in order to fit in or get ahead or that we're excluded or kept down because of our status. There's always more at stake and we can began to pull this apart by 'looking' at specific examples and asking questions about them.
So with that play on words, I turn to the Western phenomena of 'lookism' and how it might impact a woman's choice to wear makeup. A 2011 article in the NY Times sets out by asking (women I gather), 'WANT more respect, trust and affection from your co-workers?'. Well if you do ladies, evidently wearing makeup can help. The Times article follows from a study carried out earlier that year that correlates makeup use (and facial symmetry) with competence, trustworthiness, and amiability. The study was backed by Proctor & Gamble but carried out by respected academics. This sort of 'David and Goliath' pairing strikes me as strange and unsettling and, in my interpretation, sends mixed messages. The findings suggests that women shouldn't overdo it with the makeup. Apparently, too much is the difference between being thought of as capable or incapable and, in some cases, downright loony. You have to get the balance just right and, oh ya, this includes making sure you choose the correct color palette. A harsh 'nighttime' lip with a soft 'daytime' eye could imply that you're dishonest and unreliable. Really?! Anyway, do we need another piece of research that confirms what we already know? The merits of women (and some men) are measured and judged by how they physically look! Maybe not entirely but certainly more than partially. 'Lookism' has become so common, so natural and this is dangerous. When something becomes normal it becomes expected and fewer of us challenge it because of being outnumbered. Instead we either conform (in the best way we can) or resign ourselves to a fate outside of our control. Research like this hurts more than it helps. It doesn't blow the whistle on anything meaningful. It actually gives credit to the culture of 'lookism' and everything it requires (especially when established scholars and scientists are involved).
Tara is a researcher and writer with interests in gender, disability, the body, and media.
She received her Masters degree in Sociology of Health and Illness from UCD, Ireland. Her research explored how media representations of the feminine ideal affect body and self image of visually impaired women. She's currently pursuing her PhD in similar areas. Her other (diverse) interests include the social and cultural significance of food and the history and myth of the American Dream and its relationship to contemporary American life.