Makeup-The Key to Success

by egndukwe on November 14, 2012

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Confession: I’m a tomboy at heart. Growing up trying to fit in with three older brothers left me no time to concern myself with things like makeup or fashion. In high school, I remember once I chose to wear makeup and put on a dress for a dinner out with my family. When I came downstairs, my mother remarked that she was proud of me. For wearing makeup and putting on a dress.

To this day, I’d most often rather be wearing hand-me-downs from my older siblings and no makeup. But like it or not, appearance is everything. And in a graduate school program where networking is key to success, I take the time to make myself presentable to the world. Fortunately, a recent study shows that these efforts may not be in vain.

The research was a combined effort between Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Procter & Gamble, and Boston University. In a sampling of over 200 individuals, both men and women, participants rated women wearing makeup as more competent than women without makeup.

Participants in the study were shown pictures of 25 female models aged 25-50 who self identified as African American, Hispanic and Caucasian. 4 pictures were taken of each model; 1 picture of the model with no makeup, and 3 others of the model with increasing amounts of makeup which were categorized as, “natural, professional and glamorous”.

Researchers presented the photos to two groups of participants. One group was given 250 milliseconds to evaluate the pictures while the second group was given an unlimited amount of time. Researchers presented the pictures to participants on a computer in a randomized sequence. Participants were then asked to rank each picture on competence, attractiveness, trustworthiness and likeability using a 7-point scale that ranged from “not at all”(1) to “highly/extremely”(7).

Models with no makeup and natural, professional and glamorous makeup.
Image obtained from doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0025656.g001

Results showed that for both groups of participants, makeup significantly increased ratings of attractiveness and competence. However, the effect of makeup on likeability and trustworthiness varied. Pictures of women with the natural makeup look had increased ratings of likeability and trustworthiness when compared to pictures of women without makeup. When given less time to evaluate the heavier make up looks (professional and glamorous), participants rated them higher in all categories.

However, when given an unlimited amount of time, the ratings were less positive. In particular, the glamorous look had a significant negative effect on ratings of trustworthiness. This finding is likely a result of the fact that although beauty has many positive associations, studies suggest that it is also correlated with vanity and a higher chance of infidelity.

The study was not without its limitations. First, because the study only included participants from North America, it’s possible that these positive associations with makeup may not hold true in other cultures. Another eyebrow raising aspect of this study comes from its list of sponsors—in particular Proctor & Gamble who sells makeup lines like CoverGirl. One might question the motive of a makeup manufacturer sponsoring research that concludes wearing makeup can be beneficial. However, trained researchers from the other affiliated institutions completed the design and implementation of the study.

Despite these limitations, the study is not the first to show that attractiveness is linked to positive expectations. Research has shown that attractive people are more often hired and earn higher wages than less attractive individuals. Another survey showed that employers expected better performance and higher competence from employees, even when attractiveness did not impact the task.

The tomboy in me is annoyed by the idea that applying more makeup instantly makes me appear more competent. That being said, it’s hard to deny the fact that first impressions are crucial. Whether or not I intend to, I realize that I am always making a statement to the world and I want that statement to be a positive one. So rather than being frustrated in the vanity of today’s society, I prefer to focus on the element of control I have over how I am perceived. An element of control in an uncontrollable world. So, I’ll continue to look past the stacks of oversized hand-me-downs in my closet and take the time to put on an amount of makeup that I’m comfortable with. If nothing else, at least I know my mother would be proud.

Marisa November 14, 2012 at 12:16 pm

My mom consistently nags me to put on some lipstick, and I usually resist. I guess it’s true, mom is always right…

Tim Beauchamp November 14, 2012 at 12:48 pm

I’s sorry, but this disappointed me. I’m not speaking about the study, or the quality of its data, or the validity of it’s conclusion. I am disappointed that you aren’t discussing the broader implications of what this study demonstrates. In fact, you appear to accept that the bias shown by the research is just the way it is, and we all should just continue it or lose out.

Lets imagine that the study was about hiring biases against other attributes, for example, being gay, being a minority, being muslim, being a democrat. A very thoughtful and in-depth discussion about the findings and their implications to policy, community or society could be investigated. But, I don’t think an author would then suggest that, although they are annoyed with the practice, they realize that that is just the way it works and suggest they disguise themselves to hide that.

I am not suggesting that you should turn an article about research in objectionable practices into a call for action, or even an opinion piece, but in essence, you did. Your opinion seems to be that this behavior is objectionable to you, it annoys you, but here is how you will ignore and even support or condone the offensive behavior.

I thought one of your previous posts demonstrated your skillful ability to walk this fine line between advocacy and information. Bleached to Perfection spoke about various cosmetic treatments, touched on societal pressures that might be encouraging their uses, but spoke only about the health impacts of them. I guess I was hoping that this article would do something similar. Actually, I hoped that it would take a stand against the behavior, but that is just me.

Keep up the writing. You are obviously interested in subjects that are of interest to many right now. I hope you can be successful at informing, as well as attracting readers.


Jennifer November 14, 2012 at 3:18 pm

I agree with most of this comment.

I think the research was summarized in a helpful manner, and I appreciate the (albeit brief) acknowledgment of the glaringly obvious bias taking place in the way of funding. (You’re right that non-P&G scientists also had a say, but considering these large corporations are ALSO known to suppress research that paints their agenda in a negative light, I think the significance of this bias was dismissed a little too quickly.) However, I don’t think that the big picture was really acknowledged. Yes, the research is interesting, but to pepper it with personal experiences about not being a big makeup-user but that’s just the way things are so us ladyfolk must suck it up and pretty ourselves up so we can get respect… all that should have been balanced out with the other ramifications: makeup as a status symbol, a status quo, a serious epitome of sexism…

if this post had been strictly about the research, it’d be fine (even if I think it’s biased research that doesn’t really warrant signal boosting), but when you add your own life experience to the post, I think it’s important to examine the larger impact, or at least acknowledge the institutional sexism, if that makes sense.

egndukwe November 14, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Hi Tim and Jennifer,

Thank you for your comments. Tim you make a great point about other hiring biases. As an African American female, I’m sure my reaction would have been much stronger. However, one might argue that many societal standards are taking it too far. Business casual dress, shaving and other personal hygiene practices represent just a few things some people do daily in order to be considered competent and professional. Personally, I’m amenable to wearing acceptable dress and a small amount of makeup—but that’s just me. Everyone’s threshold is different, and I’m not qualified to determine what’s right for others. Some may think that I could dress nicer or wear more makeup on a daily basis, but that’s not something I’m willing to change. The key element for me is to do what you are comfortable with.

Thanks again for reading!

Tim Beauchamp November 19, 2012 at 7:34 pm

Thank you Ezinne;

I appreciate your viewpoint, and I enjoyed hearing you elaborate on both your opinion about it and how it might affect you personally. I think that could have been part of the original post, for context.

Thanks for responding.

Andrew Maynard November 14, 2012 at 1:08 pm

I think that any piece on such a deeply embedded social norm like the use of makeup is going to be tricky and potentially polarizing. There’s a part of me that screams “but this is WRONG” with a subject like this – but then I’m not the one who has to live day in and day out with the consequences of aligning with or bucking this particular norm. Because of this, I am extremely hesitant to challenge the views and actions of people who use and rely on makeup. And actually, if this piece is directed at women who unquestioningly wear makeup, it’s rather a smart approach of subtly raising self-awareness of some of the issues.

Margaret November 14, 2012 at 3:03 pm

As someone who rarely wears makeup, I have not had a problem, either being taken seriously as a professional, or finding a job, though that might be because of my field.

This sentence was a little confusing to me, ” Another survey showed that employers expected better performance and higher competence from employees, even when attractiveness did not impact the task. ” Is this that they expected higher competence from attractive employees or ones wearing makeup?

This is a disturbing article on how women are treated in the work place. Thank you for bringing it up.


Hilary Sutcliffe November 15, 2012 at 4:19 am

I hesitate to post this as it makes me look both manipulative and self-absorbed! But hey!

I wear different make up depending on where I am going, to go with clothes. When I’m off to a corporate meeting where I need to look corporate and business friendly I will wear more make up and designerish labels (mainly sale bargains!) – probably like picture three. Where I’m going to a corporate meeting as the NGOy funky happnin person or to an ngo meeting, I will wear less make up, like picture 2. Clothes are much more casual. At weekends and working from home I can barely get round to washing my face and brushing my hair at all and live in M&S £9.50 fleeces in 6 different colours and slippers! When I’m at the school gate I don’t wear any, partly because who can be bothered, and also not wanting to look like I’ve made too much effort on a normal day (for some reason), or course parents evenings revert to picture 2. I remember my son’ s primary school head teacher looking at me in real shock in my work stuff for the first time and saying ‘Wow, you scrub up well!’

I would never wear as much as picture 4, except perhaps at Christmas parties, mainly because my lips are thin and I look like a hard faced hooker in bright lipstick!

So for me, make up, like clothing, is all part of the signalling, to make people understand what they are getting, comfortable with who I am, listen to what I say without being distracted by the mismatch. Blokes don’t have that so much, except the nerve wracking worry of whether the tie is too funky or not funky enough, but the trouble men have with ‘dress down Friday’ gives just a glimpse of the richness of our dilemmas!

I have been trying to think could I say ‘and this is the real me’ – as 1970’s UK impressionist comedian Mike Yarwood used to say (only Andrew will know who I am on about!) But I think all of them – I am definitely fleece-woman, but on the other hand love my Max Mara suits and my first ever dress which I bought last year. But like with Mike Yarwood, that bit was the big yawn, no-one cared at all about him, only the funny characters he played! A lesson there too??!!

Elizabeth November 16, 2012 at 8:18 am

I wanted to tell you that I acknowledge that it probably took a lot of courage to post something that you knew might attract negative attention. Personally, I think that the people who are “disappointed” in you are being ridiculous. Prejudice about makeup in the workplace is NOT REMOTELY comparable to prejudices against sexual preference or race. It is my opinion that makeup shows that you put time into your appearance, because you care about your job. It shows that you’re committed to making a good impression- like shaving, or washing your hair, or brushing your teeth. Is anyone equating these prejudices to homophobia or racism? No.
I wish people weren’t so quick to push the “you’re not being socially accepting enough” button. It’s irritating. Sorry you got some of those.

Nel Oko November 16, 2012 at 2:34 pm

While I struggle with the double standard & societal norms of the subject matter, I praise you for courage in sharing your personal experiences. The bottomline is we all come from different backgrounds and our experiences ARE NOT the same. We’d like to think that we all have a fair shot but the reality is that we don’t. Can we change the
world? Sure. Slowly.

PF Anderson November 17, 2012 at 8:58 pm

I have such mixed feelings about this piece.

As someone who has spent years working in support of the facial difference community, I find this concept to reflect poorly on society at large. I also agree with Tim in being disappointed that the post did not touch on the broader health and mental health and social health implications of the assumptions and findings of the study.

On the other hand, as a mother of a person with Asperger Syndrome, I have spent an enormous amount of effort trying to explain and justify the same types of social assumptions. I do see a difference between the purpose of makeup, and the concept of being sufficiently clean and well kept to avoid giving social offense. For my son, I am hoping that he will find a profession and environment where he can succeed and be happy, and which does not expect such silliness of him. Curiously, though, his goal is to perform, and he always insists upon dressing up rather charmingly when on stage. I did run this post past him, and his reaction was not unanticipated. “Why on earth?”

For myself, due to a health condition, I have been unable to wear makeup for several years. I am well acquainted with it, and was a theater make-up & costuming artist, with ‘credits’ for about 50 shows. I know exactly how to use makeup and clothes to achieve specific effects. I can see people make assumptions about me because I don’t wear it, and people make other assumptions about me because of my ugly shoes (which are a requirement for my foot orthotics). The combination are rather disenchanting, I agree. With my theater background, I do, from time to time, adore breaking out my silks and hair clips, but I think of them as a costume and playing a part. They are part of a game, rather than part of my identity, and I expect the people close to me to appreciate me no matter what I’m wearing.

My last point of view comes from having been (once upon a time) a young woman who was far too attractive for her own good. I experienced a great deal of harassment from men in a wide variety of circumstances. I tried various strategies to try to make myself less appealing. To my complete and utter astonishment, the strategy which worked, consistently, was to dress very professionally and to wear nice makeup. For some reason, when I did that no one bothered me. Makeup became a defense, one I luckily no longer need.

So, I guess compromises? I come down to the same thoughts and concerns thinking about teeth whitening, which is again something done purely for appearance, but which is more clearly a health risk and hazard, disapproved of by the dental profession, but to which many dentists bow in honor of the demands of their patients. I wonder, would your opinion of this be different if you were, as I am, acutely sensitive to the chemicals in makeup. There is a formidable amount of dialog going on within the public health community about the dangers of cosmetics. I hope you will address some of that in a future piece, and am sad it wasn’t touched on remotely in this piece.

Lastly, you link to several articles from within the body of the piece, but do not provide citations or equivalent information. I know I’ve brought this issue up so many times in comments on these posts, so let me try a different slant. Yes, I recommend including the citations or equivalent information as a kindness to the reader, but there are also SEO reasons. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. That means, briefly, making your work more discoverable by search engines, and ultimately by the public. I assume that in professional work, you would be writing posts like this with a goal of having people find them and read them, yes? Including a citation in addition to the link expands the range of terms used to describe the concepts in the post, making it more likely that the post will be found by both the professionals and the public. Including a fuller description of the content you are referencing pays off, by giving your work and your voice more clout in the broader conversation. Ultimately, that can pay off in salary, as well. So keep in mind discoverability and influence as you write your posts, as well as your future audience.

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