Why do women love cosmetic products and how I plan to find out

I.

Why do women wear make up? (1)

I asked my near 60 year old mother and she had no qualms: make up is ultimately to attract men. A bit of a thought crime in our modern days, isn’t it? The Last Psychiatrist wrote this gem on the subject:

When they say, “it’s a woman’s choice” what they mean is “it’s not a man’s choice, it is thoroughly stupid to wear make up just for men, the only acceptable reason is if you do it for yourself, if it makes you feel better about yourself.”

Hear, hear.

Everyone knows you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, now you’re saying the cover of the book influences how the book feels about itself? 

This got me thinking.

II.

Apart from when I am trying to get someone’s attention, I am the content way over form type of gal.

Like really. I take pleasure in the fact that I haven’t bought most anything I didn’t actually really want or need in the last 2 years or so. In the fact that there is no clutter on my bedside locker. If I do buy something, it’s either evidence-based or very well reviewed. And I am not stingy or spartan. I buy it if I want it and don’t mind if it’s pricey. I just don’t like useless things.

I’ve always laughed at the people who get this massage and that massage in their attempts to look younger and fitter  – in wonder – when the obvious thing to do is go to the gym and eat well. The people who rub coenzyme Q10 and hyaluronic acid into their skin when it’s so darn obvious that it will only sit on the surface.

I was always curious about the thought processes of those who are really into their image. I had the privilege of reading an opinion piece from a schoolgirl who loves fashion and wants to explain why it’s substantial. (4) To my mind, it was rather a circular argument: fashion for the sake of fashion. Maybe I will find another reason?

 

III.

I am not so sure why women wear make up. Because they were told that they should, mostly? (2)

When I just joined the workforce, I wore a lot of make up (by my standards). I wanted to fit in with other girls, who I knew would invariably be wearing make up. It signals a number of things: a desire to be liked, a desire to fit into the female tribe – and a certain social class.

I also think that I am more liked when wearing make up. Perhaps the relationship is actually the inverse: on days I am particularly interested in approval, I wear make up and look for people to like me. I don’t really know. I guess make up is a particularly effective counterweight to the things that make me appear more serious than I am (being Russian and just a little nerdy).

IV.

Then I thought: content and form aren’t actually separate. The tech innovators of the last 20 years made a lot of money out of this less than obvious idea. They call form design and it works for them.

So if form is image and content is character, by working on one’s image, does one change their character?

If so, could it be for the worse? Are the people who look invariably perfect always shallow?

No, definitely not, in my experience.

What Dr. Last Psychiatrist really brings out, when he compares us to books with covers, is that we are social animals. What others think of us is hugely important and does influence what we think of ourselves. My question is how does our perception of ourselves change when we work on our image?

I thought long and hard about it. It’s unusual for women to wear make up at home, when there is no one around, at least in the same way as they do when they go outside. So it is about signalling to others. It is about others. That doesn’t mean that our perception of ourselves isn’t influenced by working on our image. Indeed, when we signal to others, we signal to ourselves, just a little bit.

What do we signal though? In my experience, there is something life-affirming about skincare. It makes me feel clean and creates a little isle of order in an otherwise chaotic world. It could also signal that we are not good enough to go out as we are, but that only happened to me when eyeliner wouldn’t go on right the first time or my skin was too dry for foundation and flaked.

If keeping a gun in the house made me feel good, it would be because at least on some level I felt I am safer with it. Similarly, make up enhances beauty – which, importantly, means higher status. Higher status leads to not only approval, but also safety. People are less likely to challenge those who look healthy, strong and of high status. This is where Azazel and deception come in. Make up builds up status and it’s a fake it till you make it operation that deceives us into believing that we’ve got it. Hence, more confidence.

V.

Does that mean women are so unbelievably needy and shallow that they pay 8 billion dollars a year to deceptively jack up their status in society?

Partly. But it’s a hobby too. It’s of entertainment value.

Like the guys who collect guns, women buy way more make up than they need because it’s a collection of toys. I wrote on a related topic previously and one of the comments was “I dress for myself… it’s about pride in appearance, not date bait” (Patti‘s blog). I completely believe her and, in my view, she is a hobbyist (I take the liberty of using dress and make up as very related concepts). It’s not that the concept of trying to impress specific people with your appearance is unfamiliar to me, but I genuinely don’t think it is the driver for most women, especially given that women continue to maintain their appearance once they are “spoken for”.

So there, most people who like make up are hobbyists.

For some reason this is a revelation to me. I guess I am a goal directed type, so I don’t really engage in too many hobbies. Reading is a hobby, but really it has the goal of understanding how people think. Blogging is a hobby, but really it serves as a chronicle and a place to bounce of likeminded individuals.

I think the closest thing I have to a hobby is food and drink – and the way I feel about a nice bottle of Chianti is similar to how I feel about a Dior eye cream.

VI.

Why am I worried about all this?

Well, I got it into my head that I want to learn about the concept of image this year, in a sort of New Year’s resolution.

Why? Because it seems that I am less concerned about it than a lot of people I hang around with.

This involves all kinds of 3-step routines and other rituals, so I became curious as to why millions of people bother when for me it is a conscious effort.

VII.

On a practical level, I buy make up and end up not using it because I get excruciatingly bored with the smell, so I gave into Facebook’s targeted advertising, for the first time in my conscious memory, and signed up for Birchbox (misspelt this as Bitchbox at first OMG ROFL.) My experience so far has been very positive and I plan to remain subscribed all year.

I shall also follow religious quotidien routines, exfoliate like my life depends on it and document any insights I gather on the way. I will update you no more frequently than once a month, so don’t unfollow just yet.

For the scientific method sticklers, here are my quasi-scientific details:

Null hypothesis: for a woman with no obvious image problems, there is no benefit in working on her image by using popular make up routines.

H1: for a woman with no obvious image problems, there is a benefit in working on her image by using popular make up routines.

Another question that’s on my mind is whether there is a qualitative difference to skincare vs make up proper in the value I would derive from it – all with a proud n=1.

why do women love cosmetic products

 

1. Azazel taught women the art of deception by ornamenting the body, dyeing the hair, and painting the face and the eyebrows, we are told. The art of deception. Interesting take.

2. It’s painful to watch how easy it is to convince someone of something and have the person believe that they independently arrived at that conclusion. And so when we are repeatedly told that we are worth it, we buy it. We buy the association between worth and looking great. Which, in a way, exists, to be fair.

3. “Нет на свете прекрасней одёжи, чем бронза мускулов и свежесть кожи” – В. Маяковский. This is from a poem and roughly translates as “There is nothing more beautiful in the world than the bronze of muscles and freshness of skin” by Vladimir Mayakovsky

Published by

Dr Martina Feyzrakhmanova

I am a hospital doctor and founder of an education platform. Avid reader and writer of deep introspective blogs. I try to avoid words that end in -ism.

22 thoughts on “Why do women love cosmetic products and how I plan to find out”

  1. Humans are social creatures, thus socially motivated in ways that allow for us to better navigate these paths. Self esteem and confidence project a different persona than insecurity or submissive. We’ve evolved to detect in others from their appearance, even without personal contact. The majority of people in developed places are consumed in this ritual 😎

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  2. So many things to comment on. I will confine myself to two. My impression is there is pressure from below, from children themselves, to “grow up” and appear older and wiser and prettier, and “everythinger” sooner. In my generation, kids took up smoking because it made them appear older and more sophisticated. This same pressure from below shows up in fashion, “personal presentation,” etc.

    There is a saying that women dress for other women. And along with that, men seem to be somewhat color blind, not organically color blind, but indifferent to the differences between Wedgwood blue, delphinium blue, cobalt blue, peacock blue, and robin’s egg blue and the myriad variations in between. To men they are “blue.” So, why would women, even married women who have already attracted a mate, still dress well and wear makeup? It appears to be to avoid the criticism of other women. This is the role of gossip gone wild. Gossip plays a constructive role in social groups but when used to count coup on others it becomes a tool to seek status (by pointing out transgressions of others, one elevates one’s own judgment). Men tend not to criticize women’s fashion, hairstyles, etc. because there is no upside. One can only get into trouble. Imagine a man going around an office dropping little critiques of the appearances of all of the female workers. He would soon have a reputation of being shallow or, if he had any power, of being a bully.

    This is a manifestation of culture being used to control people’s behavior and, along with religion, we devote tremendous amounts of our attention and wealth on these rather meaningless issues. It has a tremendous opportunity cost. What is we were to apply all of that wealth and attention to things that really counted, e.g. hunger, poverty, oppression? It is sad.

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  3. Great post and interesting, multi-faceted (tee-hee) subject.

    It appears you’re going to go with one slice of the topic – image problem and the use of cosmetics to address this. Separating out that singular use model may prove difficult. As you explore here, the reasons for make up use are myriad.

    One feature I think you missed is that the selection and application of make up is a skill of considerable prowess. And, like a sharable, discussable art, the skilled esthetician may practice for the pleasing result of a job well done.

    Your examination of aesthetics could be applied, as you allude, to clothing, hair, home neatness, the treatment of ones auto… Why we do what we do, for ourselves or because of others, is a fascinating topic. I look forward to reading more of your results and reflections.

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  4. I don’t use makeup – but, then, I am a fifty-five year old western male.

    It’s not that I don’t care about my appearance – I trim my beard, shave my neck, pluck out those obnoxious hairs growing out of my nose and ears, wash my long hair (I haven’t had a haircut in over a year), and choose my clothes with some concern. I care about what kind of message I am sending. I dress up for work (I mean, really dress up, in church vestments and once or twice a week wear a clergy shirt with the “dog collar”). I don’t wear a tie as often as I used to, but I still have quite a collection. I will waer colourful shirts, and every once in a while a kilt. I wear a Terry Prachett hat. I have a look.

    So, what this introspection tells me is that the use of makeup is definitely a socially conditioned thing. As work dress on the west coast has grown to have fewer suits and more denim, I’ve happily adapted. On the rare occasions when I’ve worn makeup – other than in theatre – I have done so in imitation of David Bowie, New Romantics, or Boy George, a deliberately imitative-transgressive act.

    Interestingly, my wife almost never wears makeup. She’s let her hair grow grey. It’s not as if she has skin any more perfect than average, or that she isn’t suffering the consequences of aging. It’s just that she never seems to have really bothered. Of course, I find her gorgeous and the standard by which I might judge beauty in others. I found it a bit strange that my daughter does do the makeup thing, and I put it down to social pressure and an acceptance of those conventions.

    Perhaps the important thing is to do what you want, accept people as they are. Looks sort of correlate with health, and makeup, among other things, can project health and youth. Is makeup just fun, or is it just covering up something? I am reminded that morticians almost always use makeup on corpses . . .

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      1. I don’t know enough about it to agree or disagree.

        I know that I, myself, do not love cosmetic products. Well, depending on the operational definition; I suppose I could say I “love” my shampoo, which smells like almonds – but I got the impression you were talking about makeup. I haven’t worn makeup for over 20 years, don’t miss it, don’t miss the money I used to spend on it, don’t miss worrying about whether the products were tested on animals, etc. My personal anecdotal evidence is beside the point, though, although it might be a reminder that “many” is not the same as “all.”

        My main point is that using a product and liking a product are two very different things. I worked on a research project many years ago in which we recruited “heavy users” of a particular brand and learned, to our giant shock, that instead of liking it they all expressed varying degrees of disgust for the product, but felt like they “had no choice” but to use it. We had made the false assumption that people who use a product must do so because they like it. So what I’m suggesting is that while lots of women use cosmetics, fewer women than that may “love” them.

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    1. I enjoy buying a new lipstick or nail polish, but I’m a girly-girl. Not everyone is. I used to have more of a natural look but have glammed up a little in the past few years. I like it! I think that’s the whole point. Do what you like – what feels like an expression of YOU.

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      1. See that’s interesting: you say that it’s an expression, or signal, that you are a girly-girl – to you and to others. A few questions, if I may. Do you enjoy being a girly-girl? Do you think you derive any benefit from others knowing that you are a girly-girl? Just curious what you would say as my girly-girl case study. (By the way, of the most recent items of clothing I bought, I would say 50% are pink, so you are on friendly territory 💖💅💄)

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  5. All about balance I think. Image was ingrained into me growing up – but I developed a complex abt it. My “ugly duckling” years were so painful I’d do anything to avoid feeling that way again. Now that I’m 70 I spruce up because of self-pride. It just reflects who I am, my fashion sense and it’s fun. But I can be a schlump around the house too, believe me!

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    1. I do enjoy feeling feminine and I’ve got quite a romantic streak (but also got quite an independent streak – they’re often at odds!) I don’t wear dresses very often, but I like talking about relationships. However, I’m not an ultra-GG. More moderate.

      Do I derive any benefit from others knowing I’m a GG? I think so, because it’s an accepted way for a woman to be. If it wasn’t I’d probably tame it down some just to fit in. And I have to admit, guys seem to like it. But on the other hand, sometimes I wish I was tougher. More aggressive, direct, what-you-see-is what-you-get — and that’s the kind of guy I’m attracted to. I’m an INFP and they’re kind of on the soft side I think.

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  6. I really, really agree with your attitude. Have minimal needs, and reduce wants. Buy as little as possible.
    Makeup is a huge con game the world plays on women (cosmetics companies would LOVE men to follow). I’ve often seen a young woman with lots of warpaint on, and think, “If she didn’t plaster her face with that stuff, she’d look pretty.”
    And a 50 year old with makeup is a 50 year old with makeup, not a 25 year old.
    My wife’s attitude is that it’s an achievement to get to her age. Why should she unsuccessfully attempt to hide it?

    🙂
    Bob

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    1. “If she didn’t plaster her face with that stuff, she’d look pretty.” – this is exactly what my boyfriend says. When I said that I wanted to spend a year wearing make up every day I go out, he was not a happy bunny lol.

      Have minimal needs, and reduce wants. – I love this too, but I think there is a point at which you become deprived of sensory stimulation – and that can be bad too.

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  7. Wow. I love the scientific way you’re approaching this. I had to search back in the recesses of my brain to my psychology statistics class to remember what “null” meant.
    But in doing this self-study, you’re answering a lot of questions I’ve had in my past. I used to be a beauty-blogger in college, and I always wondered to myself, “What’s it all for? Why am I doing this? Am I even helping anyone, or just making them feel worse??”
    The argument of “I’m doing this because it makes ME feel empowered!” allowed me to state my argument with the most surface-level of debaters, but it still left a nagging feeling in the back of my mind…almost like it never allowed me to dig down to the root of the problem.

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