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.”
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.
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?
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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