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

Notes on The Last Psychiatrist

I love few things more than a great blog. My latest find: The Last Psychiatrist, an archived blog, mostly about narcissism.

I was so excited to learn his insights… I made notes.

What follows are his finest insights about narcissism and my comments.

Imagine a crowded subway, and a beautiful woman gets on. Hyper-beautiful, the kind of woman who can wear no makeup, a parka, earmuffs and a bulky scarf and that somehow makes her look even prettier. A handsome man about her age in an expensive suit gets up and says, “please, take my seat.” She smiles, and hastily sits down.

TLP (The Last Psychiatrist), as the author refers to himself, gives us two options as to how the woman should think about this:

  1. This was a sexually motivated act as far as the man was concerned
  2. He was just being nice

If you think of narcissism as grandiosity you miss the nuances, e.g. in her case the problem is narcissism without any grandiosity:

she is so consumed with her identity (as not pretty) that she is not able to read, to empathise with, other people’s feelings. Source

In another post, TLP explains why narcissism isn’t necessarily about grandiosity. This is a blatantly obvious point that escapes most people, unfortunately.

Being the main character of your own film isn’t necessarily grandiose. It is narcissistic though because all the other characters are only important because they help the viewer to understand the main story line.

Here are some less obvious traits of narcissism TLP outlined:

Shame over guilt (I think this is because shame is an emotion directed at the self, whereas guilt is an emotion directed at your victim)

envy over greed (greed would be a primary reason to look for something, whereas envy is only a desire to catch up because otherwise otherwise it’s a bad reflection on you. I liked how this was called “existential agency” here.)

He [the narcissist] thinks the problem is people don’t like him, or not enough, so he exerts massive energy into the creation and maintenance of an identity: if they think of me as X… (and that’s one of the reasons why we love brands)

The narcissist feels unhappy because he thinks his life isn’t as it should be, or things are going wrong;  but all of those feelings find origin in frustration, a specific frustration: the inability to love the other person.

And this really brings it back to the original myth that TLP broke down beautifully here:

Narcissus mother took him to a clairvoyant who said, “He’ll have a long life as long as he never knows himself.

Narcissus kept rejecting people who fell in love with him because they weren’t good enough.

One rejected lover was furious and begged Nemesis, the goddess of vengeance, for retribution.  “If Narcissus ever falls in love, don’t let the love be returned!”

Nemesis  heard the prayer and caused Narcissus to fall in love with himself: he was lead to a  pool of water, and when he looked into it, he fell in love with what he saw.  And what he saw wasn’t real, so of course it couldn’t love him back.  But Narcissus sat patiently, forever, hoping that one day that beautiful person in the bottom of the pool was going to come out and love him.

Because he never loved anyone, he fell in love with himself. That was Narcissus’s punishment.

This brings up an interesting point: how are you meant to feel about yourself?

Let’s first look at what we want. What we pay for. A huge portion of marketing directly helps us to be in love with ourselves, because we’re worth it. They’re not even trying to hide that the feeling of being in love with yourself is what they’re selling. And it’s not punishment as we see it – otherwise we wouldn’t buy it. I suppose it’s a psychic equivalent of putting a person on heroin. You mightn’t feel it’s a punishment, but it is.

Then there are the more subtle “intellectual” publications that help you love yourself (see the distinction from being in love with yourself? Cause that would be shallow.) I wonder how many pages were dedicated to helping people see Narcissus’ infatuation as Buddhist acceptance or some other high and mighty concept.

There isn’t really anywhere that would tell you that you’re meant to not love yourself.

What happened to Narcissus doesn’t really sound so horrible in today’s culture. Maybe he wouldn’t have even retaken a selfie if he lived today and been happy with the first shot? That level of self-acceptance is just enviable! He’s winning at life by millennial standards!… Indeed, TPL calls narcissism “a generational pathology”.

TLP goes on to discuss Narcissus’ parents’ role, which I thought was priceless:

He will have a long life, if he never knows himself.

Forget about whether the prophecy is true.  Ask instead, “what would the parents have done once they heard it?”…

Next time I feel insignificant and weak, maybe I need to hold on to that feeling, because my culture will obviously infuse me with my own grandiosity without me ever trying.

TLP has another explanation for why Narcissus stayed looking at the primordial selfie lake though.

He didn’t stay there for years because the reflection had pretty hair.  He stayed because daydreaming takes a lot of time.

In other words, Narcissus didn’t recognise himself and spent all that time conjuring up images of how wonderful life would be with that person in the reflection…

And the DSM says exactly that, only it adds a grandiose twist: “preoccupation with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love”.

I am confused now.

Narcissus fell in love with himself, only he didn’t know if was himself.

So, as far as Narcissus was concerned, he was genuinely in love with another human being – only they were unreachable. Their personality was entirely a figment of his imagination…

Wait, that’s not Narcissus, that’s Gatsby! (Who also dies in a body of water, fair dues to FitzGerald).

Narcissus’ crime wasn’t being in love with himself at all. Phew, it’s ok to let L’Oreal and #positivethinking to get money and likes.

Narcissus’ crime was not knowing himself.

Actually, no, again.

TLP puts it better:

The moral of the story of Narcissus, told as a warning for the very people who refuse to hear it as such, is that how Narcissus came to be is irrelevant.  What was important was what he did, and what he did – was nothing.

And that’s his main crime: he never cared about anyone real. To me that’s all one ever needs to know to understand narcissism.

TLPs advice on how to not be a narcissist is to fake it. I think what TLP’s getting at is that your behaviour is much more important than your identity.