Women use cosmetics to enhance their attractiveness. How successful they are in doing so remains unknown-how do men and women respond to cosmetics use in terms of attractiveness? There are a variety of miscalibrations where attractiveness is concerned-often, what one sex thinks the opposite sex finds attractive is incorrect. Here, we investigated observer perceptions about attractiveness and cosmetics, as well as their understanding of what others would find attractive. We used computer graphic techniques to allow observers to vary the amount of cosmetics applied to a series of female faces.
We asked observers to optimize attractiveness for themselves, for what they thought women in general would prefer, and what they thought men in general would prefer. We found that men and women agree on the amount of cosmetics they find attractive, but overestimate the preferences of women and, when considering the preferences of men, overestimate even more. We also find that models’ self-applied cosmetics are far in excess of individual preferences. These findings suggest that attractiveness perceptions with cosmetics are a form of pluralistic ignorance, whereby women tailor their cosmetics use to an inaccurate perception of others’ preferences. These findings also highlight further miscalibrations of attractiveness ideals.
Betsey Johnson once said, “Girls do not dress for boys. They dress for themselves and, of course, each other. If girls dressed for boys they’d just walk around naked at all times.” Turns out, this doesn’t apply to makeup. New research suggests that women wear makeup because they think it’s what men want — but men (and other women) prefer a girl with a cleaner, more natural look.
In the study, Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, researchers at the University of Bangor in Wales provided 44 college-aged, white women with a full selection of makeup and instructed them to primp for a night out. They photographed each woman before and after her prep and then created realistic mock-ups of every point on the spectrum — between #nomakeup and full-on face. They ended up with 21 photos, like the ones below, of each woman. These photos were then shown to students (both men and women), who were asked to choose three photos for each model: their favorite, the one they thought most women would like best, and the one they thought most men would prefer.
While most of the participants assumed that men would be partial to a stronger makeup look, the results told a different story. The female participants preferred photos with slightly more makeup than the male participants did. In fact, overall, both men and women favored the photos that represented only 60% of the makeup the models had actually applied.
Of course, we’d like to point out that many of us make a conscious decision to dress (and put on makeup) a certain way because it makes us feel happy, or sexy, or unique — not necessarily to attract others. But, for those who do put on a full face because they think it’s expected of them, this finding is proof that less is way, way more.