Like Jessica reported earlier, a study just published by a team of researchers at the Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital confirms what we already know: women who conform to societal standards of beauty are perceived more positively than women who do not, at least at first glance. Of course, this study was funded by Procter & Gamble, which sells makeup to people, so my first thought is that you should take it with a grain of salt.
I looked at the study’s methodology, though, and it seems pretty legit. Controlling for a variety of factors such as age and race, the researchers showed people photos of women’s faces with no makeup, “natural” style makeup, “professional” makeup, and “glamorous” makeup for varying amounts of time. They found that faces with any makeup at all were perceived as more likable, competent, and trustworthy than faces without makeup. The only exception was that people perceived the “glamorous” (i.e. slatternly) women as being less trustworthy than those with no makeup when they were allowed to stare them down for an unlimited amount of time. But still more attractive and competent!
I can believe this, because it’s not news that people who conform to traditional gender roles get treated better in our current society. The real bias comes in the study’s conclusion. Rather than a statement about how deeply societal sexism has reached into both men and women’s subconscious minds and how that might affect women’s psyches (remember, these are people with PhDs in psychiatry), we get this lovely bit of corporate faux-empowerment:
This study examined the impact of relevant makeup looks that women in the western world commonly wear, showing that makeup is a real-life tool in their arsenal to effectively control the way they want to be—and are—perceived,” said Dr. Vickery. “Makers of color cosmetics and other beauty products can take these findings into consideration to further develop science-based solutions that empower women to display different aspects of their personalities and to really take charge of the way others see them.
Do you hear that, ladies? No matter how smart or competent you are, you are going to be judged on your looks, so you should probably paint yourself with some Procter & Gamble makeup whether you feel like it or not, just to get that extra competitive edge. How empowering!
Ugh, I am never wearing makeup again. Just kidding, I own a ton of it. But I wear it because I enjoy wearing it, not because I know I’ll be penalized if I don’t. (And I certainly don’t wear it all the time.) Maybe P&G should focus on that aspect next time, instead of threatening people with professional and social failure if they don’t buy their products? Just a thought.
Related: should we be worried that P&G has the power to purchase Harvard scientists? We should, shouldn’t we?