• Tue, Oct 4 2011

Is Procter & Gamble Trying To Blackmail Women Into Buying Makeup?

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?

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  • Mikah

    What I have to wonder is whether this study assumed that all males who took the test were actually looking above chest level. If so: severe variable fail.

    • August S.

      +1

  • plain jain

    Study doesn’t aound legit. Not sure why you all are so impressed with it. Also, these studies are always biased simply due to the fact that Harvard study participants fall into a very narrow category. Lame.

  • Cheryl

    I don’t see how this is offensive. If you walked into an interview wearing sweats, you would be perceived as not caring about the potential job. And no one would be surprised or up in arms about it.

    Make up is the same thing. It’s a tool to make you look better. It’s not merely for pleasure. It can be, but the average woman doesn’t wear her makeup to be artistic or creative – she wears it so she can look good. And that looking good almost definitely always has a purpose: to find a mate, impress other women, to feel more confident…so why is it offensive that these scientists call makeup a tool?

    I feel there is something empowering in being able to recognize the world for what it is and adjusting your behavior accordingly to succeed (Bullish talks about this concept extensively). There’s nothing wrong with the study or the language used.

    • Jamie Peck

      There’s a difference between being expected to dress professionally (a reasonable expectation that applies to both women and men) and being expected to perform a normative gender role. To force, say, a butch lesbian, or any woman who does not identify in an uber-femme way, to bend to that gender norm or face the consequences, is oppressive. Just because “that’s the way things are,” doesn’t mean we should throw up our hands and accept it. I’m not judging women who conform to gender norms because of external pressures (I realize not everyone can afford to stand up to society), but that’s hardly empowering in any traditional sense of the word. It’s reinforcing the current power structures.

      But luckily, I just looked at the study again, and the difference in perception is actually quite small. Small enough to be overridden by, oh, I don’t know, things that are actually relevant to performing a given job? Imagine that.

  • mavick3nook

    “Make up is the same thing. It’s a tool to make you look better. It’s not merely for pleasure. It can be, but the average woman doesn’t wear her makeup to be artistic or creative – she wears it so she can look good. And that looking good almost definitely always has a purpose: to find a mate, impress other women, to feel more confident…so why is it offensive that these scientists call makeup a tool?”

    => I agree about this statements. This is how we represents our looks and by choosing right makeup for the right event.

    As i visit this site http://www.topbeautysecrets.org/ I’ve read some helpful info.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m looking forward to read more on this blogs.

  • Miss C

    I tend to judge women who don’t wear makeup negatively because in 100% of tested cases in my 41 years, they have MASSIVE chips on their shoulders, and/or equally huge grudges against women like me who do very visibly canoodle with the gods of Kohl & Carmine.

    • Canaduck

      Wow, uh, that’s a really strange and kinda insulting thing to say. I don’t wear make-up (or I do, but rarely) and I know plenty of other women who don’t regularly wear it either. Where are you exactly that a woman without makeup on stands out so significantly?

  • Eileen

    I can almost see the “competent” thing, because putting on makeup can be pretty damned hard!

    But about the methodology – what about the “natural” attractiveness of the woman? Did the women who were better-looking without makeup get as much of a boost as the women who were plainer or homelier? I guess I’m wondering if it’s “makeup” as much as it is “attractiveness.”

  • P0

    “people who conform to traditional gender roles get treated better in our current society”

    This is so true!