Research explains the psychology of going barefaced.
Celebrities are challenging standard notions of beauty by embracing the No-Makeup Look. But how does this trend impact woman generally?
For decades, if not centuries, women have worn makeup to achieve a cultural standard of beauty. Cosmetics are used strategically to enhance certain features and hide others. From an evolutionary perspective, the qualities we consider beautiful are related to signals of reproductive fitness, such as sexuality, health, and youthfulness. Makeup that gives women red lips, flawless skin, captivating eyes, and a bit of blush all increase attractiveness, at least from a biological and cultural standpoint.
Research shows that makeup can significantly alter the impression we have of women. Nash and colleagues (2006) conducted a study in which both men and women rated either pictures of women without makeup, or the same women with makeup. Women presented wearing cosmetics were perceived as healthier and more confident than when presented without makeup. Participants in the study also credited women wearing makeup with a greater earning potential and with more prestigious jobs than the same women without cosmetics. Moderate makeup use is also linked to assumptions of health, heterosexuality, and credibility in the workplace (Dellinger & Williams, 1997).
Clearly, there are strong incentives for women to wear makeup in the workplace. Socially, makeup not only increases perceived attractiveness, but it can also increase women’s confidence. If women believe that wearing makeup increases their attractiveness, then it’s easy to see why they may feel better wearing it. Outward appearance can have a powerful influence on self-esteem. A report on the state of self-esteem by the Dove Self-Esteem Fund (2008) stated that “78 percent of girls with low self-esteem admit that it’s hard to feel good in school when you don’t feel good about how you look (compared to 54 percent of girls with high self-esteem).”
Many women do feel less confident when they don’t wear makeup. Alexis Sclamberg (2012) reported on a survey conducted by the Renfrew Center, which found that 44 percent of women felt more unattractive and uncomfortable when they didn’t wear makeup than when they did: 16 percent reported feeling unattractive; 14 percent reported feeling self-conscious; and 14 percent reported feeling naked without makeup (Renfrew Center Foundation, 2012). This study also found that only 3 percent of women reported that going without makeup made them feel more attractive.
However, it’s not clear that wearing makeup is entirely beneficial. A study by Robertson and colleagues (2014) found a positive correlation between frequent use of cosmetics and anxiety, self-consciousness, and conformity. Women who reported wearing makeup less frequently tended to have higher social confidence, emotional stability, and self-esteem.
In another study, women who were concerned about their appearance wore more makeup and were more apt to believe that makeup enhanced their social interactions. The researchers reasoned that this could be a self-fulfilling prophecy: Women who are more self-conscious wear more makeup, and judge themselves to be more attractive when wearing makeup, so they might act more confidently and the people they interact with may respond to that confidence in a more positive way (Miller and Cox, 1982).
It’s clear that women enjoy advantages to wearing makeup. It can increase their perceived attractiveness, give them more confidence, and create a favorable impression in work and social settings.
So why is the no-makeup trend gaining popularity?
The No-Makeup Look appears to have been adopted by women who are comfortable with themselves and their appearance. By embracing this trend, these women may be sending a message that they desire to be seen more authentically — to be accepted for how they actually look, without camouflage or enhancements.
In a preliminary study, women looked at their own reflection in a mirror every day with no goal other than to stay present with themselves. After a two-week period, they reported being more comfortable with their appearance and less concerned with wearing makeup; they also reported a decrease in stress and an increase in self-compassion (Well, et al. 2016).
If you’re intrigued by the no-makeup look, but not ready to go to work or out on a date without it, try this experiment as part of your morning routine: Sit in front of a mirror for 10 minutes without makeup and just look at yourself — with no goal other than to stay present with yourself. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings as you look at yourself, and see if you can let go of any critical voices and view yourself with a bit of compassion. Do this regularly for 10 minutes a day for at least two weeks and see what happens.