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The Interesting Ways Studies Show that Makeup Can Boost Confidence

There’s a lot of tension about the expectations of women to look “beautiful.” For some women, makeup is a part of femininity that they’d rather eschew entirely. For others, it’s a playground of color and artistic expression. While both of these are perfectly acceptable, I’d like to talk today a bit about how makeup can give you a fleeting confidence booster. No, wearing makeup isn’t the same thing as having a positive self-image, and the latter is extremely important. But, in my personal opinion, certain cosmetics can give women a sense of control over their looks. Personally, I find that while my blond eyelashes don’t bother me most of the time, I do feel more confident when I swipe on some darker mascara for a date. And I’m not the only person with this opinion. There are studies to back me up.

Makeup Goes Very Far Back

We know about Cleopatra’s distinctive eyeliner and many of the ancient makeup practices. But makeup goes ways further back. Our very, very distant ancestors — we’re talking Paleolithic here — used red ochre, which is a mineral combination of clay and iron oxide, to decorate their bodies (About Ancestors). This most likely occurred to mimic the physical appearance of sexual swellings, and late as a symbol of status. As our ancestors left trees, they were less likely to have these visible signs and so they used makeup as a means to, essentially, fake them. As time went on, they began to use it for more decorative purposes that sent other messages as well, such as the aforementioned status. This idea of sexual swellings hasn’t really departed either. We still use makeup to mimic signs of health and fertility, and red is still a powerful color.

Women in Makeup (Often) Feel More Confident and Can Affect Other’s Perceptions

Studies show that women with makeup are rated as more attractive and as better hires. That might actually be because they're a little more confident. Studies show that women with makeup are rated as more attractive and as better hires. That might actually be because they're a little more confident.
Researchers asked 42 female college students to imagine themselves in various situations. They were to think of themselves either wearing makeup or not wearing makeup. The study showed that women who imagined themselves in their normal cosmetic routine tended to be more self-confident and sociable. And that’s just imagining themselves in makeup (International Journal of Cosmetic Science). And one study even found that women rated themselves as more attractive — even taking into account issues that cosmetics don’t affects, such as weight — when they were wearing makeup. There have been numerous studies that show that photos of women wearing makeup are perceived as being more attractive, more likely to be hired, healthier, and more confident (Journal of Applied Social Psychology). In fact, in one study, in as few as 250 milliseconds of seeing a photo, participants rating women’s attractiveness rated women with makeup as more attractive (New York Times). But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the makeup makes women more attractive. Studies have also shown that confidence is attractive and makeup is one way that research shows women feel attractive. This phenomenon can be seen in another study referenced in the New York Times article where women rated men sprayed with scented body spray as more attractive, even when they couldn’t smell them — meaning that it was the confidence the men with body spray displayed that was attractive.

Makeup Has Its Ups … and Downs

In a study that looked at where women placed control and their makeup habits, researchers found that women who are regular to high users of makeup tend to attribute their achievement to internal forces, as opposed to external forces (Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin). Researchers thought this might be because putting on makeup was a means of actually manipulating how attractive these women appeared. Essentially, they were able to make themselves more attractive and that was empowering. But there are two kinds of makeup wearers, one study found (Journal of Cosmetic Science). They referred to the two types as “camouflage” and “seduction.” Essentially, women who use makeup as camouflage tend to be less emotionally stable, more defensive, and more anxious; while women who wore makeup for seduction tended to be more extroverted, assertive, and sociable. Essentially, much in the way that well-fitting clothes can help to highlight your best qualities, makeup is most beneficial when it’s used to make someone feel prettier, not when it becomes a mask.

Natalie’s Take

Red lipstick boosts my confidence. What makes you feel good? Red lipstick boosts my confidence. What makes you feel good?
One of the reasons I love editing and writing at FutureDerm is that I’ve really been able to see firsthand how empowering makeup can be. On a personal level, I know that I feel more confident when I put some makeup on, like mascara. But more than my own experience, I’ve been able to see how much it can help women to know that they have the power to change their appearance and look the way that they want to. Oftentimes, makeup is a way to emphasis signs of health and fertility, and having the ability to mimic those signs with makeup can have very positive effects. I may never have a perfect body, but at least I can give myself perfect eyelashes. In fact, working at FutureDerm helped me embrace my own personal confidence booster (which is, of course, backed up by science!): red lipstick. Red is an extremely powerful color that can command attention and sexual attraction. I have two go-to reds, either Rimmel Lasting Finish by Kate #01 ($3.99, target.com) for a classic red, or Laura Mercier Crème Smooth Lip Colour in Sienna ($24, amazon.com) for a sexier, vampy red. When I put either of those on, I immediately feel like I can take on the world.

Bottom Line

We often think of makeup as something purely surface, and in many ways, it is. But it can also be something that’s very powerful. And it can even boost your self-confidence — albeit temporarily — as long as you’re using it for the right reasons. Overall, though, it’s really about how exuding confidence, whether that’s something you get from eyeliner or something else, can really have a profound effect on you. It just so happens that makeup helps us to mimic some of the health and fertility signs that people are most drawn to. What kind of makeup makes you feel confident?
Date: March 6 2013 at 1:05 PM
Cosmetics, Cosmetic, makeup, self-confident, Self-esteem

Comments (2)

  1. Rozy
    March 6 2013 at 8:06 PM

    Natural looking neutral tones nudes are great.

  2. Natalie Bell
    March 25 2013 at 6:06 AM

    @Rozy — I agree! While I'm a big fan of having fun with color in your makeup, I also think that people can look really beautiful with subtle, natural hues.

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