Millions of women wear make-up every day, and the world around us sees a variety of diverse faces full of creative and social meaning.
Men see our make-up looks all the time, and have done so for hundreds of years.
Yet, it suddenly occurred to me: How much do men know about cosmetics? What about the different products, the brands, the styles, the cost? And what do they really think about it?
I decided to ask 20 men with university backgrounds these questions, and their answers revealed something interesting. Even in 2016 (where the issues of gender, sexism and dialogues on image are constantly surrounding us) it was clear that well-educated men did not know very much about women and their relationship with make-up.
First, I showed the participants a set of pictures. Some had the ‘Heavy’ make-up look, with dark eye shadow, big lips and heavy contour.
(the ‘Heavy’ look)
The next set I classed as the ‘In-Between’ appearance. This was the reasonably subtle look, but with vibrant eye shadow or colourful lip-gloss. The last one was the completely ‘Natural’ guise.
(the ‘In-Between’ look)
(the ‘Natural’ look)
It may interest you to know that every single one of my 20 interviewees said they preferred the ‘Natural’ look. I asked them what their first impressions would be of the various styles, and what a first glance would say to them about that girl.
Now, although the men fully admitted that it is completely wrong to judge someone or pigeonhole them based on their looks, we could all admit that we are all susceptible to forming first impressions.
The men said that the ‘Heavy’ make-up examples made them think the women appeared superficial, fake, not as intelligent as the other looks, and non-professional. Whereas, the more ‘Natural’ look gave them the impression that the women looked fresher, healthier, more mature, and more emotionally sound.
They also said they felt the ‘Natural’ option was appropriate and attractive in any environment or situation, but the ‘Heavy’ one would be inappropriate at work or at an interview, and could damage assertions towards the woman’s character.
When explaining why they liked one above the other, the men said they would feel more “comfortable” with the “natural-looking” women, as they came across as more “honest,” “reliable,” “easy-going,” “clever,” “secure,” and “responsible.”
The next question I asked was about costs and time. I showed some of the men the same ‘Heavy’ make-up look, but then I also showed them the more natural one – classically sported by those such as the ‘Made in Chelsea‘ ladies.
Interestingly enough, the men seemed to think the more make-up visible, the tougher it is on our purse strings, and more demanding of our time and thought.
Now I can understand that, because logic would suggest that the more we use the more it would cost to acquire it, and the greater time it would take to apply.
However, they had missed a very essential fact. They did not realise that the ‘Natural’ style can actually involve extremely expensive products. and is in fact a look in its own right.
We all know we can buy a mass of facial masks, eyebrow pencils, bronzer, and so on for a fairly cheap cost from many budget outlets.
However, the ‘Natural’ look often (but not always) involves exclusive brand names, and so does all their subtle brown and pink eye shadows and lip pencils that create the final persona.
But – more importantly – none of the men realised that the women who appear natural are actually not natural at all, for they are choosing a very specific style and going out of their way to create it. It involves just as much well crafted “falseness” – so to speak – as any other look.
Finally, I asked the men why they think women wear make-up. I must say that in a contemporary world where our understanding of gender and society has improved so much, I was surprised by their answers.
Every single one of them said they realised that women wore make-up for a variety of reasons, but their main insistence was that it was for the benefit of men or was a way of covering up insecurity.
So, it goes without saying that we women do not need to tailor our make-up to appeal to men, and we all know that we do not spend our lives constantly trying to impress those aliens from Mars.
The fundamental point is, regardless of how or why we wear make-up, it does not define our personalities or purposes.
But, back to the men. When I suggested in many cases women might use make-up as a form of self expression or an accessory, or indeed, for their own purposes and not that of men, there was genuine confusion. 17 out of the 20 men said they had never thought of that before, and gave them something to think about for the future.
For me, this has been an eye-opening survey. I was amazed to see how, in our present era, educated and well-meaning men still have such a limited understanding of something which they see every day.
Women constitute over half the population in Britain. And with the majority wearing make-up and the products being prominent in advertising and media, it is a wonder so much ignorance still exists.
It is clear that even in a society where men and women are ever-growing in their respect and understanding of each other, we still have such a long way to go.