Women Are Perceived as Less Human When Wearing Heavy Makeup

4 closeups of the same person wearing heavy eye makeup

Sometimes I run across a study that gives me a big old “oof” when I read it. Because I have selfish reasons for not wanting it to be true.

Today’s article falls into that category.

I have an interesting relationship with makeup. I didn’t wear it at all until I was 30 years old. I’d always been curious about it — and had even dated a few women who were skilled with applying their own makeup — but I’d never had someone who was willing to help me learn.

Makeup skills were instead kept like a closely guarded secret. (Unfortunately, my first female lovers were oddly competitive with me, even as we dated.)

But around my thirtieth birthday, I was able to slap together a good curriculum with YouTube videos. And I also happened to make friends with folks who were makeup whizzes and were happy to share. Or at least answer any questions I had after watching tutorials.

I went a little makeup crazy when I first learned. Because I was practicing and having fun with it.

However, eventually the pendulum swung back the other way. And these days I don’t wear too much makeup. Just a whisper usually (I have an eyebrow pencil I love that takes two seconds and that’s basically it). I only do a full face if I’m doing something for work or going out on a super fancy night on the town.

A lot of days I don’t wear any makeup at all.

But generally, my feelings on it have been positive. I had a good time learning. And I like being able to make up my face on special occasions.

However, today’s study had rather disturbing news about the potential negative downside of wearing makeup — particularly heavy makeup.

Heavy Makeup Can Lead to Objectification and Even Dehumanization

A recent study discovered that when women wear heavy makeup, it causes others to evaluate them differently:

  • Women wearing heavy makeup were perceived as being less human.
  • They were also associated with having less agency, experience, competence, warmth, and morality. (Yikes.)
  • The pattern persisted regardless of whether the woman presented was a fashion model or an ordinary woman.
  • When researchers dug into what areas of the face had the most effect, they found that heavy eye makeup more dramatically lowered perceptions of warmth and competence (versus lipstick, which had less of an effect on those qualities).
  • Study findings were consistent regardless of the gender or sexual orientation of the person rating the women.

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BUT I LIKE MAKEUP!

True, I don’t like the idea of being perceived as less human for wearing it (the mind reels).

Anyway, science doesn’t always tell you the thing you want to hear. Which is part of why I like it so much. It can be unsettling, but I’d rather know unsettling truths than comforting lies.

Will I stop wearing makeup? Probably not. I trust the people I care about to continue seeing me as human when I wear it… and as for the rest? Well, I suppose they get to think what they want to think about me — even if it’s wrong.

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This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.

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Books by Page Turner:

Dealing with Difficult Metamours

A Geek’s Guide to Unicorn Ranching

Poly Land: My Brutally Honest Adventures in Polyamory 

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