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So Now That We Know That, What Do We Do?

An instrument of oppression?

My last post, about the effects of wearing cosmetics on people’s perceptions of women’s competence, raises some compelling issues, discussed in the comments, in which one woman takes me to task for an article she says is “disheartening to say the least.”

She continues,

“Why must a woman conform to society’s fascist beauty standards to be deemed acceptable? Articles like these contribute to all the artificial beauty and body images projected towards girls and women in every day media.”

I don’t entirely disagree with this view. I’ve written many times in the past about the messages women get, about body image in particular. (Check out Am I Fat? Who the Hell Knows, for one.)

Do I feel the same way about cosmetics? Certainly I object to any suggestion that cosmetics should help us hew to some sort of standard definition of beauty, and I don’t believe cosmetics should be a condition of employment.

But cosmetics don’t change us, they just jazz us up a little. And I admit, I’ve always thought women were kind of lucky to have the option of wearing cosmetics, particularly on those mornings after a night of too much fun. I’m definitely not the kind of woman who can’t leave the house without “putting on my face,”  but I also admit to preferring my appearance with a light glazing of makeup.

I’ve been thinking about this research and what it means for women. Yes, in some ways it it is a little disheartening. But in another way, having this knowledge provides women with what could be a useful piece of information.

After all, if we are the same people with cosmetics as we are without—and of course we are—then wearing cosmetics is practically an innocent scam. You could wear cosmetics to your job interview, be perceived as more competent than you might be otherwise, get the job, and then never wear them again. In a comment on the last post, Christine, who lived through the second wave women’s lib movement said, “Sometimes when one of us had a job interview, we’d laugh about gaming or scamming the system by wearing the expected makeup, clothes, hairstyles so we could ‘infiltrate.'”

Is that bait and switch? No. You’re still the same person they hired. Is it dishonest? No. It’s still your face, with or without mascara and blush. It’s not like lying on your resume. It’s not even like those airbrushed photos of models and celebrities, which really are destructive to women’s self-image because they often present biologically unattainable goals. Putting on makeup just makes you look like a very slightly different you.

Wearing makeup could be considered simply using every tool available to accomplish a goal. How different is it, really, from the air of authority men don every time they put on a suit and tie?

Also, this kind of research is not a value judgment. The goal of (good, honest) research is to see what is rather than what we want to be, and to provide information that we can toss into the hopper of life and see what comes of it.

After all, we’re not only learning that women in cosmetics are judged more competent, we’re also learning that we are likely ourselves to judge women in cosmetics more competent. Now we decide what we want to do with this knowledge. The only way to change anything is to know what is.

What do you think?

Photo by InspireKelly via Flickr (Creative Commons).

So Now That We Know That, What Do We Do?

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APA Reference
Dembling, S. (2012). So Now That We Know That, What Do We Do?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 31 Jan 2012
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