Opinion: Do we really need to wear make-up?

Looking younger seems  to be the holy grail of every beauty treatment and make-up product, but, asks our beauty editor Pawan Ahsan, are we losing our sense of self in the pursuit of a false ideal?

Earlier this month the British Journal of Psychology published a paper by Richard Russell of the Department of Psychology at Gettysburg College, in collaboration with researchers from CHANEL Fragrance & Beauty Research & Innovation. This was based on a study that found that make-up makes the faces of women younger than 30 appear to be older while those older than 30 looked younger with make-up on. Faces of all ages were rated as being more attractive when they had make-up on.

What such studies show us is where our prejudices lie. This can be useful information for job-hunting or getting ahead in society, but is it really where we want to be going with our perceptions? This study involved 32 women in four age bands – approximately 20, 30, 40 and 50 years old.  Each face was first photographed with no makeup.  The women then were made up by a professional make-up artist and photographed again with the makeup.  Photographic and lighting conditions were identical for all of the women in all of the conditions.

Participants were then asked to estimate the age of each face by clicking on a visual scale ranging from 10 to 70.  They were also asked to estimate attractiveness on a scale ranging from 0 to 100.

Youth-related features
Makeup accentuates three youth-related visual features—skin evenness, facial contrast, and facial feature size. By manipulating these visual features, it would seem that makeup should make faces appear younger.  However, although make-up did make the middle-aged faces appear younger, it made the young adult faces look older.

Richard Russell said, “In many contexts there are rules regulating when a girl can begin wearing makeup. To the extent that women are more likely than girls to wear makeup, people may learn to implicitly associate makeup with adulthood. Because age discrimination is pervasive in employment contexts, particularly for women, the ability to manipulate perceived age through makeup may provide critical professional benefits.”

This study made me wonder why we place so much emphasis on appearance? Obviously working within media, and beauty at that, it would be ridiculous not to point the finger of blame in this direction, as well as the rest of the media, social or otherwise. The selfie generation, the plucked and pruned celebrities who miraculously never appear to age and the fashion and beauty industry, who dictate what we should perceive as attractive and then go on to profit from those seeds of insecurities they’ve planted as a result.

Attractive = youthful?
As a society we have not only enabled the idea that being attractive equates to being youthful but wilfully accept condemning our own self-worth in the process. Why are we still allowing age discrimination within employment to target women? And not just allowing it but fuelling it? Why do we continue to pass on these ill-conceived notions of beauty from one generation to another? The fact that we’re nowhere near evolving to appreciate, respect and celebrate maturity, I can’t help but feel rather guilty and disheartened.

I chose to work within the field of beauty because I felt that it empowered women to feel good about themselves, regardless of their age, disabilities, skin conditions, health or background. But nevertheless, looking down from my high horse, it is only one aspect in a multitude of ways in which to gain confidence and well-being. We not only do ourselves a great disservice by neglecting to see beauty in all its forms but also in refusing to acknowledge that we are far more than just the reflection in the mirror. As I approach my forties, I’ve realised the value in those other forms of self-care and I admire the strong women in my life and even those rare gems in the limelight, the likes of Dame Judi Dench or the late and great Carrie Fisher, who refused to be told how to age ‘gracefully’ yet exude nothing but grace and beauty. If only we could all take a page out of their book.

And to show that we’re nothing if not complicated, check out this feature on achieving the natural look with armfuls of beauty products… what? It’s not hypocritical; it’s complex.