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Can makeup be a strategic aid in the boardroom? A recent study suggests that, yes, a little makeup might be just the thing you need to redefine how you’re perceived by colleagues in the workplace.
An entire debate is being dubbed “the science of makeup,” and researchers from illustrious institutions such as Harvard University are digging deep into how makeup use (from none to tons) may affect a person’s perception of the women wearing it.
The Science of Makeup
Read this sentence and try to finish it: “A suit is to leadership as makeup is to . . .” According to a 2011 study sponsored by Proctor & Gamble and designed by Boston University researchers, the missing word in the sentence is “competence.”
In other words, the strategic use of makeup can make women seem more competent. In the study, which was recognized as a first in its genre, a group of 25 women each wore five different looks ranging from make-up free to heavy makeup. Then subjects were asked to view the photos of these women for a varying range of time and rate their competence.
The results were enlightening. Women who wore professional to glam levels of makeup were rated as more competent.
Why Darwin Was Right and Makeup Helps
Charles Darwin was the first to posit that beauty can be a strong advantage when it comes to mate selection. For example, male cardinal birds that have more brilliant red plumage tend to be more successful in attracting a female cardinal. This is actually because more brilliant plumage is suggestive of a better diet and better overall health. Here, being seen as beautiful can also translate into being seen as genetically desirable.
Humans have developed other ways to emphasize the set of features considered most culturally beautiful in different time periods. Makeup has been used in this role since ancient Egyptian times. In fact, in the Boston University study, the test subjects’ makeup was deliberately applied to create contrast between the skin and the facial features. More makeup (toward the glam end of the spectrum) created more contrast. More contrast was then equated to higher competence, which supports Darwin’s claim that “beautiful” beings often have certain advantages.
A $40 Billion Facial Recognition Industry
Facial recognition systems are now in use to varying degrees around the world. Some are advanced enough to be used as verification devices, similar to how the fingerprint is used by smartphones and police officers as a trustworthy form of identification.
But this new breed of facial recognition technology is still no match for humanity’s evolutionary memory, which can look at a face for just a second or two and know so much about the person wearing it. For instance, the presence of wrinkles indicates age. Larger eyes indicate the possibility of a younger person. Clear, smooth, and even skin tone is seen as a sign of health, as well as red lips which may be indicative of strong blood circulation and reproductive health.
Here again, the science of makeup earns its credentials honestly. Makeup can alternately cover up or accentuate features that can change how other people respond to you at home and at work.
Cosmetic Chemistry: Harmful or Helpful?
In ancient Egyptian times, commoners and royalty alike kept their eyes heavily lined with a mineral called kohl. This mineral is now known to contain antibiotic and antimicrobial properties that can ward off eye infections.
But we have come a long way from such simple times. Today’s woman may apply as many as 500+ chemicals to her body daily through the use of various cosmetics, fragrances, and lotions. While studies have been inconclusive regarding the overall safety of various cosmetics, what all researchers seem to agree on is that what is safe for one person is not necessarily safe for another. Also, when it comes to buying cheap, knock-off brands that may have been imported from countries with less rigorous oversight, all bets are off.
But even without being able to verify with total surety that the use of cosmetics is safe, cosmetics continue to fly off shelves and into handbags and cabinet drawers daily. This speaks volumes about makeup’s power on a personal and professional level.
But Science Says Less is More When It Comes to Makeup
A 2014 Time article announced that women and men perceived different levels of makeup quite differently. Women favored a bit more makeup on their female peers, while men preferred less on females. But all study participants preferred some makeup to none, even though level preferences differed between men and women.
It’s clear that the use of makeup actually can change public perception, and often in very desirable and positive ways for the wearer’s personal and professional purposes.
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