Women wear makeup for a variety of reasons. Some do it to appear more awake, while some want to look more attractive to others. It’s doubtful that any woman wears her usual face of makeup (Halloween makeup excluded here) in order to look less human.
But a new study, from a journal called Sex Roles, found interesting results about opinions on women who wear heavy makeup, including that a majority of respondents find women sporting more makeup look less human than other women.
While it’s not news that women are judged based on the way they choose to present themselves, this study, released just ahead of international woman’s day, proves further that women get penalized in the workplace for caring about their appearance.
Women with heavier makeup appear less human-like
This study, conducted by psychologists from Brussels and the US, asked 1,000 people to look at pictures of women, who were wearing varying degrees of makeup, for 10 seconds each. The participants were then asked to use adjectives to describe each woman.
The participants, whether bisexual, gay, lesbian, or heterosexual, attributed less human-like traits to women that featured heavy makeup looks.
“This suggests that heavy makeup caused a subtle form of dehumanization, regardless of participant sexual orientation,” Philippe Bernard, one of the study authors from the Free University of Brussels, told Insider.
How wearing makeup in the workplace affects your career
The researchers found that a heavy makeup look comes off as “unprofessional” in the workplace.
Who fares the best in the great makeup debate? It’s actually women who wear “light makeup” looks. Researchers found that women who wear “light makeup” get more promotions than those who go fresh-faced.
The participants, who were all in their 20s and comprised of an even split of genders, described the women in the photos with less makeup as “moral,” “warm,” and “capable.” On the flip side, women who sported heavy eye makeup were found to be the least warm and least competent.
“Concerning the fact that both men and women perceived women with heavy makeup the same way, it is likely that heavy makeup causes perceivers to focus more on women’s sexiness and sexual appeal and, in contrast, caused perceivers to focus less on women’s internal characteristics such as their personalities,” Bernard said.
How wearing makeup affects women in leadership positions
Past research shows women who wear heavier makeup are also less likely to be seen as leaders.
A 2018 study found that women get taken less seriously as competent leaders when they wear too much makeup.
In the study, psychology researchers in Scotland asked more than 150 participants to look at multiple computer-generated versions of the 16 women’s faces with three varying degrees of makeup. The different options consisted of a look ready for “a social night out,” a look that was considered a moderate amount of makeup, and one that had no makeup.
Across the board, regardless of gender or race, participants judged women with the heaviest makeup to be the less effective leaders.
Women are held to very tough standards when it comes to their appearance at work. Another recent study explores this concept as researchers from Oklahoma State University found that women often “dress defensively” in order to be judged less harshly by other women they come in contact with regularly.
The next experiment used 584 female subjects and analyzed their outfit choices for different social events. For the events that were female-dominated, they found that the subjects chose more conservative outfits. And interestingly, the female participants that rated themselves as more attractive dressed the most conservatively at these more female events.
The results show that women are competitive and are often strategizing when it comes to relationships whether it be in their careers, social setting or love life. “More specifically, women are deeply rational and strategic; women are aware of the threats posed by others and act in ways to avoid those threats. Here, for example, we show that women are aware that appearing and/or dressing certain ways make them more likely targets of other women’s aggression, and that, in situations where this knowledge is salient, and for women most at risk of incurring aggression, women then choose to dress in ways might help them avoid others women’s slings and arrows,” the head researcher wrote.