It was a harmless enough tweet: “Studies show that men like women who wear less makeup.”
But this post, sent to the 1.4 million Twitter users following Google Facts — an unverified “Google facts parody” account which is unaffiliated with Google — was not well received by women on social media.
The backlash reignited debate over the merits of women’s makeup application: should they, shouldn’t they, and does it really matter in the end either way?
And also: why are we even talking about this?
Some men prefer women who wear less makeup — but so do some women
So let’s unpack the research. First, it’s true studies have shown some men prefer women who wear less makeup — but so do some women.
In a study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology in 2014, researchers Alex Jones at Bangor University and Robin Kramer at Aberdeen University showed 44 male and female students a selection of images of women’s faces, before and after various amounts of makeup were applied.
Female participants thought the models looked better with slightly more makeup than male participants did. Interestingly, however, both male and female participants thought the models looked best when they were wearing just 60 per cent of the makeup they had applied.
“Taken together, these results suggest that women are likely wearing cosmetics to appeal to the mistaken preferences of others,” the researchers concluded. (Built into this assertion is that women do not wear cosmetics because they themselves like it.)
Second, studies into what employers think of employees wearing makeup have found women who wear makeup are treated more favourably and even earn more than women who don’t.
‘The makeup tax’
Research conducted by professors from Harvard and Boston Universities (and funded by cosmetics giant Proctor & Gamble) in 2011 found women who wore subtle amounts of makeup — as opposed to “gobs of Gaga-conspicuous makeup” — were perceived to be more likeable, socially cooperative and attractive.
And a 2006 study published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found participants awarded women wearing makeup with “a greater earning potential and with more prestigious jobs” than women who wore none.
It’s a phenomenon Facebook staffer Libby Brittain dubbed “the makeup tax” in a Q&A session with presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton last year.
“Every morning, as my boyfriend zips out the door and I spend 30-plus minutes getting ready, I wonder about how the ‘hair-and-makeup tax’ affects other women — especially ones I admire in high-pressure, public-facing jobs,” Brittain wrote to Ms Clinton.
“As a young professional woman, I’d genuinely love to hear about how you manage getting ready each morning … while staying focused on the ‘real’ work ahead of you that day.”