The first thing I thought when I saw that Elizabeth Hurley was going to be on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar with no makeup is how much more beautiful she looked than most women who wear makeup—even if they’re wearing their best face! She had such clear skin and sparkling eyes without any foundation or mascara. It just seemed like someone pulled back all the layers of cosmetics so you could see through right to her soul. Her hair looks great with or without curling irons, too. And those lips look even fuller and sexier because there are no lipstick lines around them.
When I asked my friend Dr. Jennifer Granirer (who consulted on The Devil Wears Prada) about Hurley’s makeover, however, she said something interesting: “She doesn’t have very good bone structure.” In other words, while Hurley may seem like an angelic goddess, behind closed eyelids, her face would probably look pretty ordinary. So the real question is whether people will actually notice. After all, the magazine editors know exactly which model goes onto each page, and it wasn’t hard at all for me to spot other differences between models from different seasons who wore similar outfits. But then again, perhaps they don’t want us to know. They’ve been doing this long enough now that almost nothing shocks readers anymore. There were plenty of articles written after 9/11 saying that Americans should stop dressing up so much because terrorism couldn’t differentiate one person from another. A terrorist wouldn’t care whether his victim was wearing a wig or makeup. He’d only target whoever he was looking at.
In this article, I’ll discuss what this revelation really means, what makes a woman beautiful without makeup, and whether it’s possible for average Jane to achieve this effect herself. First off, let’s take a quick trip down memory lane. Throughout history, women have used makeup to enhance features that men liked, hide blemishes, give color and texture to their faces, and draw attention away from less desirable parts of their anatomy. These days, though, the practice is seen by many feminists as outdated and oppressive toward young girls. For example, early 20th century German feminist writer Rosa Mayrelle called for women to abandon makeup altogether. She argued that women shouldn’t try to imitate male styles of dress but instead should follow their own natural instincts. Later, during World War II, American nurse Betty Grable became known as “the girl soldiers love,” thanks to her sexy pinups in army magazines. Even today, some think that adoring fans’ comments (“You look gorgeous tonight”) make women feel insecure unless they put on lots of makeup. Others disagree, arguing that these compliments mean more when they come unsullied by artificial enhancements. Still others say that women get pleasure out of playing up their assets rather than making themselves unrecognizable.
But none of these arguments completely explain why women bother putting on makeup. Some researchers believe that women use makeup to help maintain social status. By covering their mouths, noses, and foreheads, women can appear more respectable. Other scientists suggest that makeup allows women to show more emotion. One study showed that mothers gave their children sugar cubes coated with a thin layer of rouge, whereas fathers did not. Perhaps women apply makeup to please men, and men prefer women who do that. Or maybe both parties enjoy the physical effects of applying heavy amounts of paint, powder, and rouges. Whatever the reason, studies indicate that women tend to spend $300 million every year on beauty products like lipsticks, foundations, blushers, eye shadows, powders, primers, moisturizers, antiwrinkles creams, perfumes, nail polish, deodorants, and antiperspirant [Source: Forbes]. Clearly, women aren’t using makeup merely to keep their appearances polished.
Now that we understand where makeup comes from, let’s talk about whether its absence gives women special powers. Read the next page to find out why it seems like being made over by Mother Nature would be better than being left alone with your mother’s old tube of red lipstick.
A History of No-Makeup Looks
No matter how much we hate to admit it, our complexions are far from perfect. Most of us need regular touch ups to avoid breaking out, adding wrinkles, losing weight, aging, sun damage, acne scars, and the ever present danger of facial bacteria. Fortunately, since ancient times, humans have found ways to camouflage imperfections and protect against disease. Cosmetics companies have tried to capitalize on women’s desire to look fresh and healthy. Ancient Egyptians, for instance, created elaborate masks for pharaohs to disguise their appearance. During medieval Europe, artists painted ladies wearing extravagant costumes and wigs, and powdered wigs allowed women to create hairstyles unavailable to those with shorter locks. Men also used cosmetics to improve their appearance, applying oils, resins, dyes, waxes, and ointments to their skin. Today, we still use cosmetics to conceal flaws and stimulate collagen production, although modern technology does play an increasingly important role in helping people age gracefully.
Perhaps surprisingly, the practice of beautifying oneself via cosmetics didn’t disappear with feminism. Studies reveal that nearly 90 percent of women use makeup regularly. Why do women continue to wear cosmetics? Many argue that people derive psychological benefits from feeling prettier. When trying to attract a mate, job applicants, potential employers, clients, customers, friends, and family members, people often judge candidates based on external factors like clothing, accessories, jewelry, hair style, height, body type, and complexion. People tend to think favorably of those whose appearances match societal norms, and they worry negatively about anyone who deviates from them. Researchers call this phenomenon “social comparison” and say it causes people to become unhappy when they perceive themselves as falling short of standards set by others. If you feel ugly before you go shopping, for example, you’re likely to buy clothes you already own but won’t necessarily fit well because you’ll compare yourself unfavorably to models on store racks. Feeling confident about your looks boosts self esteem, and positive emotions lead to happiness. Therefore, by improving outward presentation, people may indirectly increase feelings of satisfaction and contentment within.
Although psychology explains why women wear makeup, sociologists offer explanations for why society expects them to. For centuries, societies throughout Asia, Africa, and Latin America have assigned greater value to attractive females, especially in terms of marriageability. According to evolutionary biology theory, males compete with other guys for access to fertile women. Since men usually die sooner than women, men must reproduce quickly to pass along genes. Because men typically marry older brides, they produce offspring younger than themselves. Consequently, men strive to develop strong muscles, build fast sperm, and fight off diseases until shortly before death. On top of these biological imperatives, cultures throughout human history emphasize heterosexual relationships for procreation purposes. Although some anthropological evidence suggests that cavemen engaged in homosexual behavior, prehistoric societies believed that sexual activity between two consenting adults resulted in babies. As a result, men tended to pursue women interested in having children, and vice versa. Over time, people began distinguishing between women who wanted to have kids and those who didn’t. Those who didn’t reproduce got labeled promiscuous, immoral, or otherwise undesirable. Society generally ostracized them, forcing them into domestic roles. Likewise, people deemed suitable partners for reproduction earned respect and received favorable treatment.
Men, of course, weren’t immune to these cultural expectations. Historians point out that boys grow up wanting to impress peers with athletic skills, intelligence, leadership abilities, and financial success. Unfortunately, unlike women, men don’t always receive praise for their efforts. Instead, critics ridicule them for lacking feminine traits associated with attractiveness like softness, patience, and emotional sensitivity. Nevertheless, men often view themselves as providers, and they assume that people admire successful businessmen. Indeed, men sometimes complain that they haven’t gotten credit for things they deserve simply because they lack confidence in their ability to succeed.
Read the next page to learn about techniques that allow women to remove makeup without sacrificing quality.
It All Comes Down To Technique and Chemistry
If you’ve removed your makeup only to discover that your face feels dryer than usual, chances are you overdid it. Your cleanser stripped your epidermis of essential fatty acids and moisture, leaving your skin parched and flaky. You could remedy the situation by switching to a gentler product, but removing your makeup isn’t easy either. Removing waterproof mascara requires acetone, which dries out your skin further. Similarly, rubbing oil off your cheeks leaves your delicate skin irritated and vulnerable to infection. Luckily, makeup manufacturers developed formulas designed specifically to soften and dissolve certain types of materials.