Make-Up Attracts (Just ask P&G) But I Theorize As To WHY

“Are you going already?”, asks my colleague?  She’s referring to getting a make-up consultation by her friend and chief make-up artist at Barney’s, “The Beauty Guru.” While I can’t wait to go, it seems like such an indulgence right now as I juggle a ton of work and home responsibilities.

Well, now I have absolutely NO reason to push it off thanks to a new study by Procter & Gamble.

This study has made the rounds in all the major sources, including the prestigious New York Times, (“Up the Career Ladder, Lipstick in Hand“), and I’m even getting requests by readers for my thoughts. What am I referring to exactly? P&G investigated the instinctual effect of make-up. The consumer packaged goods giant (who happens to sell Cover Girl cosmetics to name a few beauty brands) wanted to understand what really happens to us within seconds when we see someone (namely ladies) without any make-up, some make-up and a lot of make-up.  The NY Times piece includes reactions from a lot of the biggies, including Nancy Etcoff who was involved in the study, as well as cosmetics giant, Bobbi Brown, Deborah Rhode who wrote the Beauty Bias (a book against looks discrimination) and Daniel Hamermesh who recently wrote Beauty Pays, a book about the economic advantages better looking people have.

The study included women of all ethnicities and the participants were only allowed to look at pictures of women in various levels of make-up for a few seconds.

Here are the results: if you wear make-up, but not TOO much of it, you’re considered more competent, likable, and trustworthy.  But even if you pile it on, you’re still considered more competent than the bare faced babes, but probably not as trustworthy.

I wasn’t at all surprised by the results.  Maybe you can chock it up to the placebo effect as Bobbi Brown points out, i.e., if you feel you look beautiful you’re more confident, or you can explain it away, as Hamermesh does, by saying that caring for one’s looks, signals a willingness to care for others.

I think its something more fundamental than that. We are hardwired to be attracted to beauty.   Of course beauty is signal of fertility which probably has driven our preferences for mates for centuries.

But I think its broader than that.  Beauty represents life at its best.  Beautiful gardens, meals, homes, clothing, and faces, are experiences that move us, inspire us and motivate us to make other things in our lives better.  They reflect how wonderful life can be if we put effort into our daily existence and show how creative human beings can be when our creativity is put to its best use.   We seek beauty.

No matter the reason for its ability to attract others, a little make-up goes a long way.

No more procrastinating.  Time to make my make-up appointment.  I’ll let you know how it goes. Pics and all!

Comment or tweet me your thoughts @beautyskew

Is Prohibiting Appearance Discrimination Fair For All?

I finally finished reading Deborah Rhode’s Beauty Bias.  (I gave my thoughts on the New York Times’s review of the book in an earlier post, A Legal Approach to Beauty.)

Rhode’s offers a compelling case for broader legislation against appearance discrimination.  Whether you’re obese or stick thin, sexy or frumpy, tall or short, wear no earrings or 10 of them, etc., your appearance should never be a factor in performance evaluations.  If you can do the job, appearance shouldn’t be an issue.  Ever.

Sounds great, right?

But wait a second, think I, this approach can have a dramatic impact on the brands I help create!  Why?  Because brands do a lot more than sell products.  They sell an image.  And that image is made up of many experiential and intangible elements, including the very people who sell it.  In other words, the appearance, behavior, and sense of style, i.e., the image, of personnel that come in contact with customers is itself a skill set.

Example: let’s say you own a luxury brand, and it’s critical that all touch points of the brand reflect the beauty and aspirations that your brand hopes to impart to prospective customers, especially since most luxury brands don ‘t have the “luxury” of using mass media to tell their brand “stories.”  I would advise you to design a magnificent showroom, create glossy, highly-styled print ads, and invest heavily in a captivating digital site that brings the splendor and details of the brand’s products to life.

But it would also be important that all personnel who come in contact with your customers reflect the brand’s values.  As such, they would need a variety of particular talents, and significant among these is that they would appear a certain way, e.g., polished, stylish and “aspirational.”  (By the way, the same holds true if we’re talking about brands on the total opposite end of the spectrum.  Can you imagine a coiffed, high-heeled sales professional with long talons at Home Depot advising you on how to install a kitchen in your home?  Would this person really inspire you to buy the product?)

Rhode is right in saying that if someone is able to do the job, he/she should never be discriminated against on the basis of appearance.  But what Rhode misses is that sometimes because of people’s appearances they actually can’t do the job.


A Legal Approach to Beauty

My mother (and undoubtedly the biggest fan of my blog) alerted me to a book review in last weekend’s New York Times.  The subject of the review, The Beauty Bias: The Injustices of Appearance in Life and Law, by Deborah L. Rhode, investigates the legal issues surrounding appearance and the behaviors we all indulge in, e.g., diets, tight shoes and cosmetics, to maintain or perfect it.
I really look forward to reading the book whenever I get off my butt and head over to the nearest Borders.  It’s great that there is a voice for appearance discrimination. But midway through the review, the journalist references the perils we women subject ourselves to for beauty, like ruined backs from high heels or thinner wallets thanks to expensive wrinkle creams.  When I read this, I got a little annoyed.  Like most decisions in our lives, the desire to pursue that which enhances our beauty isn’t simple.  Women don’t beautify just because they are enslaved by cultural norms or men’s expectations.  For example, high heels may be in style or amplify our sexuality.  But I wear them because they make me feel powerful, strong and confident.  I enjoy how they look on and how they add a bit of zip to the typical black outfit I wear to work.  As Debra Gimlin states in Body Works, women negotiate the rules and expectations of beauty to create a meaningful solution for themselves.
After my initial reaction to the review, though, I was really inspired by Rhode’s efforts to focus on these issues simply because she’s taking the role of looks seriously.  So many women choose to stay away from this topic because it seems too girly.  But, as the sheer number of beauty blogs, magazines, TV shows and products indicates, beauty is serious business. It means a lot to people and, whether we like it now, it profoundly affects them – positively and negatively.  Kudos to Rhode for tackling the topic and making people seriously take notice of it.