Wearing Makeup Influences How Men and Women Perceive Your Social Status, in Different Ways

"Does this lipstick make me look dominant or prestigious?" (Photo: Getty Images)
“Does this lipstick make me look dominant or prestigious?” (Photo: Getty Images)

Anyone who has ever swiped on red lipstick, dabbed on concealer to make under-eye circles disappear, or created the perfect cat eye knows the transformative power of makeup. And while cosmetics can change the way you feel about yourself on the inside, it also has an effect on the way people perceive you on the outside.

A study reported June 9 in the journal Perception delved into how using makeup influences people’s perception of your social status. In the study, both men and women looked at photos of women with a subtle amount of makeup digitally applied to their faces and the same women without any makeup, and then rated them based on various traits, such as attractiveness, dominance, and prestige. “We already knew that makeup altered certain social attributes like trustworthiness, earning potential, and competence,” Alex Jones, PhD, a co-author of the study and a lecturer at Swansea University in the U.K., tells Yahoo Beauty. “We wanted to know if it affected social status directly, and other psychological research has found that social status is obtained through two routes — dominance and prestige. So they seemed natural variables to measure when seeing how people perceived others wearing makeup.”

The researchers found that both men and women deemed faces with makeup as being more attractive, which may not come as a surprise to some. But only the women saw the makeup-wearing women as more “dominant,” while only the men perceived those same cosmetics-clad women as more “prestigious.”

Men and women reacted differently to photos of women with and without makeup in the study. (Photo courtesy of Alex Jones)
Men and women reacted differently to photos of women with and without makeup in the study. (Photo courtesy of Alex Jones)

In a follow-up study, the researchers dug a little deeper to understand what was causing women to rank those wearing makeup as more dominant. They found that women are more likely to feel jealousy toward others wearing makeup, perceiving them as not only more attractive to men but also more promiscuous. “I wouldn’t say that they look threatening as in physically intimidating, but it’s more of a social dominance,” explains Jones. “So women wearing makeup might seem more intimidating in terms of the things they could achieve and that they might be better than you or invoke jealousy.”

So what can people learn from this study? “I think the biggest thing to take away from the study is that makeup is really a powerful tool when it comes to altering social perceptions,” says Jones. “It is capable of altering a multitude of traits, and in different ways to different people. Knowledge about how it can change perceived traits allows the wearer to use it to their advantage in different social situations, or be aware of how others might judge them in different scenarios.”

While it’s interesting that cosmetics can influence how some men and women perceive you, at the end of the day, your opinion of yourself matters most. So whether wearing makeup gives you a confidence boost or you feel empowered by going makeup-free, do what makes you feel good.

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