Women have been wearing makeup in cultures all around the world for thousands of years. The types and aesthetics of the makeup have changed with time and technology, but cosmetics have been a mainstay almost as long as human culture has existed. But why has makeup been around for so long?
Women wear make up for a variety of reasons, such as improving their confidence, camouflaging themselves, expressing themselves creatively, as a calming ritual, for strategic self-presentation, and for looking young. There is no wrong reason for a woman to wear makeup if it makes her feel better about herself.
Makeup comes in many forms to reflect the many ways that it functions in the lives of women. While historically it has been used to make women look more beautiful, it has evolved into much more than that. Keep reading to learn more about the many reasons women wear makeup.
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Women Wear Make-up for Strategic Self-Presentation
Probably the number one reason that women wear makeup from a psychological standpoint is that it makes them appear (and feel) more physically attractive. By using makeup, women can enhance their natural beauty to present themselves as more sexually attractive than they are without it.
Here are some of the ways that wearing makeup contributes to a woman’s beauty (Source: The Science of People):
Facial contrast: Scientific studies have shown that women are perceived by both men and other women as more attractive when they have a higher contrast in color and shade between their face and their eyes and lips. This is the reason that eye shadow and lipstick were invented. Red lipstick, for example, is perceived as much more attractive to men than a nude or pink lipstick because of the increased level of visual contrast.
Symmetry: Symmetry is one of the physical qualities of the human face that greatly increases its attractiveness to other humans on a biological level. Many kinds of makeup, such as foundation, work to make the complexion more even across the entire face, creating a better sense of visual symmetry to onlookers.
Arousal: Some kinds of makeup, such as blush and highlighter, are meant to add both reflection and color to the cheeks, mimicking sexual arousal. This makes a woman more sexually attractive to other people. Eyeliner and mascara also make the eyes appear darker, which can make the pupils appear dilated like they are during sexual arousal.
- Youth: Many types of makeup are designed to make a woman look younger than she is. Blush can achieve this, and so can eyeliner, which serves to make the eyes appear bigger in the face. Youth is a signal to other people that a woman is fertile, and this biologically increases her sexual attractiveness to others.
It may be hard to believe, given the wide variety of makeup styles available, but makeup is generally designed to enhance physical attractiveness. It does this by tapping into a variety of primal and biological triggers that promote human sexuality and sexual behaviors.
This is one of the reasons that makeup is also usually deemed to be inappropriate when worn by children. Because of its association with sexuality and physical attractiveness on that level, putting makeup on young girls is seen in many circles as sexually exploitive.
Even though makeup was originally designed to enhance the natural secondary sex characteristics of women, it has since evolved to be used by both men and women around the world as a way for them to express themselves or make themselves more visually appealing.
Women Wear Make-up to Improve their Confidence
Along with visually increasing a woman’s physical attractiveness, when women wear makeup, science has shown that it causes them to become more confident and assertive as a result. This phenomenon is known as “the lipstick effect.” (Source: The Science Times)
Not only does wearing makeup make women feel more confident, but many women also feel smarter when they’re wearing makeup and tend to perform better in academic studies while wearing it. But why is that?
When a woman feels more confident and attractive, she is in a more positive mood and is more relaxed, and being happy and relaxed is a mood that is much more conducive to studying and learning than being insecure and depressed.
Much of what makeup makes women feel more confident is tied to their self-esteem. When a woman feels like she looks good, this translates into her behavior and attitude, which has several positive effects across her life, aside from helping to improve her looks.
Women Wear Make-up to Camouflage Themselves
On the opposite side of confidence, women also wear makeup to camouflage themselves in a variety of ways. In some cases, this is due to insecurity or low self-esteem on the woman’s part. She may feel like she isn’t physically attractive unless she wears makeup to enhance her natural beauty.
But there are also other ways that women wear makeup as camouflage as well. Here are a few of them (Source: Cosmetic Tattoo):
Acne cover-up: Many adolescent girls, as well as boys, suffer from acne in varying degrees, and for some adolescent girls (and women, as well), this can cause severe self-esteem issues. There are special kinds of makeup that not only help cover up and camouflage acne but also help to clear acne up for good. Acne can be both painful and embarrassing, so having makeup that can help heal and hide acne is a lifesaver for many people who suffer from it.
Societal conformity: Since women wearing makeup is generally accepted as socially appropriate in many different social contexts, especially in the workplace, many women wear makeup to not stand out negatively among their peers. Unfortunately, women who choose not to wear makeup are sometimes perceived as less professional or “put-together” as their made-up counterparts.
Concealment: Other than acne, women cover up many other blemishes on the face with makeup, such as concealers or foundation. For women who end up with facial bruises as the result of sparring or other strenuous physical activities, makeup can also help to hide those marks. Makeup can also be used to conceal more serious disfigurements, such as burns or other scars.
- Contouring: Contouring is a type of makeup that adds artificial contours to the face using shading with foundation, causing the face to appear thinner and better shaped by creating a visual illusion using shadows. Contouring is often exaggerated in haute makeup looks like drag or other performance cosmetics.
As often as women use makeup to attract attention to themselves, they also use it to draw attention away from features they’d rather people not pay attention to. Women also use makeup to fit in and be accepted in environments where a “standard” of feminine beauty is not only encouraged, but it is expected.
Women Wear Make-up for Creative Expression
Aside from using it to enhance their beauty or cover up their flaws, many women also enjoy using makeup purely as a form of creative expression. Much like painting or fashion, makeup is a way for women to exercise creative license over their appearance. With the thousands of different colors and varieties of cosmetics available, there is no limit to the number of different makeup looks a woman can pull off.
There has been a longstanding myth that women wear makeup to appeal to the male gaze, but science has proven this perception to be false. In reality, women wear makeup as often for themselves as they do for other people. This also explains the popularity of more exaggerated makeup styles and types that men generally don’t find as attractive as natural looks.
Here are some of the ways that women use makeup to pursue creative self-expression:
Color theory: Like painters, many women experiment with various combinations of color and textures in their makeup to achieve different effects. From smoky eyeshadow to neon lipstick, makeup colors give off varying attitudes and can also be used to match eye color, hair color, clothing, and more.
Stylistic expression: Like having a personal clothing style, having a personal makeup style for a woman allows them to set themselves out and make a statement. Think about a woman in glam makeup versus a woman in goth makeup—these women give off very different aesthetic vibes, don’t they? This is what is meant by makeup being used as a stylistic expression.
Art: Many people (not just women) consider cosmetics to be a form of art, not just a way to make women look prettier. On one end, this art leads to movie magic like special effects makeup. On the other end, many women who do not otherwise pursue a creative hobby such as writing or drawing may pursue makeup proficiency as an artistic hobby.
- Transformation: The amazing thing about makeup is that it can allow a woman to transform their look completely. One day, they can wear a “nude” makeup look that is just an enhanced version of their natural look, and the next day they might wear a full face of dramatic makeup that would be perfect in any night club or bar. This kind of transformative ability means that makeup gives women a lot of sovereignty over their looks and how they are perceived.
There are many ways a woman can use makeup to express herself creatively, no matter what her style and personal aesthetics are. Along with individual fashion choices, makeup choices can make a huge difference in how a woman looks and how others perceive her. Not only that, but wearing makeup also changes the way a woman perceives herself.
Women Wear Make-up as a Calming Ritual
One undervalued reason women wear makeup is that it often forms a calming ritual for women to perform both at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day. Similar to a form of walking meditation, the careful, systematic application of makeup can put a woman in a state of hyperfocus, allowing her to relax and be in the present moment. (Source: Get the Gloss)
If a woman tries to cram makeup into an already busy schedule, it can just be one more stressor on top of other stressors. But if a woman deliberately sets aside time to do their makeup each morning, those 15-30 minutes can be some of the most relaxing minutes of their entire day, setting a tone of tranquility and purpose for the rest of it.
It is also calming for women to take their makeup off at the end of the day. Similar to casting off a bra and uncomfortable workplace clothing at the end of your workday, cleaning makeup from the skin and applying after-makeup cosmetics such as moisturizers, toners, and other products can be a great way to wind down after the day and a good opportunity for women to practice mindfulness.
Women can make putting on their makeup an even more calming ritual by doing the following:
Incorporating aromatherapy into a makeup routine by using scented cosmetics for a positive psychological effect. For example, makeup that incorporates citrus essential oils can enhance and uplift a woman’s mood, as well as increasing her energy levels and motivation. (Source: Aromacare)
Practicing breathwork and stillness while doing makeup. This usually results in the makeup being applied more smoothly and evenly because the hands shake less, and the body isn’t moving in unpredictable ways. It also acts to induce a relaxed, meditative state. Not only do you end up with a better makeup look in the end, but you start the day calm and clear-headed, which can have a positive trickle-down effect throughout the rest of your day.
- Doing their makeup in a curated space. Many women have special places for their makeup, from vanities to kaboodles. Not only does this allow them to display their makeup in a visually-pleasing collection, but it also gives them a good place to apply it. Adding strong lighting to your makeup application space can make it easier to apply makeup without making mistakes.
Some people associate having to put on makeup with a harried morning before work, but if it is incorporated mindfully into a woman’s everyday routine, the rituals associated with both putting on and taking off makeup can act as psychological bookends on the day that allow a woman to both prepare for her day and decompress after it’s done.
Women Wear Make-up to Look Younger
Along with wearing makeup to look and feel more attractive, many women also wear makeup to look younger. As mentioned earlier, some types of makeup—such as eye makeup and blush—are designed specifically to make a woman appear more youthful than she is. These types of makeup rely on illusion for effect.
However, there are also types of makeup and cosmetics that are designed not just to imitate youth, but to encourage the skin to regenerate more effectively, physically causing the skin to look younger. This is often accomplished through moisturizers with anti-aging properties that boost the body’s natural collagen production, causing the skin to appear more full and lush.
Here are some of the other ways that makeup is used to help women look younger and keep their skin in better condition:
Wrinkle cover-up and treatment: One problem that many women deal with as they get older is that their skin loses its elasticity, which leads to wrinkles when skin can no longer stand up against the force of gravity. To avoid wrinkles, many women use cosmetics to moisturize their skin daily, increasing the skin’s regenerative ability. Other kinds of makeup are used to cover wrinkles up.
Exfoliation: Exfoliating makeup and cosmetics such as scrubs and masks can also help repair the skin as well as remove excess layers of dead skin that build up on the skin’s surface, causing it to appear ashy and dull. Without proper exfoliation, using makeup daily can lead to skin problems such as acne, whiteheads, blackheads, and clogged pores.
- UV protection: Many types of makeup incorporate sunblock and other forms of UV protection that help protect the skin from the sun damage, reducing the effects of aging and also preventing skin cancer. Even makeup that doesn’t contain UV protectants can still help shield the skin from UV rays just by providing a covering so that skin is not directly exposed to the sun.
Not only can makeup be used to make skin appear more youthful, but many types of makeup also contain botanicals and other serums that actively promote skin health and help reduce visible signs of aging. However, these cosmetics must be used as part of a regular daily routine to gain any real positive effect from them.
Women Wear Make-up for Many Reasons
Women wear makeup for varying (and sometimes contradictory) reasons, which explains one of the reasons it has had such a controversial place in human society. However, many of the reasons that women wear makeup are positive and can have a beneficial effect on a woman’s life, from making them feel more physically attractive to making them feel smarter, confident, and more artistically expressive.