The Double Bind of Makeup

Writing by Laura Hedge // Photograph by Alessandra Scalogna

Musing on the makeup we wear and the beauty standards we create.

When I was a kid, still sorting out who exactly I was and consequently, what I should wear, I was adamant that I was in no way to be mistaken as a ‘girly girl’. This was ultimately an unfortunate decision, since for a time it meant a wardrobe limited to khaki pants, boring t-shirts and a snapback cap. It also meant I didn’t like the idea of makeup.

Interestingly, makeup still appears as primarily a “girl” thing. And I know that many people of various gender identities wear makeup, but what I mean to focus on is that the practice of wearing makeup often, whether that is just a dash of lipstick, a tiny bit of shadow, or a complete Sephora ensemble, that is still primarily connected to the idea of femininity.

Wearing makeup has become such a normal part of a woman’s ‘look’ that those who wear makeup are not only considered more attractive, but trusted to be more competent and likeable. Evidently, makeup can make us more appealing by covering flaws, evening our skin tone and making our faces more symmetrical. However, it’s intriguing to think that these qualities have become recognized as markers of competence in women. That is what was found in a study 2011 from Harvard University, which was paid for by Procter & Gamble, the manufacturer of CoverGirl and Dolce & Gabbana makeup. In the study 149 adults made snap-judgements of women’s appearances from three photographs, where each woman had a different makeup ‘look’. One was a natural face, one professional and one ‘glamorous’ look. Women with eyes and lips which stood out more due to makeup were judged as the most competent and likeable looking.

This suggests what I suspect many of us subconsciously recognise: that makeup has become a sign of a woman being put together, organised and capable of caring for others as well as themselves.

This is of course inextricably intertwined with a pandemic beauty myth; an imagined standard that is primarily used to judge women. Of course, the reality is that a more attractive face doesn’t increase anyone’s skills.

But it does have a payoff for the wearer which makes the money and application time seem worthwhile. It’s the double bind of makeup: the confidence boost it gives you.

Just a slick line of Kate Moss 107 and I feel more prepared for a proper night out. And that’s because wearing makeup makes you feel more attractive, whether or not the people you’re with are actually into the deep red lip colour or golden eye shadow you decided to put on. Makeup allows us to transform into someone we recognise as being more attractive, competent and likeable, because we can fulfil an internalised beauty standard.

Is it possible this contributes to beauty myths? Definitely. Will I stop wearing makeup? No way José, and there’s a good reason for that.

Makeup is creative and expressive and personally, I believe it can be part of who you are. So no, I would never say no to experimenting with different colours, splashing them on my eyes, lips and cheeks. But, it is important to do makeup for you. Makeup is an accessory, not necessity, after all. And sometimes, ain’t nobody got time for makeup and if anyone around you gives two hoots about someone going barefaced, they aren’t worth any time.

What are your thoughts on makeup?


Alessandra Scalogna

Alessandra Scalogna born in Ragusa Italy  in 1983 and works in an accounting firm in the same city. Photography is her passion and represents a very personal way to free and detach herself from the rest. She loves to realize poetic images full of mystery to make anyone (or you) dream and provide new sensations. Check out her photos on Flickr, Photovogue, and Instagram.

2 responses to “The Double Bind of Makeup

  1. I hate wearing makeup to my office job, but it gives me a confidence boost. People usually ask me if I’m feeling sick or tell me I "look tired" when I don’t wear it. I hate that. I’ve worn make up for so many years that now I feel naked and vulnerable without it. I enjoy my weekends off from wearing makeup.

  2. I enjoy wearing some makeup. I love bright eyeshadow and lipstick (in mostly unnatural colours). I also love mascara. I can’t wear foundation or concealer (I always feel gross/sticky with it on) but I love it on other people.

    One of the saddest things about my love of lipstick is how I can’t wear it often. I’m a flautist, and it makes it difficult to wear lipstick. I play flute pretty much every day, so I only wear it on days I don’t play (which is maybe 7 or 8 days in a year 🙁 )

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