Perception is king…

I’ve been immersed in editing Burning Lies for the last two weeks which means skipping the blogsphere to a large extent. I’m surfacing today because of a story my sister sent me. (She’s in France and knows more about what’s going on in Australian newspapers than I do…) The article is in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Life and Style section so that may be a key pointer to where this story is going.

Yet another study has been conducted on whether make-up wearing women receive a more positive response in the workplace. Here’s the full story Makeup: The Key to Success? The study was funded by Fortune 500 heavyweight Procter & Gamble (who’s big in the cosmetic world as well as consumer goods), but executed by researchers from three prestigious organisations – Harvard and Boston Universities, and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Unlike the numerous studies that have gone before this one asked the question ‘Are women who wear makeup perceived as being more capable and trustworthy.’ According to the 268 people used in the study the answer is a resounding yes… Bet you’re not surprised either. (GW reckons makeup makes you look younger, but a padded bra probably work even better – sad that he has no idea his attempts at humour are all too often true…)

Nancy Etcoff, author ofย Survival Of The Prettiest: The Science Of Beauty, says the two are inextricably linked.

“We can hypothesise that greater perceived attractiveness and competence go together, that they are both indicators of social power,” she added. “I have done brain imaging studies that suggest certain features of faces – symmetry, youthfulness and sexual dimorphism [the ways that female characteristics differ from those of males] โ€“ are considered attractive. The face is seen as an advertisement of health and fertility and a potential good mate or partner.”

Oh goodie! Approaching 50 means my health is questionable and any ‘mating’ has nothing to do with fertility, so does that mean I’m wasting my time with make-up? Or will my passengers be more comfortable having a make-up wearing captain on their flight?

The good folk at Procter & Gamble, including one of their scientists, Dr Sarah Vickery, stress that their findings don’t claim women have to wear makeup in order to appear capable, but rather that it’s a tool they can use to create impressions and, in part, control the way others see them.

Okaaay. I can kind of understand that spin because I watched my beautiful young niece positively glow when she had a lesson in applying make-up lightly and wisely. And I’m guilty of loving my mascara… I am also guilty of ensuring I’ve put my warpaint on prior to heading into a meeting with the blokes. I understand the rules even if I don’t like them.

But I want to see a study into whether men who’ve bothered to have a shave, straighten their eyebrows and trim their nasal hairs, are more trustworthy than their neanderthal brothers?

Where I work appearances for half the workforce as strictly enforced down to nail polish colour, jewellery, heel height, hair styles, and of course, make-up. The other half, sat up the pointy end in the flight deck (no cockpits on my aircraft), are required to refrain from facial piercings, keep their facial hair neatly trimmed (menopause might make that tricky…) and ensure their hair is not over their collar. The crew down the back are largely immaculate. The one’s up the front?

Frankly, some of the fellows I’ve flown with in 23 years could do with a lesson in wielding a clothes iron and the correct application of deodorant. But that aside, do we simply respond to someone who’s well presented, carrying themselves with authority and looks as though they’ve taken some care with their presentation?

Surely the gender bias in these sorts of studies is all about selling more make-up rather than true social commentary.

What do you think? Would you trust a scruffy man over a tidy one? Do you think a woman with make-up is more competent than her natural counterpart?

If you need a laugh in your day go and read the comments at the bottom of the on-line article – I hope they’re joking…

The full study can be found at


8 thoughts on “Perception is king…

  1. Cath, I have no idea why my wordpress blog keeps deeming you as spam!! You are most certainly NOT spam… Apologies for the late appearance of your comments…

    I have to agree re judging people by their eyes and body language. That’s much more likely to give insights into their personality than the correct application of make-up.

    I’ll be very happy when my make-up is replaced by sunscreen and a big floppy hat ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Yes Helene and they can be strictly enforced in many places. From the orange shirts the road workers wear, through to the skirts and dresses you see in the offices. Although it isn’t like that in the USA!

    Free dress days (depending on the schoold) are now pretty strict too. No sleeveless tops, no short skirts, and absolutely no slogans or logans anywhere….

  3. So local governments had dress-codes as well, Nicola? I didn’t know that!

    I have to admit I appreciated wearing a school uniform as it took away one of the social complexities of being a teenage girl. ‘Dress-down’ days were a nightmare for me as there wasn’t available cash in our house for designer clothes… I was not one of the cool dressers at school…

    And maybe that all helps to shape the way we view other people later in life?

  4. Ahh Helene….in my game I see some of the scruffiest as well as some of the best dressed. I think it really does depend on the *where* as well as the *what* they do for a crust that has as much impact as anything. I have met beautiful and well dressed road workers and scruffy shop assistants.

    But having said that I know heel height is something strictly measured in hubby’s office as well as adherence to uniform, understated makeup and facial piercings, which are all covered in their staff handbook!

  5. Oh Capt B is a smooth one, Sandy ๐Ÿ™‚

    I will always think of make-up and power suits as war paint and armour… That means they come out when I’m heading south for work…

    Of course if I’m serious about buying a house or a car then I do the opposite and dress down. Nothing like a salesman underestimating the bargaining power of the victim!

  6. Hey Helene, I have to admit I gravitate more towards a well presented person as to me it reflects an awareness of self-compitence. That’s face value, of course I don’t stop evaluating someone there.

    There are some classic cases where I work where I think some dress/apply make up/etc to hide faults. And I’m sad to say that for some it works – until you have to deal with them anyway.

    And just to throw in a story from my browny-point winning other half: We were in the car the other day, stopped at the lights and saw a young woman applying makeup in her revision mirror. I said I couldn’t understand why young women needed makeup and added that I only wore it to cover my wrinkles. Husband Dear replied, ‘I love your wrinkles, honey.’ Is that quick thinking or what??? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Oh, and LOL re the cockpit joke ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. As a woman who’s worked in agriculture (at the dirty end) makeup’s not something I use as a regular part of my day. I don’t even think about wearing it and that suits me, I’m naturally lazy!

    I struggle to believe how much money is spent on these types of research projects and for what purpose?

    My trust decisions usually are made because of someone’s eyes or the way they stand or move. Not how much makeup they wear – unless it’s a man and if it’s too heavy then I begin to worry! LOL.

    Interesting blog ๐Ÿ™‚ No wonder it brought you out of revisions!


    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

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