…in which I lose my shit on sexist “studies”

13 October 2011

The short version says, “New study shows that makeup makes women appear more competent.” The long version is, this study funded by Proctor & Gamble (i.e., Cover Girl) asked about 300 people to look at some photos of women wearing differently spackled-on layers of makeup — and sometimes, these people only glanced at those photos for 250 milliseconds — and those people tended to think made-up women looked more attractive, competent, and likeable. [Vomiting noise.]

Where do I even begin? The idea that women need to “appear more competent”? Let’s speculate for a moment on why these researchers didn’t spackle up some men with makeup and ask which ones appeared more competent. OH YEAH: because men’s resumés confirm that they’re competent; we need yet another confirmation that women need to fake it.

Then there’s the notion that a bunch of people looking at photos might make the same determinations about a woman’s competence rather than judge them by their actual work. I’m sorry, but tell me exactly how this study is different than Mark Zuckerberg’s “Hot or Not?” program (aka the proto Facebook)? Or the “Who looks better in this dress?” staple spread in those magazines in the supermarket checkout line? Why not show people a bunch of photos of a woman photoshopped to be different body sizes and ask your respondents, “Which would you tap?”

Then there’s the notion that we need a Proctor & Gamble-sponsored study about the importance of makeup. “Surprisingly few studies have investigated [makeup’s] effects on perceivers,” this one tells us. “The few that have demonstrate that cosmetics can increase attractiveness in Caucasian women in their 20s and 30s.” Gawd.

I only lament the lack of a connection to bullshit sexist evolutionary psychology, but I do understand that it’s hard to imagine why cavewomen would have needed to “appear competent.” I imagine the researchers tried, however, considering their bizarre and nonsensical references to the history of makeup.

Can the Occupy Wall Street people please start sending Proctor & Gamble the message that we do not need their funded studies telling us that we should be insecure unless we’re wearing some fucking Cover Girl?

17 Responses to “…in which I lose my shit on sexist “studies””

  1. Didion Says:

    Oh! almost forgot to mention this nice companion piece on what to wear to the office, from the excellent F Word: Contemporary UK Feminism blog.

  2. Spanish Prof Says:

    If you want to vomit over Procter & Gamble, do some research on how they are penetrating the African market. I’ve seen it portrayed as an example of smart corporate expansion. It is nauseating.

  3. JE Says:

    I read a wonderful article recently that described a TV commercial in India that showed a very depressed young woman being rejected in job interviews until she uses a skin-color-lightening product, “Fair and Lovely,” after which (wouldn’t you know!), she gets a job, is suddenly happy and confident, and treats her beloved (and suddenly proud) parents to a meal in a nice restaurant.

  4. JE Says:

    The whole premise of the study is idiotic. It’s always said that first impressions are important, but there’s more to a first impression that a 250-millisecond image of a face alone. If you’re applying for a job, they look at how you talk, what you say, how you act; and yes, your CV, as well as what you say about what you’ve done, etc. Were you on time for your interview? Got everything organized? Do you make eye contact and shake hands confidently and all that stuff?

    Everything else about you will be more important than your make-up levels, so why make the fuss about make-up?

    Oh, yeah, unless you just want to sell make-up.

    • Didion Says:

      Hmmm, it’s as if they started from the premise, “How can we imagine a scientific study that will promote the use of makeup?” and went from there. Oh, scientific method, how you must be rolling in your grave.

  5. JustMeMike Says:

    [quote] Oh, yeah, unless you just want to sell make-up.[/quote]

    Bingo –

    Yeah it is awful, maddening, and worst of all, P&G is such a huge outfit. It is so huge that the impact of boycotting their make up and grooming products wouldn’t cause much of ripple.

    From tooth paste to household cleaners…
    From deodorants to hair care products…

    From Pringles Potato Crisps to Pepto-Bismol, from Iams Pet foods to Duracell Batteries to Charmin Toilet Paper – P&G is always around us. Nearly unavoidable.

    Take care, shoppers. Do your best because the best way to vote against ad campaigns like these and the underlying BS studies – is with your checkbook.


    • Spanish Prof Says:

      It’s almost impossible. Sure, you do not buy P&G products. Other corporations can be even worse (for example, I hope you don’t like Northern Quilted toilet paper, because it belongs to the Koch brothers).

      • Didion Says:

        Aaaahhh! This is so frustrating! Can someone please invent an app that scans the products in your grocery basket and tells you which not to buy, so I don’t have to remember all this crap myself?

    • Didion Says:

      It *is* the best way to vote against ad campaigns (or bullshit scientific studies like this one) — and thank god for the internet and social media for helping spread the word — but I’d like to interview these academic professionals and ask them where they get off facilitating bullshit “research” like this. How much were they paid? How in the hell do they imagine this is required for the advance of scientific knowledge?

  6. servetus Says:


  7. Frank Says:

    Agreed, and yet in most of the movies you love, most of the women wear makeup (of course most of the men do too, but that’s not the point). Why do you treat actresses different than other women? Are you saying that actresses should be measured more by beauty than acting skill? Are you against actors or actresses who use makeup? Or that males have too much control over the look of the film? Would you prefer the banning of makeup in film. How about Shakespeare with only male actors and no makeup?

    I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. If you weren’t a full-out movie fan, I’d find your comments about makeup more interesting and sincere. The fact is that makeup is a form of disguise, but disguise is not always a bad thing.

    • Didion Says:

      You’re right that actresses are heavily made up for the movies — and indeed, their entire bodies are carefully managed by staffs of trainers, dieticians, makeup & hair people. But so are male actors’ bodies. There’s no distinction between them: if Ryan Gosling is going to take off his shirt in a scene, he spends months getting those abs into perfect condition (and if it’s not quite perfect, they’ll airbrush him with spray-tans to get it to look perfect). So many of them are selling themselves as beautiful people that it becomes hard to avoid, even as I try to celebrate all those actresses who are older, bigger, and more interesting-looking than the models we see on magazine covers. I don’t take issue with it (or not much, anyway) because I know that you have to show yourself to be attractive to get yourself in the door as an actor — and that goes for men as well as women.

      But it’s one thing for me to take for granted that an actor’s or actress’s beauty is going to be so managed, and another to think that I need a Harvard-trained scientist to tell me that, as a woman, I will not appear “competent” at my job interview unless I’m wearing makeup — and, let’s remember, this scientist has nothing whatsoever to say to men. I believe that my competence is demonstrated by my c.v., my record of teaching and publication excellence, and my relationships with my colleagues — and that will shine through whether or not I have a certain amount of “luminescence” around my eyes and lips that are colored to be a certain darker shade than my skin. Some people would say those beauty modifications make me more attractive and some would not (my partner, for example, hates makeup). But all issues of my relative attractiveness have nothing to do with my competence at my job, and I still maintain that it takes a particularly craven cosmetics company in partnership with a money-grubbing set of scientists to insist on the connection.

      And let’s also remember all the actors and actresses who won prizes for those roles in which they uglied themselves up — Charlize Theron in Monster, Christian Bale in The Machinist, etc. But perhaps that’s another can o’ worms.

  8. Frank Says:

    Thanks for the clarification. Still, I think disguise, such as wearing a hairpiece or makeup, CAN give the appearance of more authority or greater competence. For example, doesn’t warpaint (e.g., dying half your face blue) make a warrior appear more fierce. Corporate warfare uses similar techniques, such as enforcing somber suit colors for men (if you’re male, try wearing a pink or purple suit to work and see if you command more respect)

    None of this resurfacing makes you actually more competent, but, it may alter others’ perceptions of you. If co-workers or business rivals form impressions based on hair, makeup, attire, etc., then the P&G study may be reflecting real world truths whether we like them or not (although it does seem like overkill to entrust the task of proving this to Harvard scientists).

    It seems to me that our anger with this situation should not be blamed on a P&G publication, but on the importance most people place on meeting expected standards of dress and grooming. That’s what drives P&G’s profits. Women wore makup and men shaved and trimmed their facial hair long before P&G published their “competence study.”

    • Didion Says:

      My frustration lies with P&G not only using advertising to hammer home the message that you’ll be more attractive with makeup — which they do, all the time, and I’ve come to grips with that — but “scientific” studies that purport to use the scientific method to come up with the same message, except now they’re saying women will appear more competent at their jobs with makeup. I protest because I cannot see that this study used an open mind in the least when laying out its research methods and criteria. As a result it poisons both scientific research and renders more toxic gender relations in the workplace that already hold men and women to different standards. Can you imagine receiving an annual report from your employer that said, “Frank would be viewed as more successful if he lost some weight, gained some inches in height, and lightened his skin”? Thanks to P&G, I can now imagine one in which I am castigated for not being luminescent enough around the eyes — a report that now has “scientific” backing.

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