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Response Essay

Posted by CourtneyMusick on 28 Nov 2012 at 17:12 GMT

As one of the oldest traditions and one of the most omnipresent customs in today’s society, makeup holds an important role in many cultures. Historically, people have used makeup in diverse ways in different areas of the world. While cosmetics may seem common, no one has fully understood the effects they may have. Some cultures’ use of makeup is easy to interpret. For example, cosmetics such as simple war paint or bold clown faces are easy to understand. However, the invention of photography resulted in a rise in cosmetic usage (Etcoff). The modern cosmetic industry is no longer simple and well-understood. It is now open to a variety of interpretations. Nancy Etcoff, Shannon Stock, Lauren Haley, and David House worked together to effectively show the world, for the first time, the subtle effects makeup can create. They wrote an article titled "Cosmetics as a Feature of the Extended Human Phenotype: Modulation of the Perception of Biologically Important Facial Signals", which describes an experiment that tested how cosmetics affect perceptions of women.
The article, before explaining the procedures of the experiment, discusses qualities of cosmetics in order to address any explanations of how cosmetics could affect perception. The article introduces the idea that makeup could be an extended phenotype, which is anything that is “found universally and presumed to enhance perceived biological fitness” (Etcoff). A hermit crab’s shell or a human’s clothing are examples of extended phenotypes. Different from biological phenotypes, those characteristics found in one’s genes, extended phenotypes are chosen. The article states that use of makeup use is completely up to the wearer, who is neither morally obliged to wear makeup, nor to avoid makeup. Because of this, cosmetics show “the individual’s preferences and choices... The response to their use reflects the perceiver's attitudes about forms of self-presentation and grooming practices.” In order to test to see how the average person perceives the application of makeup, the experiment takes women and uniformly photographs each face wearing four types of makeup: no makeup, natural makeup, professional makeup, and glamorous makeup. Random test subjects look at the pictures, then make judgments about the women. The outcome showed women who wear more makeup are perceived to be more attractive, competent, likeable, and trustworthy. This creates a positive bias for those women who wear cosmetics.
Makeup has been used for centuries to alter perceptions. Some cultures understood that cosmetics have a strong impact on viewing women. In the late 1700’s, the British government knew that the subtle influence was not easily noticeable. In attempt to gain control, they proposed a law which stated a woman who tricked her husband into marriage using cosmetics would be punished as witchcraft. Even more, the marriage would be considered nullified (Etcoff). This is an extreme example, but demonstrates how makeup gives a woman the potential to manipulate others. However, other cultures embraced the subtle changes makeup provided. Egyptians used cosmetics in a way that was quite sophisticated for the time and started a new perspective on the practice of makeup. The Egyptian culture developed the modern use of cosmetics, which uses makeup to enhance attractiveness. There is no historical data to show how much cosmetics could manipulate the perception of women. Some avoid it while others welcome it, but the effect of cosmetics happens inevitably.
Women now use cosmetics for their advantage. A woman can create a look that could potentially shape the assumptions a viewer could have about her. “When viewing a face with makeup, perceivers make inferences based not only on cosmetics' effects on [beauty], but on their conscious ideas about makeup use and what it may signify about the user's personality, character, and intentions.” In other words, women use makeup as their extended phenotype to add to their performance. For example, in a professional environment, women wear neatly applied and natural makeup to make a more enhanced polished look. The enhancement of makeup in this scenario is comparative to a man’s freshly shaven face: they both give off a feeling of being tidy and professional. The modern use of cosmetics would give a woman an advantage by having the ability to shape the inferences a perceiver could have about her.
The theory that a woman without wearing makeup gives a different impression to a viewer than a women wearing makeup had no convincing evidence until the experiment in "Cosmetics as a Feature of the Extended Human Phenotype: Modulation of the Perception of Biologically Important Facial Signals" was conducted. Previously, there were two views on the effects cosmetics could provide. On one hand, there had been “no objective relationship between facial appearance and actual behavior” (Etcoff). This means that a woman while wearing makeup is equally judged as the same woman without makeup. A woman wearing makeup would not be any more likely to get a job promotion or be approved for a loan. This view is simply that makeup does not provide an opportunity for special treatments. While on the other hand, there has been long use of cosmetics to create a bias of the senses. The experiment in the article helps put an end between to two views of the effects of makeup. It proves that the small biases created by cosmetics could be unnoticeable, but could make a difference in a competitive environment. Whether it creates a more powerful first impression or gives off a professional look, cosmetics has now been proven to give a small boost in appearance. This barely noticeable benefit is the sense of being more attractive, competent, likeable, and trustworthy. The sense of these characteristics are all improved by cosmetics.
While some people may think it is an unfair advantage, makeup is helpful to achieve whatever a woman wants. The experiment explained in "Cosmetics as a Feature of the Extended Human Phenotype: Modulation of the Perception of Biologically Important Facial Signals" proves that women who wear makeup are viewed higher than those with little or no makeup. I consider cosmetics as an extended phenotype because it enhances the biological potential. It has the power to be a factor in beating the competition. As a makeup artist, I can give women that extra step to become successful. My goal is to make women feel more confident and ready to face whatever lies ahead. If I do makeup for a photoshoot, I want that model feel like her face leaves an impression. If I do makeup for a bride, I want her to look in the mirror and think “I am attractive, competent, lovable and trustworthy. This is my day.” No matter the situations women face, wearing makeup can only make that day better. In the competitive world we live in, I get excited over providing women with a fresh advantage. There are things that people can not always help, but there are somethings we can. Putting forth the best appearance is easy to do with a small amount of effort.

All references from "Cosmetics as a Feature of the Extended Human Phenotype: Modulation of the Perception of the Biologically Important Facial Signals."

No competing interests declared.