The Home Front

Is the Avon Lady More Important Than You Think?

Makeup was always treated with a certain degree of contempt in my household growing up — a necessary evil to which my parents eventually and reluctantly relented sometime during middle school. But the New York Times reports that a new study shows wearing the appropriate amount of makeup might affect your daughters’ success in their future occupations:

The study’s 25 female subjects, aged 20 to 50 and white, African-American and Hispanic, were photographed barefaced and in three looks that researchers called natural, professional and glamorous. They were not allowed to look in a mirror, lest their feelings about the way they looked affect observers’ impressions.

One hundred forty-nine adults (including 61 men) judged the pictures for 250 milliseconds each, enough time to make a snap judgment. Then 119 different adults (including 30 men) were given unlimited time to look at the same faces.

The participants judged women made up in varying intensities of luminance contrast (fancy words for how much eyes and lips stand out compared with skin) as more competent than barefaced women, whether they had a quick glance or a longer inspection.

“I’m a little surprised that the relationship held for even the glamour look,” said Richard Russell, an assistant professor of psychology at Gettysburg College in Gettysburg, Pa. “If I call to mind a heavily competent woman like, say, Hillary Clinton, I don’t think of a lot of makeup. Then again, she’s often onstage so for all I know she is wearing a lot.”

Although the study was paid for by Procter & Gamble (owner of CoverGirl), it was designed and executed by researchers from Boston University and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Some of their findings are obvious, such as that makeup makes women look more attractive. (Who knew?) But the interesting finding is that wearing makeup increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, competence, and trustworthiness.

Of course, we all wish that beauty played a smaller role in life. (Well, at least those of us who aren’t beautiful. Pretty people are probably quite fine with the setup.) Although we all wish our hair were lusher, our eyes were bigger, and our stomachs smaller, at least makeup is something we can easily control.

So, moms and dads, don’t look at makeup as a necessary evil, an unwelcome sign that your baby has all grown up and a potential source of conflict with your teen. Instead look at it as a milestone that — appropriately handled — can help your child just a bit as she matures and enters the workforce.

And, in addition to those SAT classes, you might want to go ahead and call your Avon lady as well.