A Brief Discussion About The Psychology Of Make-Up


Raymond Cochrane in the book Contemporary Psychology: An Introduction, by Clive R. Hollin raises some interesting ideas about the psychology of wearing make up.  ‘We may notice too that our hypothetical stranger might be wearing make up to hide some of their original facial features.’ But is that the case? Do we collectively want to hide our original features or are we simply trying to enhance them? It’s an interesting thought which I guess we can only answer on a personal level. By asking ourselves is make up just making me look the best possible version of myself or am I hiding behind it?

Some may argue that in today’s world we are too focused on our looks and outward appearance, that the socially acceptable practice of make up application is a vehicle for our collective vanity.  Is that a good message to give to the young impressionable minds of the next generations? Feminist Sheila Jeffries comments in Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West that men make women feel ‘inadequate’; and consequently women have to ‘engage in expensive, time consuming practices that left them feeling that they were inauthentic and unacceptable when barefaced.’

Contrary to this though, fathers are notorious for scolding their daughters when they first start dabbling in makeup application. Likewise, several men I interviewed seem to genuinely dislike makeup. Harry Farnell commented that, ‘What’s the point of hiding the real you with make up?’ A popular opinion it seems. Neal Williams when interviewed commented the, ‘Natural face is ones true self and once applied with makeup loses certain attractions.’ So perhaps it is not the men who pressure the women into looking a certain way, could it be subconscious peer pressure from other women? Especially with the abundance of cameras and social networking sites, nobody wants to be tagged in an unflattering picture.

Make up predates the Egyptians. In the Old Testament, Jezebel was said to have ‘painted her eyelids’ and that was 840 BC! So make up is certainly not a new craze! The word ‘cosmetics’ comes from the Greek word, kosmetikē tekhnē, meaning ‘the technique of dress or ornament’. To many this is what make up application is all about, self expression. Make up offers a person the freedom to transform themselves visually. Taking this idea further, transvestites and transsexuals who were originally male, often use make up to feminize themselves and represent who they are on the inside, externally. What a wonderful gift that has given them.

Many make up lovers see make up as an extension of their personality, as intrinsic to who they are as much as an arm or a leg, and as essential to their modern day living as clothing or medicine. In popular culture we have stars such as Amy Winehouse, Dita Von Teese and Bridget Bardot who are synonymous with their infamous make up looks. Amy Winehouse had her renowned thick eyeliner flick, Dita Von Teese always rocks the pale skin and red lips look and Bridget Bardot had the striking eyes, and pale lips. There are others that consider make up application as an art form. We have icons such as Lady Gaga, Nicky Minaj and Jessie J experimenting with new looks on a daily basis. Consequently this trend is quickly filtering down into the mainstream. The arrival of lip tattoo transfers, facial diamantes, unusual false lashes, facial glitter and transfer tattoos in the high street shops have taken the art form of make up to another level. Never before has make up been so creative. Surely this is a sign of progress in society. We should be proud that we live in a country where people can choose to look a certain way and not be prejudiced against, because of it. Gone are the days when make up was sold discreetly from beneath the shop counters. Thank goodness!

We all have different views on beauty, what it takes to be beautiful and even the value of beauty itself, and we should celebrate that. If that wasn’t the case we would all look the same and that would be a hugely dull place. In my personal opinion I don’t think that the secret of beauty will solely be found inside a makeup bag but rather, inside oneself. As was written in The Art and Science of Professional Make Up, ‘Good looks have a lot to do with your physical and mental health. You have to like yourself and accept the inner and outer person before you can expect others to like you.’ So in conclusion, whether you wear make up or not, there certainly isn’t a right or wrong choice. The importance lays not in which choice you make, but in the ability to choose itself, and for that we can be thankful.

For further information.

  • Jeffreys, Sheila. Beauty and Misogyny: Harmful Cultural Practices in the West.  London: Routledge, 2005.
  • Cochrane, Raymond (ed). Hollin. Clive R. Contemporary Psychology: An Introduction, by Clive R. Hollin.  London:Routledge:1995
  • Place, Stan Campbell. The Art and Science of Professional Make Up.  New York: Thomson Learning. 1989