Confidence. Enhancing natural beauty. Feeling more put-together. Experimenting. These are all reasons some area teen girls give for wearing makeup. So the statistic from the American Economic Review that women who wear makeup to work earn up to 30 percent more than their bare-faced peers shouldn’t be too much of a shock.
A study reported on by the New York Times in 2011 found that wearing makeup “increases people’s perceptions of a woman’s likability, her competence and (provided she doesn’t overdo it) her trustworthiness.”
Six area high school girls decided to put that theory to the test in a four-week experiment, curious to see what people’s reactions toward them would be in one of the most look-centered places around: high school. The participants went sans makeup for two weeks before switching back to their normal makeup-wearing routine, keeping track of people’s reactions, comments and how they themselves felt about it throughout the course of the experiment.
After reading the article, “I found that I was looking at teachers and students at school and how people interacted with them, and I found that the students who were considered the most ‘trouble’ in class wore really dark and thick makeup,” said Alyssa Kramer, a senior at Starpoint High School. “Many teachers were very plain with their makeup. However, the ones with a more polished makeup look were the ‘favorite’ teachers.’ ”
Fellow NeXt correspondent Melanie Izard, a junior at Sweet Home High School, was the only participant who did not already wear makeup, explaining that she was “surprised that makeup boosts confidence. I never wear makeup. When I was younger my older sister would put some on me sometimes, but I would always feel ridiculous, not confident.”
The reactions the girls received were much more positive when they wore makeup. Alyssa described the first two weeks as “uncomfortable.”
“Going to school without makeup was something I haven’t done since seventh grade,” she said. “People are very used to my look. So when I got to school, I got a lot of double takes, and ‘Are you sick? Did you oversleep?’ ”
“When I didn’t wear makeup, I felt different ... I didn’t feel as confident in myself when I was walking into school,” said Kallie Olear, a sophomore at Wilson High School.
Melanie noticed a big difference in how people treated her when she was wearing makeup.
“A lot of teachers and administrators came up to me, just to talk,” Melanie said. “I’m not saying I’m normally unapproachable,” but it seemed they approached her more than they usually do, and “the makeup might have had something to do with it.”
Jenna Schlosser, a sophomore at Wilson High School, said that she had started getting closer with more popular girls in the weeks prior to the experiment, but said, “once I stopped, I obviously stopped getting comments on my makeup ... and they started ignoring me if I smiled at them in the hallways.” The girls, she said, were much friendlier after she switched back to wearing makeup.
Being a cheerleader, Jenna skipped makeup during a football game. “I felt like everyone was overlooking me,” she said.
Another NeXt correspondent, Elyse Cinquino, 15, a sophomore at Kenmore East High School, and Sara Coykendall, a sophomore at Lewiston-Porter High School, were the only ones who didn’t perceive any major differences in people’s reactions toward them.
“Other than one person asking me why I wasn’t wearing makeup on the first day of the experiment, there was no change ... I was expecting that there would be some sort of difference, but there wasn’t,” Sara said.
“I may not have received feedback similar to what the others got because I don’t wear a lot of makeup, and it’s very natural,” Elyse said. “I think I’ll end up wearing makeup less than before ... if anything, I think my self-confidence has increased.”
None of the girls mentioned anything about boys’ reactions. So does such a staggering statistic have anything to do with sexism?
“I think that these reactions are sexist because people believe that girls should always be wearing makeup and that they only look good with makeup on,” Jenna said.
“I think that those are stereotypes that are true with many people, but not everyone thinks that way, even though I could understand how they could,” said Troy Dickenson, a sophomore at Wilson High School, reacting to Jenna’s comment. “I think that the real problem is that girls don’t think of themselves as pretty without having makeup on, not as much because of a guy’s reaction.”
“I don’t really think makeup has that big of an influence on it, but I think it’s the equivalent of a suit,” said Bryan Bedolla, also a sophomore at Wilson High School.
Alyssa agreed with Troy, and mentioned that her “business teacher said that most advertisements for makeup make women feel inferior so they’ll buy it and go for a ‘natural’ look, even though they’re putting $12 worth of makeup on their faces.”
For me, the purpose of makeup “is to enhance your features, not cover up things or make you look prettier,” Elyse said.
“Parents need to set an age for when their daughters wear makeup, and they need to show them how to put it on,” Alyssa said. “The girls all agreed that the earliest age should be 13.
“I still believe that girls and women should be able to be confident with their natural selves. Society ... puts a huge emphasis on appearance, and I feel that that is wrong. Makeup shouldn’t be used for popularity, it should be used for confidence and self-positivity,” Alyssa added.
“I know that people, especially the ones who know me the most and are closest to me, treat me the way they do because of who I am, not because of how I look or if I wear makeup or not,” Sara said.
So will Melanie, the sole non-makeup-wearer continue to wear makeup? She said that she was glad to have learned how to put it on, as it “took about a week of practice to get down a look I like, and I now know for future reference how to do it. I’ll probably wear makeup on some days, but I definitely don’t want to wear it every day.”
“The most important thing to remember is that people should know you for you, not your makeup,” Sara said.
“My advice to other teenage girls would be to try out what you like,” Melanie said. “If makeup gives you confidence, then by all means wear it. However, it’s also important to be yourself. Makeup can skew people’s vision of you, and I think that it’s just as important to be confident ... without makeup, but if you wear makeup all the time that might be harder to achieve.”
Anna Kane is a sophomore at Wilson High School.