Sunday, September 26, 2010

WWPD Investigations: Fashion and Beauty, Part I: why artifice?

It is generally assumed that hair-and-makeup artifice is intended to improve in specific ways - either to fix or to enhance. The implication: fix and enhance for men. Lipstick and blush, goes the thinking, give the illusion of sexual arousal, while brunettes going blonde, or women with gray hair covering that up with any other "natural" shade, are trying to look more youthful. It is accepted that women - or the fashion-victims among us - experiment with dress, but Beauty is oh so sacred. Sure, there are punks and goths and whatnot, but past 10th grade, women, goes the theory, want to look Nice.

This evo-psych approach to why women wear makeup or dye their hair may apply to some choices, but not to many others. Why, if the goal is looking younger, sexier, do pale lipsticks exist? What illusion does purple eyeshadow, or mint-green nail polish, provide? Why do blondes go brunette? Why would any woman, ever, dye her hair red? If beauty products are sometimes about looking fertile and nubile for the menfolk, they do not always have this function, even excluding radical subculture-specific looks.

My sense, then, is that the reason for artifice is simpler than we normally imagine: a visible change from one's natural appearance - whatever the change - signals effort. This, I think, is what Kei is getting at when she says it can pay to wear foundation in certain work situations even when the foundation isn't there to cover anything up

For all the praise "effortlessness," "natural beauty," and "not trying too hard" receive, the fact is that effort is indicative of a) sanity and b) goodwill. A man might say he prefers women with the kind of beauty that keeps her looking hott the morning after and that can reliably-ish be passed along to possible future offspring. He might say he doesn't appreciate all that messy, gooey paint. And he might mean all this, but might still (perhaps subconsciously) view the fact that his date knows how to properly apply makeup as a sign she's been well-socialized, and the fact that she's dipped into this skill for her date that evening as a sign that she cares what he thinks of her. So even artifice a) not about looking younger or sexier, and b) that's ostensibly going against what men say they want has the potential to, in the end, be what attracts the opposite sex.

This brings us to the next point: is "beauty" (as in, hair-and-makeup) about appealing to men? For the answer, wait for Part II of the series.


kei said...

I immediately thought of you when I saw this post! I took her "no-makeup look" comment as something along the lines of saying that makeup for her is an effortless endeavor, especially since she indicates that she gets more sleeping in time because of it.

And it turns out that her bathroom is filled with tons of makeup, and I thought, oh, that's a normal amount of makeup. Maybe there's an implied, "I work in the fashion industry, but in fact, I don't spend a lot of time and money on beauty." She likes to mix the highs and lows, maybe with more lows, but still, that's a lot of effort and, well, makeup, for a "no makeup."

I was thinking about foundation, and makeup in general, and I have heard makeup artists often say that the goal of wearing makeup is to look like you're not wearing it. I never took this to mean that one should aim for an "effortless" look or for the "no-makeup" look, but just that you should have a bright, clean, fresh face when you're done applying everything. If anyone knows that "effortless" is a myth, it seems like it should be makeup artists!

(I'm not sure about beauty aimed towards impressing men, not because I don't believe it, but because I never imagine that men, including my own husband, notices any of my makeup. But that's also because my features aren't very prominent, and even makeup doesn't accentuate it a whole lot in comparison to others with stronger features [i.e. non-Asians]...just a passing thought on that.)

Phoebe said...

Wow! That's an awful lot of makeup for "no makeup." I've never gotten the point of wearing loads of translucent makeup, rather than a few additions of opaque makeup, but then again, this may be why my own attempts at trying new kinds of makeup veer towards the clownish.

But what's amazing is the tone - Birch wants to make it clear that she is, if not effortless, then low-maintenance. (Thus the casual shot, with a Boyfriend shirt and tousled hair?) Why do even women employed in the fashion industry feel the need to present themselves as such?