Paying lip service a matter of choice

Mirror, mirror, on the wall... Does make-up change my life at all?

Are cosmetics a mask which conceal a woman’s true self or a clever trick of the eye which we can cash in on? Do they boost our self-confidence, or pile on the pressure to be perfect? We look at the issue through the eyes of four women...

With a face devoid of make-up and clad in jeans and flat shoes, lecturer Jennifer Saul discovered that most of her students at Sheffield University didn’t listen to a word she said.

Her subject was feminist studies - and they had stereo-typed her. “They looked at me, formed an opinion about what they thought I was saying, and switched off,” she says.

The feedback she got was that they thought she was giving them a man-hating mantra.

“It wasn’t at all what I had said,” says Jennifer, 43. “So I deliberately started wearing make-up and dresses to see what effect that had.”

The attitude of her students changed. “Because I looked feminine and no longer fitted the stereotype, they started listening to me and realising there were many feminist principles that they agreed with,” she reveals.

It was a learning curve for Jennifer, a member of the university’s psychology department.

“The psychological effect of make-up is very complex,” she says. ‘And it’s deep-rooted. All the species strive to make themselves look more attractive to potential mates - and it’s not always the females doing the primping and preening.”

But she questions whether things have gone too far when women start to feel inadequate because they have not painted their features to mimic society’s image of perfection.

And they fear they won’t be taken seriously in the workplace if they don’t wear make-up.

‘She says: It’s not wrong to want to wear make-up. A lot of women get a great sense of enjoyment from it. But there is something wrong if women feel they don’t look OK without it; that they can’t leave the house without it on.”

She adds that women shouldn’t be made to feel they can’t wear it either.

She explains: “Some might feel afraid to apply it because they think the result won’t look as good as it does on other women. Others could have been pressured to believe others won’t take them seriously if they wear make-up.

“Early feminists felt they needed to shun the stereo-typical image of femininity to make a political statement. But now the ethos is that women can look however they want to look - it’s absolutely fine to be a feminine feminist. Make-up? Whether she wears it or not should be a woman’s choice.”

Sheffielder Faye Smith (45) founded Keep your Fork marketing and training consultancy in 2008 to help charities and small businesses build their brands to get more customers. She is also a qualified image consultant and helps school, college and university leavers become more employable.

“Study after study shows women are perceived as more attractive, more tidy and more feminine and sexy, as well as being more secure, sociable, interesting, poised, confident, organized and popular - just by wearing a little light make up.

“I don’t feel women should or have to wear it. It’s a personal choice that should come from an inner confidence and creative expression either way.

“But as a marketeer, image consultant and former job club leader, I have to sit up and take notice of those findings.

“Whether I am helping women develop their own special and unique brand, or training employees facing redundancy or school-leavers facing the most uncertain job market for decades, my advice on make up is always the same.

“I meet die-hard feminists who sometimes want to lynch me, but then I show them slides of a scruffily dressed, bare-faced woman in jeans and a fleece, then a beautifully groomed woman wearing light make-up and an elegant suit and ask them to assess their profession and earnings.

“The first woman is almost inevitably labelled a teacher, volunteer, social worker or at-home mum, the second a lawyer, accountant, doctor or business woman.

“Then comes the lightbulb moment… we do all judge on appearance.

“Experience has shown me there are three main reasons why women don’t wear make up. It can be on moral grounds: why should women “have” to wear make up to appear more attractive when men don’t need to?

“But for many, it’s about practicality; they don’t know how to use the right colours or techniques, so they just leave it.

For others, there’s an emotional root (mum said lipstick was for hookers, husband says it makes her look cheap). A make up class, like the ones run by my colleagues at True Colours Image Consultancy in Broomhill, teaches what colours suit you and how to apply them.

“I’ll leave the final word to respected make-up artist Bobbi Brown: “I want women to look and feel like themselves, only prettier and more confident. Amen to that sister.”