Explain makeup to a someone who doesn't wear it please?
February 6, 2017 3:49 AM   Subscribe

I know how some makeup works. For example, I understand that foundation is for covering up imperfections in the skin, such as acne scars. Lipstick draws attention to the lips, a sexual connotation, or a cultural affectation. Toner accentuates the cheekbones and thins the face. Is there more? I would like to know.

What is a person trying to do when they apply too much makeup, like Tammy Faye Baker? Are they trying to reduce the visual cues from their natural face to “draw” a perfect one whose contours are specifically determined by the wearer?

There’s been a big trend of “smoky eye.” What does this do? Is it an attempt to make eyes look bigger?

Basically, I’m wondering if it would be possible to have a mental a cheat sheet on how to interpret makeup and be able to “reverse engineer” or deduce the flaws that someone is trying to use makeup to cover. Is this possible?
posted by Roy Batty to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (49 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
You might be interested in Richard Russell's work at Gettysburg College about make up and its impact on the perception of facial health.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 4:03 AM on February 6, 2017


No, dude. No. Your premise is flawed. Cultural pressure and a desire to have fun are major reasons people wear makeup. It's not as simple as covering flaws or sending sexual messages. As a data point, most of the time I wear makeup, it's because I am then perceived more professionally at work. I wear lipstick because my boss does. I wear foundation and mascara and other items because they're standard. When i wear makeup at other times, it's for me. I wear bright red lipstuck because i love the bright pop of color. It's not sexual.

Nothing wrong with my face. Makeup is just a thing.
posted by studioaudience at 4:10 AM on February 6, 2017 [98 favorites]


I don't think so. Sometimes makeup is used to hide perceived flaws, or change features, but more often it is just a creative outlet. You'll get more out of appreciating makeup as an artistic expression of the wearer's tastes than you will from trying to judge what is under it. Makeup is a fun little painting I can do everyday and walk around in and that makes me happy. It's like a self-portrait of the person that one is that day - so there is businessy makeup on work days, dressy makeup for going out and feeling glamourous, gothy eyeliner for clubnights... If I put on eyeshadow that doesn't mean that I feel my eyelids are tragically lacking in blue glitter, I just think it looks cool.
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 4:12 AM on February 6, 2017 [19 favorites]


This is an extremely broad question and you probably won't get a useful cheat sheet - makeup wearers don't get one, after all; we have to figure it out on our own over years and years. And most of it is trend-driven and changes: winged eyeliner and matte red lips are the thing now, but ten years ago they looked like an affectation. Eyebrows were skinny and precise in the 90s, and full now. If makeup was easy, the beauty industry wouldn't be as huge and ever-changing as it is.

There are women who wear makeup because their jobs demand they look "professional," and there are women who like playing around with different looks and fun colors and special effects. It's usually not about flaws.

(BTW, toner is a skincare item, usually used after washing off makeup to further clean or help prepare skin for moisturizer. You're probably thinking of contouring.)
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:20 AM on February 6, 2017 [16 favorites]


Why don't you try some YouTube makeup tutorials and see how it makes your face look and how that makes you feel? Some makeup is cheap, it washes off. If you want to know more and are interested, and have a face and skin: congratulations! You can experience makeup firsthand.
posted by sacchan at 4:25 AM on February 6, 2017 [15 favorites]


Agreed with others that there's no good answer to this question. Even amongst women who aren't wearing it for creative/fun reasons, I think people mostly wear makeup to highlight their best features rather than hide things they don't like. I don't emphasize my lips to look sexy to randos (ew), I emphasize them because I have really nice lips and I like the way they look! I think the only makeup I have on to "hide" or cover anything is like, a tiny dab of concealer on a scar.

source: I just put on makeup
posted by goodbyewaffles at 4:25 AM on February 6, 2017 [10 favorites]


I recommend watching Lisa Eldridge videos. She clearly explains why she is doing everything and even has videos about nitty-gritty things like the history of Kohl, including a trip to a museum.

(She also has a book, Facepaint, about the history of makeup. It emphasizes that makeup's purpose is situational: a display of rank, a professional norm, a way of exaggerating the face for theatre, using the face as a canvas, etc.)
posted by flibbertigibbet at 4:34 AM on February 6, 2017 [10 favorites]


You might consider hairstyle as an analogue. (Assuming you have hair,) why did you choose the way yours looks? Because you like it, or it's easy, or it suits you more than other styles? Maybe some days you do something different with it because you're feeling lazy or fancy or you need it to be utilitarian? Makeup is like that too.
posted by something something at 4:44 AM on February 6, 2017 [7 favorites]


Seconding what everyone else said about makeup being worn for lots of reasons, many of which have zero to do with hiding anything. It's really not that different from clothing. You might wear a black shirt because it's slimming, but you might also be at a funeral or a goth club, or maybe black is your favorite color, or the shirt just happened to be on sale and you didn't really care what color it was. There are lots of factors that play into why someone might wear a specific outfit, and the same is true for makeup.

Women tend to receive a lot more societal pressure to wear makeup than men, but it's overly simplistic to claim that anyone only or even primarily wears makeup to hide flaws and/or appear more sexually alluring.
posted by Diagonalize at 4:58 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Social and cultural integration (was going to type "pressure" but that's not quite right). Like the post above "because my boss does." but why does the boss? Why did otherwise pragmatic dutch men in the 1600's wear huge ruffled collars? Everyone else did and there was a pecking order in some cases. Analyzing specific trends or sub-cultures usage like Tammy Faye needs an understanding of that specific group. It can be tied to a specific film that becomes popular, many Olivia Newton-John "looks" running around and a few years later the "Rachel" look was popular. Basically everything in this thread will be "right", and sometimes it'll be hard to explain other than "it's complicated".
posted by sammyo at 5:00 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Cultural pressure and a desire to have fun are major reasons people wear makeup.

Yeh. I have to deal with a lot of shit from people if I don't wear makeup. It's easier just to wear it. I can't keep challenging every person who thinks it's acceptable to insult me because by nature I don't meet the beauty standard. It's exhausting and emotionally upsetting.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 5:02 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


I also disagree with the entire premise you're going with here, especially because it seems to presume that everyone who wears makeup is applying it expertly and flawlessly, thus perfectly disguising the flaws you are convinced everyone is hiding. The fact is, often times people make odd choices, or inherit "bad information" about makeup application that actually accentuates features in an unintended way. Or sometimes people wear crazy makeup because they enjoy it, regardless of what it's doing to their face. Or sometimes people wear "natural" makeup, which tries to minimize the evidence of actual makeup worn. The world is a rich tapestry, etc., etc....
posted by Mrs. Rattery at 5:02 AM on February 6, 2017 [15 favorites]


Foundation is for evening out skin tone and literally laying a foundation for other makeup. Concealer is for covering blemishes.

Sometimes lipstick is about sexual expression, sometimes it's used as a power expression, sometimes it's just because lipstick is one of the most obvious elements of makeup and if you're wearing lipstick people can tell you put on at least *some* makeup and that sends its own signal.

More on lipstick as sexual expression - Freudian-type explanations for why people do the things they do are fun, but not exactly scientific or universally accurate.
posted by bunderful at 5:26 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I googled makeup glossary and got several different results, like this one.
posted by bunderful at 5:33 AM on February 6, 2017


What is a person trying to do when they apply too much makeup, like Tammy Faye Baker?

IMO, terrible analogy source. TFB, bless her heart, thought she looked pretty. She wasn't "trying" to do anything. This 1987 article is about a time when she volunteered for a makeover, just for fun. The article says, "She wants to look glamorous, she adores make-up" and "until last week she had always done her own hair and makeup" and "she had never even been in a beauty shop before." So there you go.

There is no makeup Da Vinci code. Ask a 100 women "why" in terms of makeup, you will get 100 answers. We don't get indoctrinated with a rulebook. Some women (and a hell of a lot of men) are just naturally good at it. Others never get it, and they do their damn best. Others are locked into mentalities that defined beauty in their prime (I know women whose hair and makeup remains unchanged from their high school years).
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 5:34 AM on February 6, 2017 [9 favorites]


It's decoration. Decoration some women feel they must have, others don't. Much like jewelry. The trick is to use it without damaging your skin, which is why I stopped. Except for occasional eyeliner.
posted by emjaybee at 5:35 AM on February 6, 2017


For what it's worth, there seems to be an idea, which has currency among certain groups of men who have really major issues with women, that makeup is a kind of fraud that women perpetrate on men. These guys often watch a lot of porn and don't have a lot of meaningful interaction with actual women, and they think they're entitled to date women who naturally, without effort or products, look like porn stars. No woman looks like that without effort and products: the woman they want exists only in their heads. And their problem is that not that women are defrauding them by faking natural beauty with products. It's that the dudes aren't capable of dealing with real women and instead rail against the fact that they can't date a fantasy. So anyway, if you're spending a lot of time reading forums and other stuff written by these guys, I recommend that you stop. There's no fraud for you to outsmart here. That's just pathetic man-babies who are angry that they're too emotionally stunted to have real relationships. Hanging out with them isn't going to be good for your emotional wellbeing or social life.

Anyway, as other people have said, makeup serves a lot of functions. Sometimes it's to cover something or accentuate something, but sometimes it's for social reasons, like to signal something about your identity. Sometimes it's just to have fun. I think rainbow highlighter looks goofy af, but sometimes teenaged girls (and other people!) want to have sparkly makeup fun. Nothing wrong with that.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 5:36 AM on February 6, 2017 [79 favorites]


What's worse is that it perpetuates the idea that men are entitled to know everything about a woman, even personal and intimate details, without making even the slightest effort to get to know that person, much less reciprocate by sharing themselves on an equal level. And that women are the ones at fault for not just offering it all up just for the asking, like shady used-car salesmen, as if this information is all supposed to be public record--and if you just find the Edmunds.com and Carfax of women, then you can find out everything about the make and model you're interested in.
posted by Autumnheart at 5:45 AM on February 6, 2017 [24 favorites]


[One deleted. Folks, fine to point out the misassumptions here, but let's keep it civil, or skip the question.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:05 AM on February 6, 2017


All of the above are right but the word none of them has used is: fashion.
That's what so much of this is about - it's a form of decoration dictated by personal tastes and social pressures, and that can be incredibly granular. What I wear on my face, what I think is appropriate to my workplace is totally different to what my best friend wears, and we are women of the same age and with similar hang-ups about our faces! What I wear when I'm power dressing to make my local representative take me seriously, or when I'm having a hair-down night out with close friends, or a dinner in with work colleagues, are all different. Trying to 'analyse' what I'm doing based on what I wear in one of those situations and without understanding make-up fashion in my personal social circle is utterly pointless.
posted by AFII at 6:14 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


It's very rarely about specific facial imperfections, it's about much wider issues of femininity and fashion. If it were really about covering acne and rosacea or scars or whatever, you'd see more women who'd go out in just concealer and foundation, but that's not how it works culturally. If you're a person who wears makeup, you pick slightly different products if you need to cover acne or rosacea, usually, then you still do the rest of the face according to a certain cultural standard. During adolescence, yeah, most girls are covering up acne because most girls have at least a little. Past adolescence, most women don't have anything that significant to cover up, and yet most women who wear makeup still wear foundation. Foundation is just part of the package. Eye makeup is just part of the package. Lipstick is just part of the package. Specific choices within those ranges might come from a variety of sources. It's definitely not like women just walk into the drugstore and buy specific products to cover up their facial "flaws" and ignore the rest of it.
posted by Sequence at 6:18 AM on February 6, 2017


Replace "makeup" with "facial hair" and read the question again:
I know how some facial hair works. For example, I understand that a beard is for covering up imperfections in the jawline. A mustache draws attention to the lips, a sexual connotation, or a cultural affectation. Mutton chops accentuate the cheekbones and thin the face. Is there more? I would like to know.

What is a person trying to do when they have too much facial hair, like ZZ Top? Are they trying to reduce the visual cues from their natural face to “draw” a perfect one whose contours are specifically determined by the wearer?

There’s been a big trend of “curled mustache.” What does this do? Is it an attempt to make lips look bigger?

Basically, I’m wondering if it would be possible to have a mental cheat sheet on how to interpret facial hair and be able to “reverse engineer” or deduce the flaws that someone is trying to use facial hair to cover. Is this possible?
People wear makeup for at least as many different reasons as people wear facial hair. For most people it's a way to express their style, not a way to cover their flaws.
posted by panic at 6:24 AM on February 6, 2017 [79 favorites]


Anyway, as other people have said, makeup serves a lot of functions. Sometimes it's to cover something or accentuate something, but sometimes it's for social reasons, like to signal something about your identity. Sometimes it's just to have fun.

This.

There are trends in makeup too.

At the moment there's a trend of nude lips, heavy brows and loads of contouring - a beauty trend inspired by the Kardashians and their social circle. As far as I can tell, that's a trend combining Armenian beauty ideals and drag queen makeup techniques (seriously, many of the best makeup tutorials on YT are by drag queens). I see a lot of young girls inspired by this trend - they see it on social media and want to look like their social media idols.

Another trend is inspired by burlesque and pinup girls - winged eyeliner, matte skin and dark red lips. I wear this because I find it relatively easy to apply and it works with the rest of my style. I certainly do not wear red lipstick to attract random strangers (ew, ew, ew); I think of my red lipstick as a form of armour (if I'm bold enough to wear it, I'm bold enough to challenge racist idiots) and also... the colour tends to make me look awake with minimal effort.

Bottomline: I was brought up to think that makeup was something women wore to attract men. Now I'm a middle-aged lady I can tell you that most of my lady friends dgaf about what men think about their faces. We use makeup to please ourselves, have fun, outdo our sisters ("omg, check out that eyeliner technique") and so forth.

On preview: fashion is also on point.
posted by kariebookish at 6:25 AM on February 6, 2017 [10 favorites]


In re "too much make-up": too much make-up is situational and cultural, mostly a view from the outside. It's like "I always wear the appropriate amount of make-up, she maybe puts on a bit too much, that other woman way over there really piles it on with a trowel, how awful".

You might ask "why do some subcultures or trends involve visibly more make-up than others" - although that would be a tricky question. Generation (fifties make-up is much heavier than sixties make-up, for instance, so women who were adults already in the fifties sometimes viewed sixties make-up as unfeminine and women who reached adulthood in the sixities viewed fifties make-up as heavy and artificial). Race, class and profession probably all play roles in determining how much make-up is the right amount; so does available make-up technology. If there's no foundation that really matches your skin, what do you do, for instance? Some jobs require the kind of signalling that highly visible make-up sends; some jobs require avoiding such signalling.

For me personally (as someone who wore quite a lot of make-up in my teens and twenties) I have always felt that patriarchy is the backdrop to make-up wearing. It's a free choice and a decorative thing in some ways, in the moment, but the larger terms ("wearing make-up appropriate to your age and station is what women should do; the degree of playfulness involved depends very much on your age and station, as does the amount of make-up") are set by an oppressive system.

That's not to say that no one has fun with it or that we should all cast off our make-up shackles, but it's not a realm of pure freedom either.
posted by Frowner at 6:30 AM on February 6, 2017 [20 favorites]


A lot of people have the urge to simply create something pretty. This creative drive is something that's with them all the time, from my neighbor who installed and maintains an expensive bulb garden -- even though it's technically against the rules here -- to my friend who just took up leatherwork to my other friend who knits (two of these are men). This drive to make stuff, and to make stuff that looks pretty, is quite pervasive; every time you match a shirt to pants, or select visual attributes for a game character, you're doing it too.

So, makeup is part of that. In putting together a whole look, a person is essentially creating something. It happens to be created on their person, but really, who else is going to hold still long enough? Seriously, that medium is available and consistent and familiar enough that the creation can get more interesting over time; it's a very compelling creative outlet.

I know I mentioned it above, but I think it bears more emphasis: the drive to create is huge, and pervasive, and important. Don't underestimate it.

In addition, I've recently been thinking that perhaps making the features bolder can make emotions more easily read to others. If you are smaller, quieter, and generally not in a dominant position in society, maybe it becomes a challenge to be seen and heard. Accentuating the expressive parts of the face might help amplify one's emotional voice.
posted by amtho at 7:25 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Toner is really a component of a skin care routine and not a makeup routine. I think you mean contouring which is in vogue currently. As for the rest of the question, I really feel like there's fundamental flaws in your logic. Makeup is used by men and women for a huge of things from hiding flaws to acting as an art form and all things in between. There is no one cheat sheet to why anyone who wears it does.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 7:29 AM on February 6, 2017 [5 favorites]


One thing I have not seen mentioned here is that research confirms women who spend time on grooming and appearance (much of this includes makeup) are paid more.
posted by seesom at 8:49 AM on February 6, 2017 [7 favorites]


Agree with the answers above. As another viewpoint, I believe there is nothing 'wrong' with my face (except ugh winter dry skin and occasional PMS-induced blemish), but I virtually never wear any makeup whatsoever.

When I wear just a smudge of tinted lip balm*--so not even full-on lipstick--some people are shocked and ask me why I am wearing makeup.

* for fun, to feel different that day, cause I remembered I had red lip balm, etc.
posted by methroach at 8:53 AM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


Basically, I’m wondering if it would be possible to have a mental a cheat sheet on how to interpret makeup and be able to “reverse engineer” or deduce the flaws that someone is trying to use makeup to cover. Is this possible?

This question implies that you have a worldview featuring many classic misogynistic tropes, such as

-women are artful, tricksy, secretive, devious
-all women are the same
-women have cheat codes men can deduce through careful study
-women behave in certain ways because of inherent feminine drives, rather than because of the pressures of culture

There are no universal female “wiles” or “ways”. Women wear makeup for any number of reasons. I will list a few, but I could list hundreds more.

-I wear makeup because I used to have terrible acne, and (irony alert) now if I DON’T wear it my skin breaks out. So my makeup isn’t covering a secret flaw, but preventing one.
-Some women wear makeup because strange men will become aggressive and even violent if they see women not wearing makeup. Yes, really. You might be astonished at the number of behaviors women adopt to avoid men’s aggression.
-Some women wear makeup because many workplaces still make it a requirement of employment. You may have heard that women working at the WH are now expected to “dress like women”. I guarantee that this means makeup is also required.
-Some women wear makeup because their male partners “don’t like women who wear makeup.” Sounds contradictory, right? Nope. A lot of men believe that they prefer women without makeup, but they actually prefer women wearing “natural” makeup. No smokey eye, no obvious eyeliner, but enough to make a woman look “nice”. Many women put on makeup in secret, so their partners don’t know that their faces don’t look like that right out of the shower. There are women who live this way for decades.
-Some women wear makeup as an act of rebellion after being raised in fundamentalist homes where makeup was treated as a “tool of the devil”, to represent their liberation from that environment.
-Some women wear mascara twice a year, at family events where they will be berated for “lack of effort” if they were to attend bare faced.
-Some women wear makeup because men are more likely to trust the authority of women who wear it (in certain settings). When I taught college english, my male peers could teach in t-shirts and cargo shorts, and their students would treat them as full professors, while female instructors were treated as less authoritative and criticized more harshly (this is a well-documented phenomenon throughout academia). So one semester, I dressed in “professional” clothes for every class, polished makeup, and had a permanent professional gel manicure. I have never been treated with such deference, trust, and respect by male students before.

Other people here have mentioned many of the positive reasons why women wear makeup— it’s fun! It can be a ritual passed down by a mother, or a group of friends. It allows people to create a new persona every day. It is art. It is self-expression. It is fashion.

But I wanted to point out that treating women as rational actors in a rational system is effectively disregarding the very real and very toxic environment most of us are coping with on a daily basis.
posted by a fiendish thingy at 9:08 AM on February 6, 2017 [59 favorites]


I definitely get why people are annoyed by this question but I don't wanna add to the pile-on. So I just tell you some stuff I learned in anthro classes back in the day.

Someone upthread said that makeup is fashion, and that's exactly right.

This is makeup from the Wodaabi of Niger.

This is punk makeup from the 1980s.

This is makeup from the Tang dynasty era in China.

This is makeup from the Kayapo of Brazil.

Looking at these examples, it becomes very clear that makeup is definitely not all about 'hiding flaws' - it's a form of fashion that is dramatically different across times and cultures. Brightly/unnaturally colored lips and eyeshadow in the modern west definitely fall into this category, as they are not meant to make anybody's face look like a 'better version of natural.' They are deliberately unnatural.

A lot of women in the modern west also wear certain kinds of makeup, like foundation and mascara and eyebrow pencil, in order to more closely approximate a modern cultural ideal of what we image beautiful people to look like 'naturally,' without makeup - evenly-colored skin, full eyelashes, and thick brows. But those things are also not ideals that hold steady across times and places. Foundation is a pretty recent invention; full brows were undesirable until very recently; many cultures couldn't give less of a damn about eyelashes. (And, of course, there is essentially no one in the world who looks like a woman wearing those types of makeup without actually wearing any makeup.) Those things are just as culturally-bound as any of the examples I linked to above. It's all relative.
posted by showbiz_liz at 9:10 AM on February 6, 2017 [10 favorites]


Think of it like clothes & you're pretty much on the right track.

Some people wear clothes to look a certain way or give off a certain image. Some wear clothes that are fun or make them feel good about themselves. Some wear certain clothes because it's what society expects of them in their job or just because. Some wear it as a mask to say hey this is my public persona.

I'm willing to bet Tammy Fay Baker didn't think she was wearing too much make up. That was just the amount she needed for the look she wanted to achieve. Now why she wanted to achieve that look is anyones guess, to look younger, to be a mask because she was a public persona, to look good on camera or maybe she just liked it.

Most of what you are talking about contouring & smokey eye is just style yes you can get the illusion of cheekbone with contouring but the sort of people that would spend the time to doing a serious contour that you see on TV or Instagram would most likely spend that time doing whatever else the fashion was because they love make up or it's a special occasion.

The cheat sheet of techniques used to hide flaws would have to be infinitely long because what people think is a flaw or what they want to hide or emphasize varies from person to person and in what they are doing that day. Are they hiding age spots or zits, where those are located, hiding bags, wrinkles, droopy eyelids, small lips, double chin, ashy skintone. What combination of those factors, what is their skin color, what is their underlying skin color (do they have a red or yellow or blue undertone) (different skin colors & tones can require different products to hide problems). They want to make small eyes look bigger you have to consider eye color, eye placement, are you hiding bags as well, how do the eyebrows worth with the eye method you're using the works. It's an art more than a science so hard to give you definite answers for your list of a cheat sheet.

A list would be easier to make if we knew why you wanted to know. We could then point you to videos to help you work to hide any particular flaws you were wanting to or possibly some videos about just what is possible to do with make up.

Smokey eyes btw aren't trying to hide anything they are a sort of sexy glamorous look reference/hinting at the look of a late night & smudged make up from going out & having fun.
posted by wwax at 9:13 AM on February 6, 2017


jeez everybody's so mean to a replicant all of a sudden. anything I can do to help you blend in is a public service as far as I'm concerned. harrison ford will never catch you on my watch.

Makeup to "look better" in the most general and unproblematized sense means putting some kind of red-pink color, of a shade depending on your skin tone if you care about natural looks or not if you don't, on your lips and cheeks to simulate the way you look when you've been running around (or, you know, something) and are flushed and glowy. but without the general air of dishevelment. For this, you don't need tutorials or socialization or instruction or anything but the ability to put some stuff on your face. Any attempt to make this seem like a mysterious high-level female skill is just nonsense. for this kind of basic makeup you can put the blush on your lips and the lipstick on your cheeks if you want and it hardly matters. it's easy.

makeup to do anything else is either rebellion or subcultural affiliation marker (you can wear makeup to look like a sorority girl, or a goth, or a southerner, or an old-timey businesslady, or a combination of several, and looking attractive is not the main point and sometimes not a point at all. Usually, if you do this in part to look attractive, you want the attractiveness to be selective -- to attract people in the same subculture but to repel or just distance everybody else. It's a level up, wanting people to think "that woman looks cool/interesting," or "that woman looks scary," not, or not just, "that woman looks pretty."

or it's an art project the way tattoos are.

or it's treated like getting dressed in the morning, the way some people automatically wear skirts because they either genuinely don't mind doing it or genuinely never realized that you don't have to and millions of women don't. and in this case the same woman will have plucked eyebrows in the 90s and drawn-in two-inch-thick eyebrows this decade because she doesn't give a shit about aesthetics either way, like the way lots of men never notice that their shoes have square toes some years and pointy toes other years because you just buy what the stores tell you to, who thinks about that?

how do you distinguish the woman who puts stuff on her face to look scary on purpose from the woman who puts the same stuff on her face because it's what the magazines say to do this season and it's a scary time? you don't. you can't.

in conclusion the answer to your question is no, but buy some cheap drugstore makeup and play with it anyway. if nothing else it will teach you the limits of what makeup can do and take the mystique away.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:28 AM on February 6, 2017 [12 favorites]


Some excellent answers above.

I'm on mobile and fighting a headache, so apologies if this is jumpy, but some things that occurred to me reading your question and the responses:

- makeup isn't necessarily about hiding flaws - I have great skin and love my face as it is, but I also like wearing makeup because it highlights features of mine that I like.

- there's no cheat sheet for flaws, partly because everyone's face is different. A contour map meant for someone pale with typical European features (acquiline nose, pale skin etc) would look bizarre on my dark-skinned South Asian face.

- Similarly, I question the whole premise of 'too much makeup,' because it's so cultural. I grew up in an environment where smart girls weren't supposed to care about fashion, and finally wearing what is considered 'out there' makeup in my culture - bright red lipstick, nothing like a full face - is something that's empowering and a bit of a rebellion for me.
posted by Tamanna at 9:30 AM on February 6, 2017


>In re "too much make-up": too much make-up is situational and cultural, mostly a view from the outside. It's like "I always wear the appropriate amount of make-up, she maybe puts on a bit too much, that other woman way over there really piles it on with a trowel, how awful".

>I was brought up to think that makeup was something women wore to attract men. Now I'm a middle-aged lady I can tell you that most of my lady friends dgaf about what men think about their faces. We use makeup to please ourselves, have fun, outdo our sisters ("omg, check out that eyeliner technique") and so forth.

>I believe there is nothing 'wrong' with my face (except ugh winter dry skin and occasional PMS-induced blemish), but I virtually never wear any makeup whatsoever.

When I wear just a smudge of tinted lip balm*--so not even full-on lipstick--some people are shocked and ask me why I am wearing makeup.

* for fun, to feel different that day, cause I remembered I had red lip balm, etc.


So so so many good answers to this question. I could quote all of them (because today I am apparently having trouble coming up with any original thoughts). San Antonio cartoonist and illustrator Alexandra Dal groks the balancing act quite nicely in this 2011 panel.
posted by virago at 10:46 AM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Oh this video might help you as it shows the difference between a lot of the makeup you'll see online & in videos & what people wear in everyday life.
posted by wwax at 11:20 AM on February 6, 2017


I wear lipstick every day, and mascara maybe three times a month. I own more products, but these are the easiest.

Lipstick signals I am an Adult Woman Who Is Making An Effort. I wear neutral colors for work, paler or darker colors for times off work. I'm not hiding any flaw, besides that my lips are naturally a vaguely chapped mute pink. This has sufficed for some time as my Effort-Making, but lately I've felt I have to step it up.

Eyeshadow is for highlighting my otherwise dull brown eyes. Mascara is, in part, for masking the traces of eyeshadow on my eyelashes, and otherwise accenting my eyes. This makes make me look less tired. Looking tired is not accepting for the Adult Woman Who Is Making An Effort. Looking tired is Not Making An Effort.

Foundation is for evening skin tone. Blush is for accenting cheeks. Bronzer/contouring is for then changing the perceived shape of my face. I'm overall fine with my face, its uneven tone, and occasional blemishes. And I tend to start sweating on my upper lip whenever I put on a liquid foundation, and that is a nightmare to try and touch up once it's been layered.
posted by RainyJay at 11:48 AM on February 6, 2017 [4 favorites]


I think comparisons to clothes are most apt. It's mostly a style thing, like tattoos or beards, although it does have some functionality. To answer your question directly:

*I wear foundation daily even though my skin is in pretty great shape and I have no acne or scars. I just like the even look of it AND it has sunscreen in it, so it protects my skin from sun damage/cancer. Skin cancer runs in my family, so this is important to me. Foundation actually looks more natural to me than regular sunscreen, which tends to be pretty greasy.

*I usually wear dark lipstick (red, purple, black, or dark brown) outside of work because I like how it looks. I'm not affiliating with a subgroup, intentionally drawing attention to my mouth, or trying to connote anything sexual. If anything, I want to scare people off.

*I use eyeliner, smokey eye, and brow stuff because I like the contrast to my super pale skin and blonde hair.

The things I do to try to fix "imperfections" aren't things you'd notice by looking at me. For example, I use an undereye primer to prevent foundation creasing due to fine lines around my eyes. I also use a concealer that you would only notice the absence of because I have dark circles under my eyes.

Like most other women, I've gotten messages since I was a teenager that I'm not presentable without makeup. For example, I have a good friend whose mother forbade her from being around romantic partners without a full face of makeup until after they're married. I feel pretty self-conscious going out without it as a result, and spend way too much money and time doing it. People who are used to how I usually look ask me if I'm sick or haven't slept if I go out without it. When I'm dating someone new, I worry what they'll think of me without makeup. This question bums me out, because it seems to imply that you want to find women that don't have flaws by figuring out what flaws they're hiding. It's a reminder that my flaws aren't acceptable to people.
posted by quiet coyote at 11:59 AM on February 6, 2017 [9 favorites]


Answer part two:

My face has basically one distinguishing characteristic. I have a good sized mole on my chin. It's not quite pretty enough to be a beauty mark, but it's a good "This is RainyJay" indicator.

When I put on foundation, I suddenly have a even-skin-tone colored bump on my chin instead of a symmetrical, even- if dark-colored mole.

This is a flaw not worth covering for me, most of the time. Because it looks worse/weirder.
posted by RainyJay at 12:02 PM on February 6, 2017


You can also consider that it's less about women being all tricksy about their flaws, and often a way to have fun/engage in some creative expression while indulging in skin care. For example, my lips tend to get dry and chapped very easily, and I have a bad habit of chewing at them. So I wear balms on them all the time. I'm also super paranoid about lip cancer after reading some random article that there was an uptick in lip cancers because of a trend in shiny lipglosses. So I buy products that have an SPF and promise to moisturize my lips and stick on for a bit. I buy them in a variety of colors to make it fun/interesting to be putting on my face every day--and, yes, to also signify different kinds of demeanor (eg, more nude/matte for "professional," darker for evening events, etc).

I do put concealer on a few scars on my face that make me self-conscious. Anything above and beyond concealer is extremely optional and mostly for fun and/or coordination with an outfit. Makeup can be a relatively cheap form of entertainment and creative expression.
posted by TwoStride at 2:32 PM on February 6, 2017


Also, this was one of my favorite explanations of the "smoky eye" of all time.
posted by TwoStride at 2:34 PM on February 6, 2017 [1 favorite]


I’m wondering if it would be possible to have a mental a cheat sheet on how to interpret makeup and be able to “reverse engineer” or deduce the flaws that someone is trying to use makeup to cover. Is this possible?

No, unless you live somewhere where culture is very homogenous. As an example, I am a non-makeup wearer. This can signify a number of things depending on where I am, how I am dressed, and what ideas the viewer has about women and culture generally.

1. that I am a hippie (obvs some hippies wear makeup but there is an "earth mother, I just do natural stuff" aspect for some people)
2. that I am a lesbian (again, lesbians wear makeup! But people think they know lesbians because of the non-makeup thing and jump to conclusions and then think they are right because they don't actually know me, or lesbians)
3. that I don't care about my appearance (untrue)
4. that I am lazy and/or cheap (that may be accurate)

I view makeup as part of fashion, generally speaking and so you canmake some good guesses about why people do what they do but the only way to KNOW is to ask them. You might enjoy watching a lot of makeup videos just to listen to people talking about why they make some of the makeup choices that they make. There's a huge and fun group of YouTubers that talk about makeup all the time, poke around and find some you like.
posted by jessamyn at 2:54 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


Desmond Morris in The Naked Ape famously argued that women's red lipstick makes them more appealing sexually to men. This is supposedly because the red lips have an affinity with the appearance of female genitals when sexually aroused. Needless the say, the theory has been controversial.

Other researchers have noted that women during their fertile days have redder lips, so lipstick may simulate that effect and be sexually appealing on a subconscious level for that reason. Pink cheeks are also correlated with sexual arousal, so blush may simulate that effect.

An evolutionary theory of eye makeup from the same article lined above is that the area around women's eyes are naturally darker than men's, so wearing eyeliner makes someone appear more feminine. It may also make the eyes seem wider, which may be perceived as more youthful. Arguably, both may make women more sexually attractive.
posted by mortaddams at 3:14 PM on February 6, 2017


Desmond Morris in The Naked Ape famously argued that women's red lipstick makes them more appealing sexually to men.

I think these days we'd give that theory a good old eyeroll and say "dude, it's not always about you".
posted by kariebookish at 4:09 PM on February 6, 2017 [10 favorites]



An evolutionary theory of eye makeup from the same article lined above is that the area around women's eyes are naturally darker than men's, so wearing eyeliner makes someone appear more feminine.


though dark circles are the sexiest thing and I envy those who don't have to sleep in their eyeliner to achieve them, "traditional" makeup of the mascara-blush-lipstick kind serves to make women look more masculine. more pronounced cheekbones and jawline, thicker eyelashes, darker lips. as every girl who had to endure her older relatives sighing over what a pity it is her brother got the lovely long eyelashes knows very well. (this is most girls with brothers.) Some women whose hair grows low on their foreheads even wax or thread their hairlines to simulate that sought-after receding temples look that men don't even know enough to be grateful for.

this is why I like makeup sometimes, because nearly every woman looks good in masculine fashions. masculine fashions are just pretty good in general. but cultural stories mustn't make us disregard what is so evident to the eye just because when we see women making an effort to produce an effect, we assume that effect must be essentially female in some symbolic way. and by "we" I mean Desmond Morris. who, if he were right about red lipstick, would also see great numbers of women who wear it cultivating luxurious mustaches and goatees for the full effect.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:00 PM on February 6, 2017 [2 favorites]


"If it were really about covering acne and rosacea or scars or whatever, you'd see more women who'd go out in just concealer and foundation, but that's not how it works culturally."

Yes and no. The thing with foundation is, when you put it all over your face, you can end up looking dead because if it's opaque enough to cover up acne, it will take all the life away from your features. So a lot of times, women who wear foundation kind of also have to wear at least blush, and then depending on your hair colour you're a woman with perfect skin and glowy cheeks who has invisible eyebrows and eyelashes, and the game continues.

As everyone above says so eloquently, most women wear make-up because society expects it or because they like it. For me, reason 1 is that I look anemic without make-up on (I could totally be sent home from work even if I wasn't sick at all) and 2 that I like my face better with some colour on it, even though my fiancé keeps saying he loves me with and without make-up.
posted by LoonyLovegood at 7:02 AM on February 7, 2017 [2 favorites]


Oh right - sometimes makeup is about emphasis. I think my lips are great, and red lipstick is like putting an exclamation point on that. Same for my eyes - eye makeup makes them stand out a bit more.

However, the more important thing is that in many areas of my life - particularly work but even girls' night! wearing makeup for women is like men putting on a tie. It shows you give a damn and you made an effort. Even if you are busting your ass, without makeup you're likely to be perceived as caring less and being less professional. My preferred work makeup is very subtle and doesn't make significant changes to my face, but does make it clear that I'm wearing makeup, thus signaling to my employers that I'm a professional who gives a damn and got up a little early to show it.
posted by bunderful at 5:35 AM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]


I see what a lot of you meant by the premise was wrong. Many apologies, and I’m grateful for those who patiently explained why you thought it was wrong. I can see how makeup is like fashion and is very culturally influenced. I neglected to mention that. I agree.

I think the analogy to beards is appropriate. True, not every man is doing it to hide something.

But maybe as a result of all those English classes parsing texts, I’m seldom willing to accept “just because” as an answer. As it applies to beards, I think some guys often wear them to mask weak chins. Some fat guys wear them to mask a second chin. I think some bald guys are using them to reassert their masculinity when the loss of hair implies lack of it.

Maybe it’s intrusive, but I think it’s fun to think about. But yes, all this discussion makes me realize “being fashionable” may be the primary reason for both makeup-wearers and beard-wearers.

Still, I would love as much of a Rosetta Stone for beards as I do for makeup, but I understand subterfuge will never be the primary reason.

Finally, thanks to the moderator. I saw the deleted comment, and was taken aback by it. But I meant no offense, and the patient answers do a better job at swaying me to see a different point of view than another tone might.

There have been times that I have also been on the receiving end of questions motivated by curiosity but built on a mistaken and possibly offensive premise. When I do get them again, I’ll try to exercise the same generosity that many of you did. Thank you.
posted by Roy Batty at 5:12 AM on February 20, 2017 [3 favorites]


Setting aside whether the premise is right or wrong, you can google "use makeup to fix/change/hide" and follow that predictive text rabbit hole.
posted by bunderful at 1:50 PM on February 20, 2017


Something that I didn't see anyone mention is that makeup is really fun to buy. High-end makeup comes in gorgeous packages. Eyeshadow palettes are often glittery and colorful and just plain beautiful. It can be a pampering experience to go to the makeup counter or Sephora and have makeup applied or learn a new technique.

And even "high-end" makeup is affordable relative to, say, high-end handbags or shoes. A Chanel eyeshadow quad will set you back around $60, a Chanel handbag is like $4000+. "They" say that when the economy is bad, lipstick sales actually go up because it's an affordable luxury and people in a recession are looking for a pick-me-up.
posted by mama casserole at 6:31 AM on February 21, 2017 [2 favorites]


« Older Glyphs to symbolise two phrases, tattoo edition   |   Neighbor wants to paint his side of our new fence... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.