The #NoMakeup Selfie Movement: Is Less Makeup More Attractive?

Do makeup-less selfies mean anything more than nice pores and a good filter?

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Beyonce did it. Chrissy Teigen, Carrie Underwood, Adele, Alicia Keys, and even Sofia Vergara did it, too. Heck, you’d be hard-pressed to find any female celeb who hasn’t joined in. And surprisingly, it isn’t a new exercise or plastic surgery that has musicians, actresses, models, and women in the public eye getting involved. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this recent trend involves appearances—but probably not how you think. Rather than endorsing a new makeup or beauty product, scores of celebrities are encouraging others to embrace their natural beauty and go makeup-free instead. At least for the time it takes to post an Instagram selfie, that is. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood have posted their #nomakeup selfies all over the social media platform. Recently, Christina Aguilera was brave enough to set her makeup-free face in stone—err, print it on paper—and her barefaced Paper magazine shoot quickly sent just about everyone into a tizzy. The hope is that these makeup-less celebrities will encourage and empower all women to be happy and confident with their makeup-less faces—happy and confident enough to let the whole world see. And although it’s obvious that many of these gals are gorgeous with and without makeup—especially with the help of camera and Instagram filters—it raises a question about beauty and attractiveness. Are these celebs—and people in general—better looking with or without cosmetic help?

Why do women wear makeup?

According to a study conducted by beauty retailer SkinStore, the average American woman spends about $300,000 worth of eye shadow, serum, mascara, foundation, powder, moisturizer, and other beauty products in her lifetime. She’s spending eight big ones a day to get her skin glowing, her eyes popping, and her eyebrows perfectly shaped. Considering that women spend as much as the cost of a home on beauty products in their lives and that the makeup industry makes $18 billion a year, it’s pretty evident that women think that makeup is an essential part of their beauty routines. But the question is, why? When a woman looks in the mirror before applying her makeup, would she think she’s beautiful? If the beauty industry failed to exist, or at least didn’t plaster images of flawless, makeup-faced celebrities all over, would she really feel she needs cosmetics to be beautiful? Although there will likely never be an answer to that question, we can come up with a few reasons for why women wear makeup and whether or not powders, creams, colors, and beauty makeup tricks (think contouring) actually do make them more attractive.For starters, does a woman wear makeup to please herself, or those around her? Would she want to wear makeup if the opinions of others about her appearance didn’t matter to her? Although some women may not want to admit it, what others think about their appearances does affect them. “I think it’s a combination,” says Dawn Maslar, aka “The Love Biologist,” adjunct biology professor and author of Men Chase, Women Choose. “A woman may try out makeup to see how she looks, then wear it out to see the effect. If she seems to get more attention or comments with makeup, that gives her positive reinforcement. Therefore, she will more likely continue to wear makeup.” Not only can makeup help women in the romance area, it can actually help them advance their careers. Researchers Jaclyn Wong of the University of Chicago and Andrew Penner of the University of California at Irvine found that attractive people are favored in the workplace, according to their study published in the Journal of Social Stratification and Mobility. And we’re not just talking about Employee of the Month status here—they make more cash annually. For women, this means the choice of whether to wear makeup or go au natural could make the difference between a successful career or one that is only ho-hum. And of course, a woman may also simply just want to wear makeup. After all, who doesn’t want radiant skin and glam lashes? “I think women believe they need it to look ‘better’ or ‘best’,” says Sue Weinschenk, PhD, chief behavioral scientist at The Team W, Inc. and adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point. “I think they want to because they think it improves their looks/makes them look younger. I think they do it both for themselves and others. Many, or most, women have a ‘self-story’ which is something like, ‘If I want to look my best, I need to wear some makeup.’ Wearing makeup is also often a way to enhance your appearance so that others may want to become romantic with you. One of the problems with this, however, is that women are often clueless as to what a man finds attractive—when it comes to makeup, that is. Researchers Alex Jones at Bangor University and Robin Kramer at Aberdeen University in the United Kingdom conducted a study that focused on the preference of the amount of makeup a woman wears. In other words, they asked participants whether they liked more makeup or less makeup on a woman’s face. The men in the study didn’t find too much or too little attractive; they typically liked it somewhere between the two. The women who participated thought that the men would prefer more makeup as opposed to a little or none. This means that women are often applying layers of beauty products, thinking that this is what a man wants. In reality, he might like makeup in moderation.

Why are we attracted to what we are?

By what standards are attractive people measured? Why are people attracted to some qualities but not to others? Turns out, it may be up to genetics. “Genetically, we are attracted to people with opposite immune systems,” says Maslar. “This is called the major histocompatibility complex. The more opposite we are, the more attractive we find the other person.”

“We are attracted to a combination of opposite and familiar.” —Dawn Maslar, “The Love Biologist”

The major histocompatibility complex gene helps the immune system detect invaders and is identified through a man’s scent. Typically, a woman is attracted to a man who has an immune system that is different than hers. It is thought that this is because children who have varied immune systems have a good chance of being healthier. Even though creating a hybrid immune system may have been more of a concern before the advent of modern medicine than it is today, it is still believed to play a role in who a person finds attractive. The appearance of reproductive health can also impact who we find attractive. Certain characteristics in women, like an ideal hip-to-waist ratio, long hair, odor, and youthfulness, are thought to be primal signs of a reproductively healthy woman and are often a factor in whether a man is attracted. But as you likely know, attraction is usually about more than just the physical features. Personality also usually plays a major role in attractiveness, and what we find attractive is typically what we are used to, says Maslar. “We are attracted to a combination of opposite and familiar,” Maslar says. “We are naturally attracted to people that are genetically different than us. However, we have to have a sense of safety, and that comes from familiarity. For instance, we are more likely to pick someone who resembles our opposite sex parent at that same age if we liked that parent. Women who were raised by older parents are more likely to pick a partner older than herself.” When it comes down to it, the answer to makeup or no makeup is one that is highly individual. Everyone has different tastes, and determining what one likes best is based on genetic, primal, and environmental factors. The point of the #nomakeup movement is to empower women to feel comfortable in their own skins. To feel confident in their appearance, even without a stitch of makeup. However, let’s be real: How many of these “natural” selfies are actually natural? When you factor in the amount of alterations the women in the pictures have likely made to their appearances, the no-makeup selfies are misleading. Yes, women are beautiful without makeup. But the average Jill may feel like her no makeup selfie can’t compare with a celebrity’s, who has probably had botox, lip fillers, microdermabrasion, or some type of beauty-enhancement procedure. She may feel her makeup-free picture pales in comparison to someone in the public eye because she believes the celebrity looks flawless, naturally. In reality, the celeb may only look that way because she paid to have that appearance. The bottom line is, whether you’re team #nomakeup or team pile it on, just be happy and comfortable with why you choose what you choose.