The hidden meaning behind your mascara

Do you see yourself as a natural, classic or dramatic beauty? Glenda Cooper explains what the results of a special survey say about how women choose their make-up

Glenda Cooper
Tuesday 31 March 1998 23:02

"I'm sick of peering at the world through false eyelashes, so everything I see is mixed with a shadow of bought hairs ... maybe I'm sick of the masquerade," wrote Germaine Greer in The Female Eunuch. Making up is hard to do, but for most women the cosmetics that we put on our faces are more than just vanity; they are part of how we see ourselves.

Do you see yourself as Liz Hurley or Helena Bonham-Carter? Stella McCartney or Denise van Outen? Today's discerning consumers want products that reflect their lifestyle and their image and aspirations.

For the company which gets it right there are rewards. Make-up continues to be big business. According to the latest figures, from 1996 by Mintel, sales of face make-up are valued at around pounds 204m a year; lipstick and glosses pounds 138m; eye make-up pounds 162m. In addition, the number of women in their mid-forties and over using make-up has increased by 21 per cent.

And the eyelashes have it. The cosmetics giant Max Factor surveyed more than 10,000 women across three continents and established that mascara was the key item of make-up for nearly all women, with women feeling more confident and attractive if their lashes were darkened.

"I feel like a bald eagle without mascara," said one woman. "I wouldn't dream of going out, even to the shops, without mascara on," said another.

Modern women are not the first to be obsessed by make-up. The Egyptians were responsible for introducing make-up which they wore to provide protection against the sun's rays. Queen Elizabeth I was said to be left pock-marked and hideous because of the lead component in 16th-century make-up.

Behind the primping and painting, say psychologists, was basic biology. "Painting your body as adornment is fairly ubiquitous," says Dr Martin Skinner, social psychologist at Warwick University. "It is about accentuation of what there is already in the face and aiding the quality of the skin. Obviously sexual attraction is the primary urge.

"There is also the biological view that painting the lips red is a mimicry of the labial lips, and it's hard to get away from that."

Sheila Rossan, management consultant and chartered psychologist, feels that the use of make-up goes further than trying to attract the opposite sex. "It is part of our identity. The great advantage is that you can change your body image - it's not just make-up but clothes and hair as well - but all these things add up to how we present ourselves to others."

Research has shown that when meeting someone for the first time, the visual impact counted for 55 per cent of the impression a person gave, tone of voice counted for 38 per cent and what the person actually said counted for just 7 per cent.

"Today's consumer is astute," says Andrea Witty, spokeswoman for Max Factor, which carried out the survey as part of the launch for its CF2 mascara. "Glossy packaging and glamorous models are no longer enough for the discerning woman. She wants to know what the product offers, and if and how it's appropriate to her lifestyle.

"The trend is towards speed and convenience: mascara that's touch-proof, foundation, concealer and powder all in one."

While we may want the same qualities, we do not all want our make-up to give us the same effect. Does a lawyer want to look the same as a schoolgirl? Or a mother the same as a punk? In the Max Factor survey, women divided into three categories: Natural Look (28 per cent), Classic Look (34 per cent) and Dramatic Look (37 per cent).

"The natural look would generally be preferred by younger women who pursue the androgynous ideal," says Dr Glenn Wilson, a psychologist in self-image. "This would include schoolgirls who want to give definition to their eyelashes without being conspicuously made up, and the outdoor, sporty type of woman who would find excessive make-up inappropriate or inconvenient."

He adds that women who wear little make-up tend to be less ambitious because they do not wish to come across as threatening or powerful. It seems deeply un-PC to say so, but a recent survey in the US has found that women who wear make-up earn up to 25 per cent more than women who wear none at all.

"Yes, but who controls the pay rises?" snorts Sheila Rossan. "Business is still a man's world. There are still more men in positions of authority."

"Women who wear no make-up in professional jobs are often not taken as seriously as those who do," insists Dr Wilson. He says that such women prefer the "classic" look, which is subtle. "Career women in office jobs rarely choose exaggerated make-up, as this is seen as too overtly sexual and `false'.

"In addition, the sort of women who would choose the classic look may also be those who are in a permanent relationship."

The dramatic look, he says, would appeal to the more extrovert (perhaps even slightly exhibitionist) type of woman.

"Women who choose this look for work are out to look for success through their appearance," Dr Wilson says. "They may even feel insecure about their performance and so try to create a false impression of sex appeal and power to further their chances of success."

"Natural" women include Kate Moss and Stella McCartney; classic women, Helena Bonham-Carter and Kate Winslet; whereas the dramatics tend to be women like Liz Hurley and Sophia Loren.

But don't worry if you feel you are a Liz when you would like to be a Helena, or vice versa. According to Sheila Rossan, few of us stay with one look. "Make-up is not just about how we present ourselves to others, it is how we feel about ourselves.

"And I think we wear different make-up at different times," she says. "In the day, you might not wear very much make-up; in the night, you want to be more dramatic.

"Wearing make-up is like making a statement. You are telling other people how you want to be seen."

star looks


Felicity Kendal

Gwyneth Paltrow

Patsy Kensit

Stella McCartney

Kate Moss


Helena Bonham-Carter (above)

Helena Christensen

Princess Diana

Denise van Outen

Kate Winslet


Liz Hurley

Joan Collins

Geri Spice

Sophia Loren

Melinda Messenger

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