Makeup is a body-management tool that allows women everywhere to alter features on their face that they may want to attract or distract attention from. Lipstick, blush, eyeliner, and mascara are products that are especially popular in women who use makeup. These tools were originally intended to aid women, making them feel positive about their body and attractiveness
(Korichi et al, 2008, Aguinaldo and Peissig, 2021, Tagai et al., 2016, Guthrie, 2008).
However, due to the environment that platforms such as social media, magazines, and film perpetuate, some women feel that makeup may be negatively affecting their self-esteem and body image (Tran et al., 2020, Yu and Lee, 2020, Rudd and Lennon, 2000, Kelson et al., 1990).
Makeup has rapidly spread to the hands of young high school girls with most applying full faces of makeup starting at the age of thirteen. These young women claim that makeup aids them in becoming more attractive in society—stating influence from social media, film, and more (Guthrie, 2008, Jones and Kramer, 2016). However, researchers suggest that makeup is becoming a catalyst for self-esteem (how one values and perceives their own worth) and body image (one’s perception of their physical self) issues in young girls due to the combination of the hormonal changes occurring during puberty and the unrealistic body expectations that makeup enforces (Rudd and Lennon, 2000, Kelson et al., 1990, Tran et al., 2020).
Makeup Use and Self-esteem
Makeup’s ability to have an effect on the self-esteem of a person was demonstrated by Yu and Lee (2020), where 114 female undergraduate students participated in experiments which included two conditions of taking selfies with and without the use of beauty makeup applications. They were instructed to take a pre-test and post-test for negative mood, positive mood, and body satisfaction that was then analyzed by researchers for self-esteem changes. Results showed that participants who took selfies using beauty makeup applications were in a significantly better mood and had higher self-esteem compared to those taking selfies without the use of a beauty makeup application. This study highlights the significance that makeup usage may have on the self-esteem of young women.
However, not all studies agree with the findings of Yu and Lee (2020). A study by Alison Tran et al. (2020) instructed nine culturally diverse female YouTube beauty influencers aged between 21 and 40 years old to write daily narratives of their lives with/without makeup. The results highlighted that makeup use may have a more positive effect on self-esteem if viewed as a mechanism for creativity, mastery, agency, and human connection. However, it has a negative effect on self-esteem for those who are externally motivated to use makeup in order to avoid guilt, enhance ego, and promote audience confidence. The results of this study are significant because it highlights the complexity of the relationship between makeup use and self-esteem. Research like this shows that there is no concrete answer to the question of whether makeup positively or negatively affects a women’s self-esteem.
Makeup Use and Body Image
Different levels of makeup use on women has also been found to affect their body image and satisfaction along with self-esteem. Several studies suggest that there exists a relationship between makeup and body image (Cash and Cash, 1982, Guthrie et al, 2008, Alison Tran et al., 2020, Kelson et al., 1990). In a study by Rudd and Lennon (2000), 95 college women were assigned to write essays on how they feel towards their body image and their appearance management behaviors and possible socio-cultural factors that affect these feelings. These essays were then analyzed by the researchers. The study found that appearance-management behaviors, like makeup use, were ways in which young women exhibit agency or control over their lives and body—showing that makeup use may positively impact a woman’s body satisfaction.
Additionally, the previously mentioned study conducted by Yu and Lee (2020) found that the level of body satisfaction in female undergraduates significantly decreased only for women who did not use a beauty makeup application which further shows a positive correlation between makeup use and body satisfaction. These results also imply that the level of makeup used (no makeup vs. full-face coverage) may have a relationship to the women’s perception of their body. However, Yu and Lee state that future research is suggested in this field.
Makeup Use and Perceived Attractiveness
Women report using cosmetics for a variety of reasons related to their perceived attractiveness: anxiety about facial appearance, conformity to social norms, public self consciousness, and in order to appear more sociable and assertive to others (Korichi et al, 2008, Aguinaldo and Peissig, 2021, Tagai et al., 2016).
In a study by Jones and Kramer, 33 YouTube models were rated for attractiveness before and after the application of professionally applied cosmetics. Then, ninety North American university students rated their attractiveness level using a scale from 1 to 7. The study found that the university students rated the models more attractive only slightly as more cosmetics were worn (2016).
Additionally, a study conducted by Jacob et al. had two waitress women (one who usually wore makeup to work and another who did not) report on a notebook how each of their clients behaved, and whether he/she had left a tip or not and how much he/she gave to her. The results showed that the makeup condition was associated with a significant increase in attractiveness as seen through the tipping behavior of the male customers. The more makeup worn at work, the more attractive the women were perceived by men, the higher the tip (2010). The inconsistencies between the results of Jones and Kramer Vs. Jacob Et Al show the complexity surrounding the effect that makeup has on a woman’s attractiveness because of the difference in how attractive the women became after wearing makeup (Jones and Kramer found the effect of makeup minimal while Jacob Et Al found the effect significantly). In addition, researchers suggest that the perception of attractiveness between gender may be a factor in these inconsistencies, as the study by Jones and Kramer (2016) included both women and men who rated the attractiveness while the study by Jacob et al. (2010) only included men.
The Current Study
The purpose of the present study is to test what amount of makeup used affects the self esteem and body image of high school girls (if makeup does in fact affect self-esteem and body image). The study will also test what levels of makeup used is deemed as more or less attractive in society, including samples of both women and men. It intends to improve upon Tran et al.’s (2020) study by doing the following:
1. The survey population will be young high school girls instead of YouTube influencers.
2. The study will not only research the effect of makeup on self-esteem but will also find the correlation between the level of makeup used and body image view.
3. The study will also test the impact of makeup on perceived attractiveness on all genders.
Plenty of research has examined the effect of makeup on the psychology of college women. However, little or no research has focused on the effect of makeup on the psychology and perceived attractiveness of high school girls. Therefore, the present study will address the following primary questions:
Q1: What is the effect of makeup use, and different levels of makeup, on a high school girl’s self-esteem and body image?
Q2: What are males attitudes towards female makeup use?
Q3: How do varying levels of makeup use affect the perceived attractiveness of models?
Q4: Is a woman’s own make up use a predictor of the attractiveness she will rate in other makeup users?
The 4 Part Questionnaire
Section 1 (Attractiveness of Models)-
This section of the questionnaire was available to all respondents, no matter their gender. The virtual questionnaire first asked for the subject’s ID number (an identification number given by the school district that would leave the questionnaire anonymous to the researcher), and then asked for their age. Next, the respondents were shown four different pictures of the same model wearing more amounts of makeup progressively and asked to rate the model’s attractiveness from 1 to 10–where 10 was the highest level of attractiveness and 1 was the lowest level of attractiveness. This was then repeated another time with another model of a darker skin color.
Section 2 (Self-esteem Level)-
This section of the questionnaire began with a request for the subject to state their gender (Male, Female, or Other) and whether they identified as a makeup-user. If they did identify as a makeup-user, they could continue the questionnaire. If they did not, they could submit as is. The researcher modeled this section of the questionnaire after the well-regarded Rosenberg Self Esteem Scale. The official report originally asked for 10 responses based on a 4-point Likert scale. However, to avoid incomplete responses due to the length of the questionnaire, the researcher edited the scale to include only 5 questions—it would be measured in the same way as the original where Strongly Agree would be awarded 4 points and strongly Disagree would be measured as 1 point. The edited scale also included sections, like the original, that were reverse scored. The possible scores ranged from -5 to 10.
Section 3 (Body Image Level)-
This section of the questionnaire was conducted in a similar way to the second section. The researcher took 8 questions from a Body Shape Questionnaire created by Cooper, Taylor, Cooper and Fairburn (1986). Once again, the researcher only used 8 questions due to the fear that some participants would not want to respond because of the length of the questionnaire. In this case, the scale was from 1 to 6 where Never correlated to 1 point, Rarely correlated to 2 points, Sometimes correlated to 3 points, Often correlated to 4 points, Very often correlated to 5 points, and Always correlated to 6 points. A score of greater than 33 indicated high concern with body shape, 26-33 indicated moderate concern with body shape, 19-26 indicated mild concern with body shape, and under 19 indicated little to no concern with body shape.
Section 4 (Makeup-Use)-
In this section, the subject was asked to state which of the following makeup items they used on a daily basis.
The experimenter used a 6 category scale ranging from no makeup to theater/celebrity type makeup to sort each participant accordingly. The categories for this scale are as follows: 1. no makeup
2. limited makeup: 1-2 of the makeup items
3. below average: 3-4 of the makeup items
4. above average: 5-6 of the makeup items
5. excessive makeup: 7-8 of the makeup items
6. theater/celebrity-type makeup: 9-12 of the makeup items
Such scale was modeled after Brinegar and Weddle’s (2014) Makeup-use scale.
Section 5 (Interview)-
In order to produce significant results from the interviews, the researcher randomly selected eight participants hat responded to the aforementioned questionnaire: two sets of females from the three makeup user groups as well as two randomly selected male respondents.
The researcher conducted this section of interviews in order to explain why each makeup use group and the male participants may/may not find heavily made up models attractive. The researcher also wanted to test the relationship that may exist between body image and self esteem with higher/lower use of makeup on a high school population of females.
Though 124 participants submitted the survey, only 120 of these participants had results viable for analysis and due to the fact that only 120 participants submitted a consent form. Of these 120 participants, 71 (59.17%) identified as female, 44 (37.50%) identified as male, and 4 (3.33%) identified as other. Of these four other participants, two (1.67%) of them identified as makeup users and responded to the entire questionnaire while the other two (1.67%) identified as non-makeup users and did not respond to some sections of the questionnaire. Due to the fact that the respondents that identified as other did not heavily affect the results for the female and male groups, the following results will include their responses in the female or male gender group. The participants ranged of the ages between 14-18 years old (where M=16.22, SD=1.039).
Self-Esteem and Makeup Use
The self-esteem test given to the female and two “makeup user” respondents had an average score of M=3.918 and a standard deviation of SD=2.768, where the range was from a -5 to 10. The results for the makeup-use survey section had an average score of M=9.342 (Medium Makeup Use) and a Standard Deviation of SD=4.796. After the researcher found this data, the researcher sorted the respondents into three groups according to their results from the makeup use survey: High Makeup Use (14 and above), Medium Makeup Use (score of 7-13), or Low Makeup Use (score of 0-6). The researcher calculated that 12.32% (9 females) of the respondents were sorted into the High Makeup Use group, 57.53% (42 females) of the respondents were sorted into the Medium Makeup Use group, and 30.14% (22 females) of the respondents were sorted into the Low Makeup Use group. Then, the researcher found the average self-esteem score for the three separate groups. The results are shown in the table below.
It was hypothesized that as the amount of makeup used increased, the self esteem score would decrease. In order to test this theory, the researcher conducted a Pearson’s R Correlation test in order to conclude whether there was a relationship between level of makeup used and self esteem. The test resulted in a value of -0.271, a slightly negative, weak relationship (showed in
the Scatterplot 1), which was not considered significant enough to support the aforementioned hypothesis. A T-Test was also conducted to investigate if there was a significant difference between the means of the High Makeup user group’s self esteem score and the Low Makeup User group’s self esteem score and it resulted in a p-value of 0.083, which is not statistically significant. In all, the quantitative results were not significant enough to support any evidence of there existing a correlation between makeup use and self esteem.
Body Image and Makeup Use
The Body Image test that was given to the female respondents in the third section of the questionnaire had a mean total score of M=25.712 and a standard deviation of SD=12.042, where the range was from a 0 to a 48. Using the aforementioned results from the makeup-use survey, the researcher once again sorted the respondents into the High Makeup Use group, Medium Makeup Use group, or Low Makeup Use group. The following table shows the average body image score for the High Makeup Use group, Medium Makeup Use group, and Low Makeup Use group.
It was hypothesized by the researcher that as the level of makeup used increased, the body image score would decrease. A Pearson’s R Correlation test was conducted once more to test this hypothesis. In contrast to the results of the previous correlation test for self esteem and makeup use, it was found that body image and the amount of makeup used had a strong, negative correlation (shown in Scatterplot 2), as the correlation coefficient value was an estimated -0.700. In support of this, a T-Test that was conducted to investigate whether there was a significant difference in the mean body image scores for the High Makeup Users and Low Makeup Users provided an extremely statistically significant value of 6.576E-11, meaning there was strong evidence to support a correlation.
Attractiveness for Model 1
The mean score of attractiveness for Model 1 with little/no makeup for the Low Makeup Use group was M=6.259 with a standard deviation of SD=1.798, while the mean score of attractiveness of the model with high makeup was M=5.863 with an SD=2.247. The mean score of attractiveness for Model 1 with little/no makeup for the High Makeup Use group was M=5.055 with a standard deviation of SD=2.127, while the mean score of attractiveness of the model with high makeup was a higher M=6.556 with an SD=1.756 . The Medium Makeup Use group had a mean score of attractiveness for Model 1 with little/no makeup of M=6.667 and a standard deviation of SD=2.229, while the mean score of attractiveness of the model with high makeup was a higher M=6.345 with an SD=2.402.
The mean score of attractiveness for Model 1 with little/no makeup for the male participants was a lower M=5.106 with a standard deviation of SD=2.138, while for the model wearing heavy makeup, it was a high M=5.755 with an SD=2.213. The table below summarizes all of the results.
Table 3-Model 1
Attractiveness for Model 2
The mean score of attractiveness for Model 2 with little/no makeup for the High Makeup Use group was M=5.722 with a standard deviation of SD=2.608, while the mean score of attractiveness of the model with high makeup was M=7.611 with an SD=1.975. The mean score of attractiveness for Model 2 with little/no makeup for the Medium Makeup Use group was M=5.571 with a standard deviation of SD=2.533, while the mean score of attractiveness of the model with high makeup was a higher M=6.095 with an SD=2.568 .
The Low Makeup Use group had a mean score of attractiveness for Model 2 with little/no makeup of M=6.136 and a standard deviation of SD=2.349, while the mean score of attractiveness of the model with high makeup was a lower M=5.614 with an SD=2.499. The mean score of attractiveness for Model 2 with little/no makeup for the male participants was a lower M=3.511 with a standard deviation of SD=1.933, while for the model wearing heavy makeup, it was a high M=4.128 with an SD=2.301. The table below summarizes all of the results.
Analysis for both Model 1 and 2
It was hypothesized by the researcher that as makeup amount increased for the models, both the males and the females would rate them higher in attractiveness. This remained true for the High Makeup User group and Male participants, given the results of two separate T-Tests that were conducted for each group. These T-Tests compared the mean scores each group rated on Model 1 and 2 with little/no makeup to when they wore heavy makeup. All of these tests gave values that were statistically significant. The p-value for the High Makeup User group for Model 1 was 0.027 and for Model 2 was 0.019, while the p-value for the male participant group for Model 1 was 0.042 and for Model 2 was 0.047. These results suggest that these groups tend to believe both Model 1 and Model 2 were more attractive when they were heavily made-up. On the other hand, contrary to the researcher’s hypothesis, the Low Makeup User group and the Medium Makeup User group did not produce p-values that would suggest such claim. The p-value for the Low Makeup User group for Model 1 was 0.326, while for Model 2 it was 0.315. The p-value for the Medium Makeup User group for Model 1 was 0.370, while for Model 2 it was 0.185 . These results are not considered statistically significant, so the researcher could not make any conclusion that would support the hypothesis that all females would rate the models higher with more makeup on.
In order to further research why there was a negative relationship between body image and amount of makeup used but no significant results to support the same for self esteem, the researcher conducted interviews that may provide an explanation for this inconsistency. The researcher also used such interviews to investigate further why the High Makeup Users and male participants of the sample responded that they were attracted to heavily made-up models, but Low Makeup Users and Medium Makeup Users did not respond in this way.
Phase 1: Self Esteem and Makeup Use
When conducting the interviews, the researcher asked questions about the interviewee’s self esteem. An example of some of the questions asked are listed below:
Have you ever struggled with low self esteem?
If yes, how recent was your experience?
Do you feel better about yourself when you wear makeup?
Out of the 6 female participants interviewed, the majority of them responded that they struggle/used to struggle with their self esteem—of these who struggle/struggled with their self esteem, all of them indicated that they feel better when wearing makeup. The table below shows some direct quotes taken from the interview that support the results stated.
When analyzing the results above, the researcher discovered a recurring theme of makeup being a tool to help with self-confidence. Such responses support the claim that there may be a positive relationship between self esteem and makeup use, contrary to the researcher’s hypothesis.
Phase 2: Model Attractiveness
During phase two of the interview process, the researcher asked various questions that may help provide an explanation for why High Makeup Users and male participants agree on the topic of heavily made-up models being more attractive, but Low and Medium Makeup Users disagree. A series of questions were asked, some are listed below:
Why do you like/dislike more makeup on the models?
Do you believe makeup to be a tool, or a detriment?
Is high makeup use a problem?
Some explanations for the responses in the questionnaire are shown above through their direct quotes. The most recurring theme in support of makeup seems to be that it acts as a tool to aid one’s attractiveness, while the most recurring theme against makeup is that is does not change their attractiveness, they are just as “pretty” with/without. When asked if the respondent finds a medium use of makeup attractive, the majority responded with yes, indicating a possible form of makeup use that is attractive to all groups surveyed.
This section of the interview phase also asked questions based on the difference in attractiveness of both models. It was found that, on average, the majority of respondents prefer the second model, the African-American one, more heavily made up, and stated her to be less attractive.
The purpose of the present study was to investigate the relationship between the level of makeup use and its effect on the body image and self esteem of a high school girl as well as how makeup could affect the attractiveness of models to a high school population. It was concluded, based on the quantitative results of the questionnaire, that higher makeup use may negatively affect the
body image of high school girls and that high makeup users and high school males tend to prefer more heavily made-up females. Moreover, the quantitative results did not provide a concrete explanation for how makeup may affect the self-esteem of high school girls. On the other hand, the qualitative results did suggest a positive relationship between self esteem and makeup use on high school girls—mostly being due to an increase in confidence that makeup provides—as well as the reasons for why the participants of different makeup use groups and the males believe that makeup may increase/decrease attractiveness. This find is surprising considering past research tends to suggest that body image and self esteem are both affected in the same way by makeup— either both are negative or both are positive. On the contrary, this study’s results suggest that as the amount of makeup being worn is increased, a high school girl’s view of their body decreases, but their confidence/self-esteem may increase.
Based on the quantitative body image data gathered, it was concluded that greater makeup use could have a negative effect on the body image view of a high school girl, which contradicts the findings of Yu and Lee (2020) which found that makeup has a positive effect on body image.
There was not sufficient evidence from the present study to conclude that makeup use and level of makeup can affect a high school girl’s self esteem. The Pearson’s R Correlation test that produced a slightly negative weak correlation between self esteem and makeup and the T Tests conducted for this section proved to not be statistically significant. These results are once again different with Yu and Lee’s (2020) study that found that there was a positive relationship between makeup and self esteem when used for creativity, but a negative one when used to enhance ego.
Additionally, the quantitative results of the section for attractiveness of the models may suggest that makeup significantly increases the attractiveness of female models for both males and females. These results are in line with those of Gueguen et al. (2010) which found males find women increasingly more attractive as more makeup is worn. The present study also found that the majority of females surveyed rated the more heavily made-up models are more attractive, which is different from Gueguen et al. that did not find any conclusions for the opinion of women.
In contrast to the quantitative data, the qualitative results of this study revealed that the amount of makeup a high school girl wears may have a positive relationship with their self esteem. As the level of makeup worn daily increased among/between the subjects interviewed, they stated their self esteem to be higher. This may be due to the fact that many of the high school girls responded that use makeup as a tool to cover imperfections and accentuate their beauty.
In addition, it can be concluded that males in this sample overall considered both of the female models more attractive with more makeup, as both males interviewed highlighted that they preferred both women with a higher level of makeup worn. Their responses tend to suggest there are underlying sexual reasons behind their responses. On occasion, both male participants interviewed would state that they highly liked the bright red lipstick of the heavily made up models, and the striking eyeliner and long lashes—all forms of makeup that are considered “sexy.”
The men interviewed and the high makeup user females agreed in attraction to the heavily made up models. The interviewed participants all continuously stated that the models looked more attractive with more makeup. Meanwhile, the females who were considered low/medium makeup users mostly responded low in regards to wearing heavier makeup. These results lead to the conclusion that males and high makeup users tend to prefer women heavily made up, while low and medium makeup users tend to prefer light or no makeup. This may be due to the fact that female participants may be responding based on relatability. It would seem logical that low and medium makeup users would prefer light makeup because it is the same amount that they use daily—and vice versa.
The results of the present study indicated various implications. For one, the quantitive results which showed an overall increase in attractiveness as both models wore more makeup may suggest that makeup may in fact improve the attractiveness of women in the general view of society, not just the opinion of men.
The researcher also noticed an large overall difference in the mean attraction to the second model in comparison to the first model paired with qualitative results supporting a general distaste for the second model (one respondent even stating that “black women are not my type”) that could imply that there may be underlying racial factors affecting the responses of the subjects. Interestingly, as more makeup was applied to the second model, the greater the positive response from the participants. This leads to the conclusion that makeup may function as a tool for attractiveness that could combat racial bias specifically for African American women.
In regards to the quantitive body image and qualitative self esteem results, the data suggest that because makeup negatively affects body image but positively affects self esteem, the most efficient and beneficial use of makeup may be somewhere in the middle, where the users’ body image and self esteem can both benefit at no harm. It can also be said that neutral medium makeup use would be the best level of makeup to use if one wishes to attract all types of people: high, medium, and low makeup users as well as men. In support of this, the statements provided by the all of the interviewed respondents suggest that medium level makeup use could also be considered attractive.
The present study had various faults within the process of the research that may affect the correctness of the results and implications. The first limitation is that the study primarily contained a general population of Hispanic students due to the demographic of the school where the survey was conducted. The sample being mostly of Hispanic background may have had an effect on the results of the survey due to an under-coverage of the intended population.
Secondly, regarding the second, third, and fourth sections of the questionnaire, it must be taken into account that by sheer opinion, respondents of the survey may have responded in the ways that they did, not because of the makeup level worn by the models but rather because they were or were not attracted to two/one of the models.
A third limitation of this research may be found in that this study only used two models to test their attractiveness in regards to their change in makeup. The majority of past research used more than two models to test their hypotheses. This fact may have limited the possible results that could have been collected on how makeup affects the attractiveness of females.
Suggestions for Future Research
Because the present study did not explore how makeup level affects happiness or mental health, it may be beneficial for future researchers to investigate how cosmetic use may affect these aspects of human behavior and emotions.
Based on the implications of this study, future research should also explore the possible racial factors affecting attractiveness of women in regards to the level of makeup worn. Lastly, because this study gathered conflicting evidence within the quantitative and qualitative sections, future research should be conducted to truly provide an answer as to whether or not makeup has an effect on self esteem.