Bare face: singer VV Brown keeps it real. (Photo: VV Brown/Twitter)
Show Hide image

Reaction to no make-up selfies reveals how most of us really feel about cosmetics

It's official, women really are more attractive with less.

What do you think the opposite sex finds attractive in you? If you’re a guy, do you think that women prefer bulging muscles and washboard abs? Or, if you’re a woman, maybe you think men prefer skinny girls, like the ones we see on the catwalk? If so, you’re likely mistaken.

A wealth of research has shown us that we are all pretty awful at understanding the preferences of the opposite sex. These misunderstandings are at the root of body image and self-esteem issues, causing people to engage in behaviours that are at best unnecessary, and at worst damaging to their health.

The recent wave of “no makeup selfies” that have raised more than £2m for Cancer Research was based on a simple premise – women removed their makeup, photographed themselves and shared the image. After donating, they nominated their friends, who did the same.

The idea behind it was that removing their makeup, the women exposed their vulnerable, “real” selves, emulating the way cancer can devastate a person’s life. Despite being incredibly successful, the trend had an interesting result. Even on my own Facebook account, I saw hundreds of compliments to those going bare-faced, with men and women alike commenting on how much more attractive everyone looked. And if so, are we wrong about the perceptions created by makeup?

I was excited by this, as a recent paper of mine, in press at the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, and carried at Bangor University, examined just this question. I wondered whether makeup use, like dieting or gym workout behaviours, affected perceptions of attractiveness from same and opposite sex peers. An ideal way of testing this was to examine how much makeup is considered optimally attractive. After all, if women’s ideas of what looks good to others is accurate, then everyone should find their makeup optimally attractive, right?

To test this, I photographed a group of university students with and without their makeup, and created a sequence of ultra-realistic images of them with varying amounts of makeup on. My colleagues and I then created a computer program that allowed participants to cycle through these images and stop at a point where they found the images optimally attractive to themselves. We then asked them to repeat the study, but this time selecting the image that they thought would be most attractive for other women and men.

The results were clear. Both women and men found faces with up to 40% less makeup than the models applied themselves the most attractive, showing a clear agreement on their opinions for cosmetics. Less was simply better. However, when they considered the preferences of others, the women and men in our study indicated that they thought other people found more cosmetics more attractive, and this was especially true when considering the preferences of other men. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The sample of men in our study consistently chose less makeup as more attractive, while at the same time indicating that they thought their peers would find more makeup more attractive.

There was another interesting result. None of our participants, when indicating their own preferences or those of their peers, chose the actual amount of makeup worn by the models. To reiterate that: nobody thought the cosmetics worn by the models in the study was optimally attractive, and it was far in excess of the preferences of men and women.

The take-home message from this research is that our ideas about what the opposite sex find attractive are generally inaccurate, whether this refers to body size and shape, or something as simple as makeup use. These misconceptions have roots in serious psychological illnesses, and the media intensifies some of these. Perhaps images of models with airbrushed skin textures contributed to the apparent overuse of makeup in the study, though I can only speculate on that.

Whatever the reason, it is clear from both these findings and the extremely positive response to the no makeup selfies across the internet that a more natural appearance is more attractive to everyone. I hope everyone takes the positive response to their no makeup selfies on board, and congratulations on raising awareness and money for a good cause!

The ConversationAlex Jones's research was funded by the KESS project, led by Bangor University, funded through the European Social Fund

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Show Hide image

Calum Kerr on Governing the Digital Economy

With the publication of the UK Digital Strategy we’ve seen another instalment in the UK Government’s ongoing effort to emphasise its digital credentials.

As the SNP’s Digital Spokesperson, there are moves here that are clearly welcome, especially in the area of skills and a recognition of the need for large scale investment in fibre infrastructure.

But for a government that wants Britain to become the “leading country for people to use digital” it should be doing far more to lead on the field that underpins so much of a prosperous digital economy: personal data.

If you want a picture of how government should not approach personal data, just look at the Concentrix scandal.

Last year my constituency office, like countless others across the country, was inundated by cases from distressed Tax Credit claimants, who found their payments had been stopped for spurious reasons.

This scandal had its roots in the UK’s current patchwork approach to personal data. As a private contractor, Concentrix had bought data on a commercial basis and then used it to try and find undeclared partners living with claimants.

In one particularly absurd case, a woman who lived in housing provided by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation had to resort to using a foodbank during the appeals process in order to prove that she did not live with Joseph Rowntree: the Quaker philanthropist who died in 1925.

In total some 45,000 claimants were affected and 86 per cent of the resulting appeals saw the initial decision overturned.

This shows just how badly things can go wrong if the right regulatory regimes are not in place.

In part this problem is a structural one. Just as the corporate world has elevated IT to board level and is beginning to re-configure the interface between digital skills and the wider workforce, government needs to emulate practices that put technology and innovation right at the heart of the operation.

To fully leverage the benefits of tech in government and to get a world-class data regime in place, we need to establish a set of foundational values about data rights and citizenship.

Sitting on the committee of the Digital Economy Bill, I couldn’t help but notice how the elements relating to data sharing, including with private companies, were rushed through.

The lack of informed consent within the Bill will almost certainly have to be looked at again as the Government moves towards implementing the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation.

This is an example of why we need democratic oversight and an open conversation, starting from first principles, about how a citizen’s data can be accessed.

Personally, I’d like Scotland and the UK to follow the example of the Republic of Estonia, by placing transparency and the rights of the citizen at the heart of the matter, so that anyone can access the data the government holds on them with ease.

This contrasts with the mentality exposed by the Concentrix scandal: all too often people who come into contact with the state are treated as service users or customers, rather than as citizens.

This paternalistic approach needs to change.  As we begin to move towards the transformative implementation of the internet of things and 5G, trust will be paramount.

Once we have that foundation, we can start to grapple with some of the most pressing and fascinating questions that the information age presents.

We’ll need that trust if we want smart cities that make urban living sustainable using big data, if the potential of AI is to be truly tapped into and if the benefits of digital healthcare are really going to be maximised.

Clearly getting accepted ethical codes of practice in place is of immense significance, but there’s a whole lot more that government could be doing to be proactive in this space.

Last month Denmark appointed the world’s first Digital Ambassador and I think there is a compelling case for an independent Department of Technology working across all government departments.

This kind of levelling-up really needs to be seen as a necessity, because one thing that we can all agree on is that that we’ve only just scratched the surface when it comes to developing the link between government and the data driven digital economy. 

In January, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and the New Statesman convened a discussion on this topic with parliamentarians from each of the three main political parties and other experts.  This article is one of a series from three of the MPs who took part, with an  introduction from James Johns of HPE, Labour MP, Angela Eagle’s view and Conservative MP, Matt Warman’s view

Calum Kerr is SNP Westminster Spokesperson for Digital