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

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The Women's March against Trump matters – but only if we keep fighting

We won’t win the battle for progressive ideas if we don’t battle in the first place.

Arron Banks, UKIP-funder, Brexit cheerleader and Gibraltar-based insurance salesman, took time out from Trump's inauguration to tweet me about my role in tomorrow's Women’s March Conservative values are in the ascendancy worldwide. Thankfully your values are finished. . . good”.

Just what about the idea of women and men marching for human rights causes such ill will? The sense it is somehow cheeky to say we will champion equality whoever is in office in America or around the world. After all, if progressives like me have lost the battle of ideas, what difference does it make whether we are marching, holding meetings or just moaning on the internet?

The only anti-democratic perspective is to argue that when someone has lost the argument they have to stop making one. When political parties lose elections they reflect, they listen, they learn but if they stand for something, they don’t disband. The same is true, now, for the broader context. We should not dismiss the necessity to learn, to listen, to reflect on the rise of Trump – or indeed reflect on the rise of the right in the UK  but reject the idea that we have to take a vow of silence if we want to win power again.

To march is not to ignore the challenges progressives face. It is to start to ask what are we prepared to do about it.

Historically, conservatives have had no such qualms about regrouping and remaining steadfast in the confidence they have something worth saying. In contrast, the left has always been good at absolving itself of the need to renew.

We spend our time seeking the perfect candidates, the perfect policy, the perfect campaign, as a precondition for action. It justifies doing nothing except sitting on the sidelines bemoaning the state of society.

We also seem to think that changing the world should be easier than reality suggests. The backlash we are now seeing against progressive policies was inevitable once we appeared to take these gains for granted and became arrogant and exclusive about the inevitability of our worldview. Our values demand the rebalancing of power, whether economic, social or cultural, and that means challenging those who currently have it. We may believe that a more equal world is one in which more will thrive, but that doesn’t mean those with entrenched privilege will give up their favoured status without a fight or that the public should express perpetual gratitude for our efforts via the ballot box either.  

Amongst the conferences, tweets and general rumblings there seem three schools of thought about what to do next. The first is Marxist  as in Groucho revisionism: to rise again we must water down our principles to accommodate where we believe the centre ground of politics to now be. Tone down our ideals in the hope that by such acquiescence we can eventually win back public support for our brand – if not our purpose. The very essence of a hollow victory.

The second is to stick to our guns and stick our heads in the sand, believing that eventually, when World War Three breaks out, the public will come grovelling back to us. To luxuriate in an unwillingness to see we are losing not just elected offices but the fight for our shared future.

But what if there really was a third way? It's not going to be easy, and it requires more than a hashtag or funny t-shirt. It’s about picking ourselves up, dusting ourselves down and starting to renew our call to arms in a way that makes sense for the modern world.

For the avoidance of doubt, if we march tomorrow and then go home satisfied we have made our point then we may as well not have marched at all. But if we march and continue to organise out of the networks we make, well, then that’s worth a Saturday in the cold. After all, we won’t win the battle of ideas, if we don’t battle.

We do have to change the way we work. We do have to have the courage not to live in our echo chambers alone. To go with respect and humility to debate and discuss the future of our communities and of our country.

And we have to come together to show there is a willingness not to ask a few brave souls to do that on their own. Not just at election times, but every day and in every corner of Britain, no matter how difficult it may feel.

Saturday is one part of that process of finding others willing not just to walk a mile with a placard, but to put in the hard yards to win the argument again for progressive values and vision. Maybe no one will show up. Maybe not many will keep going. But whilst there are folk with faith in each other, and in that alternative future, they’ll find a friend in me ready to work with them and will them on  and then Mr Banks really should be worried.