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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Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

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