Why do women wear make-up?

“I read, recently, something I thought was very true: a man expects a woman to be lovely – a woman, being realistic, is surprised when a man is handsome! So, to be beautiful is not only something we strive for because it makes us feel good to look good, but it’s expected of us too! That’s why I am confident you will welcome this book.”

– Eileen Allen, The Book of Beauty, 1967. (Abridged foreword)

Holy moly. For a friendly foreword, that’s one frightening paragraph. Did you hear that, women? You should welcome the challenge of looking good because men expect it of you!

Fortunately this book was published almost half a decade ago, and by now Eileen Allen’s archaic words sound alien, absurd even, to our modern-day ears.

Or do they?

Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty

It’s a worrying thought, but could it be that Allen’s sentiments still remain distinctly and disturbingly true? Does the average woman, even now, wear make-up just to please men?

Let’s take a look at another snippet from Allen’s book…

What makes a woman attractive?

“What is that mysterious something which draws a roomful of men to one woman, leaving another alone? Perhaps it’s magic – but that power can be yours.

The real feminine attraction is that which makes a girl stand out in a crowd, which draws friends and strangers to her like bees to a honey-pot. This warmth, this appeal, is not dependent on beauty, for many women who possess it are physically quite plain.

Cosmetics, fashionable hairstyles, good grooming and good clothes are not to be scorned, for they certainly enhance sex attraction, but they alone cannot create it, or it comes from within – it’s a state of mind, rather than of body.”

Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty
Bat your lashes ladies! (Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty)

So, in summary, Eileen Allen’s guidelines for bagging a man in the sixties are as follows:

a) Be mysterious.

b) Be more attractive than other women.

c) Resemble a honey pot.

Interesting approach. Here are few more pretty pearls of wisdom from Allen’s no doubt beautifully-proportioned brain:

The girl men flock around

“Remember this, you can attract men, but you may need to learn how.

Attractiveness is a state of mind. The girl the men flock round may be plain, but she is aware of them as human beings. She likes them, she approves of them, her whole manner is welcoming.

But she isn’t coy or self-conscious. She certainly isn’t brazen or hard-boiled. She has a warmth she doesn’t try to hide, and she has vitality, too, which doesn’t mean that she never stops talking!

When a man is with a group of women, he naturally admires the looks of the pretty ones, but then he will gravitate, not to the one whose manner screams ‘I want you to like me!’, but to the one who seems to say ‘I could like you.’

Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty
If you're naturally fuggers, fear not. (Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty)

The secret of charm

Pay plenty of attention of your make-up and your clothes, and then forget your appearance… Your voice is vital… Cultivate a soft, friendly voice, and smile as you talk…”

Why yes Eileen, there’s nothing worse than coming across as hard-boiled. And speaking too much? In your own voice? How very ghastly indeed.

Allen’s approach sounds old-fashioned to say the least. But while she may sound a bit batty, I’d like to know the degree to which her thoughts and opinions still permeate the minds of modern-day women. I also wonder what the accumulative effect of advertising, magazines, and publications like The Book of Beauty has had on the female population.

Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty
Scary shit. (Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty)

Why is it so deeply embedded in many a woman’s psyche that, to look her best (and in particular to look sexually attractive) she needs to wear make-up? Of course it could be argued that it’s part of our nature, after all, women have been beautifying themselves for thousands of years.

But why is it that so many women feel the need to put on a mask every single day, whereas the average man can walk around content in the knowledge that his face isn’t shrouded by a thin veil of foundation?

Somebody recently said to me, “Make-up is great. But any woman who can’t leave the house without it has serious psychological issues.” Serious issues, I wonder, or just a culturally conditioned state of insecurity?

Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty
The eyes have it... (Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty)

Of course women don’t just wear make-up because they’re plagued by feelings of low self-esteem generated by the media, and there is so much about make-up that is positive. Why would I write a beauty blog otherwise?

In fact there’s a whole range of brilliant reasons as to why women wear make-up. I’ve argued it before and I’ll argue it again: make-up is fun, it’s a way of expressing yourself, of being creative, of accentuating your features, of enhancing your facial symmetry, and so on.

But, at the end of the day, make-up is also a method of making yourself appear (seemingly) more sexually attractive. There’s no two ways about it. But is this the sole, overriding reason as to why women wear make-up? I hope not.

Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty
Ugly habits (Eileen Allen The Book of Beauty)


Add yours →

  1. It’s an interesting one. I can see why people make the cosmetics-man link, but personally I think I wear less (or a different type of) make-up when I’m with a man. It’s lighter, more dewy, more ‘faux natrel’. I generally whip out the crazy, experimental eye make-up for girls’ nights out. I just think of it as practicality – if you have the chance to look like you’ve had 10 hours’ sleep/have naturally rosebud lips, bigger eyes, longer lashes, why wouldn’t you? But as I get older I have less time and patience for applying a look in the morning. I’m not sure about the media either; although I was watching 10 Things I Hate About You the other night and was surprised at Julia Stiles’ apparent lack of make-up in most of it – you seriously wouldn’t see that in a film now. But it suited the character, so that’s a bit nuts.

    I wrote about a similar subject a while ago…

  2. I guess all that advice about showing your best self, using a soft warm voice and being a honey pot has mutated and manifested itself into women adopting horrible baby voices (a la Paris Hilton) or those weird sexy/raspy voices (Caggy from MIC or ScarJo – though they may have that naturally) when talking to men.

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