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Sunday, January 10, 2016

Why Can't A Woman Be More Like A Man?

Posted by R. Ann Siracusa

Show, Don't Tell!
Recently, I read a blog by a male romance writer and friend of mine, Bob Richard, entitled Guys don’t wear makeup so why should you?

The piece addresses the title question from the male point of view. "Women sometimes dress up and put on makeup to attract men. But most guys basically don't care. Sure, they'll notice, but are you their type? I'll venture to say that every man has preferences and sometimes getting to know a woman trumps that."

That got me to thinking. Have I been missing an opportunity in my writing. The use of, and attitude toward, cosmetics is one way, out of many, to show a heroine's (or hero's) character rather than describe it.

But first, let's look at where the practice same from.

Body Decorating
Body decorating dates back to the African Middle Stone Age (about 100,000 years ago) when the Neanderthals, our closest relatives, are believed to have painted their bodies even before they wore clothes.

Researchers say that the ritual of body art, decorating the body in some form, existed in all tribes/ cultures/ societies in all locations of the world. Rituals are a true universal human constant, and body decorating and painting can be described as a ritual of identification and initiation. The art itself could temporary, paint or henna, or permanent, such as tattoos or piercings and was used for the following:
● Group/tribe identity (expression of one's culture)
● Important changes in an individual's life (such as puberty or marriage)
● Honoring or celebrating religious beliefs
● Individual expression and identity
● Attracting a suitable mate

All About Cosmetics
These pre-historical rituals of body painting continued and 12,000 years ago began to morph into the beginnings of the cosmetic industry.

Around 10,000 BC, the Egyptians discovered the healing properties of scented oils. Soon they began using them to clean and soften skin and to mask body odor. By 4,000 BC, Egyptian men and women used soot and other natural minerals to decorate their faces as an important part of their identity as a culture and religion.

By 3000 BC, Egyptians applied galena mesdemet (made of copper and lead ore) and a green paste of malachite to their faces for color and kohl to shape their eyes. Even in those ancient times, women carried makeup boxes to parties and kept them under their chairs. They also employed a combination of beeswax and resin as a hair-setting lotion and a treatment for graying hair. Lip and cheek cover was enhanced with rouge made from ground up carmine beetles. These practices spread from Egypt to Rome and Greece and became popular. Roman women whitened their faces with chalk and lead.

Within the same time frame, women in China and Japan used rice powder and shaved their natural eyebrows, replacing them with painted ones. The Chinese also stained their fingernails with gum Arabic, gelatin, beeswax and egg white. At first royalty wore gold and silver nails, then later black or red. However, the use of bright colors on nails was forbidden to commoners.

There are references in the Bible to the use of cosmetics, and makeup was worn by the peoples of Persia and the Middle East until the people converted to Islam. According to Wikipedia, in Islamic law women are permitted to wear cosmetics for their husbands and family, but the makeup may not be made of substances harmful to the body.

During the Middle Ages, after the church condemned women wearing makeup, the practice continued, at least among the rich. Pale skin has always been associated with social status and wealth because the rich could spend time indoors without working under the sun. From the sixth to the sixteenth century women used dangerous blood-draining techniques to achieve a pale complexion. Others applied egg whites or white lead-based paint which sometimes resulted in tumors, muscular disorders, and even death.

And so it goes!

By the 1800's, zinc oxide powder replaced the deadly lead and copper mixtures. Queen Victoria proclaimed to the public that makeup was improper, and the use of cosmetics became regarded as vulgar. Through the early 1900's, cosmetics were not used by most western women.

And then along came the movies. Ta-Da!

The acceptance of cosmetics has had its ups and down in terms of popular, religious, and social acceptance. Still today, the argument rages about whether or not women should wear makeup and how much.

Whatever your position on the subject, let's face it. Today the cosmetics industry brings in over $50 billion a year, just in the United States. Worldwide, it's well over one hundred billion dollars. The industry takes advantage of social standards and the human instinct to look young, attractive, and healthy.

That is unlikely to change. Cosmetics are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

The Question Is Why?
In ancient times, cosmetics were used by both men and women. In the 21st century, their use is predominantly the realm of women and cinema makeup artists. The answer to Why women use cosmetics is both very simple and very complicated because it is instinct stretching back to our prehistoric roots.
● Group/tribe identity (expression of one's culture)
● Important changes in an individual's life, such as puberty, marriage, etc.
● Honoring or celebrating religious beliefs
● Individual expression and identity
● Attracting a suitable mate

Today, the first three reasons above tend to be expressed through body decorating most often as clothing and jewelry.

The first, group identity, is integral. Being accepted by the group is a driving instinct among humans. In prehistoric times, those who were not part of a group didn't survive.

The fourth, individual expression and identity, also employ body and face painting, clothing, jewelry, tattoos and piercings, but also includes possessions such as cars, furniture, and so on.

That leaves us with the last purpose of body decorating: the instinct to attract a suitable mate.

Attracting A Suitable Mate
Research shows good-looks is important in attracting a mate, and that people generally choose mates with a similar level of attractiveness. The evolutionary theory is that by mating with someone who has similar genes, one's own genes are conserved.

Volumes of research have been documented and, in terms of natural selection in both the animal and human worlds, "sex sells". Thus, striving to look attractive is not so vain after all

After spending far too much time researching, reading articles, and thinking about this, I've tried to formulate some conclusions for what they're worth.

● The social standard for beauty today is impossibly high—a nonexistent ideal—and "the only people who expect us to look flawless are ourselves."

● Good-looks (beauty) does matter on a number of different levels beyond attracting a mate. Looking good boosts self-confidence and self-esteem, which shows in other ways than physical appearance.

● It's a basic instinct to want to look attractive, and definitely nothing to be ashamed of.

● It's basic instinct to want to be accepted by "the group" (whatever that is to an individual) and, again, definitely nothing to be ashamed of.

● There is no agreement on what the "right amount of makeup" should be or whether a woman should wear any.

● People who are good-looking will be so with or without makeup. For those of us who are not in that category of beauty (however you define it), certain improvements in looks can be made with color, contouring, covering blemishes and correcting flaws we can't otherwise change.

● Makeup is an art form. It can be fun, creative, and challenging.

● Makeup is a legitimate way to express your individuality.

● When you buy makeup, you're buying the brand name. Expensive or not, the contents are essentially the same and there are no controls on what the cosmetic companies promise.

● Natural does not necessarily mean healthy or undamaging to the body.

● Women wear makeup for themselves rather than others. Whether or not a woman wears makeup or how much she wears is a choice that does say something about the woman's character.

● Makeup and cosmetics can become an obsession, and when that happens, it has damaging effects like all other obsessions.

That's my take on it. Just don't forget makeup when you create characters. It's so much a part of our lives.

What's your opinion about makeup?

with a novel by R. Ann Siracusa


Tina Donahue said...

Loved your post. I wear mascara, a little blush, and lipstick to enhance my looks, not to look like I'm getting dolled up for a Halloween contest. When I was in high school, if I didn't wear a little makeup, I looked like I was 11 years old. Trust me, guys didn't notice me at all. In nature - peacocks, for example - use their fabulous tails to attract mates. I don't think humans are that different. Nothing wrong with enhancing what you have naturally. Guys who say makeup doesn't matter remind me of women who say they only want to date 'nice' guys. Uh-huh. Then the 'bad boy' comes along and all bets are off.

Daryl Devore said...

quote - "the only people who expect us to look flawless are ourselves."
That should be every woman's mantra. Excellent article.

And love the title - Henry Higgins - My Fair Lady :-)

Melissa Keir said...

I wear less makeup now than I ever have. Is it because I don't need to attract a man? No but I know more about what it is doing to my skin. I'm more cautious about my skin because at 50 I look like I'm 30. I don't want to ruin a good thing!

Cara Marsi said...

Wonderful post. Loved it. I've been wearing makeup since I was 17. When I worked, I wore full makeup every day--foundation, powder, blush, eye shadow, liner, mascara, lipstick. And I make no apologies. Even when I worked, I took a break from makeup on weekends, wearing just eyeliner, mascara and lipstick. Now that I've retired, I wear no makeup at home. When I go out shopping, ie, I wear a lightly tinted BB cream (moisturizer with tint), eyeliner, mascara, lipstick. But when I meet friends for dinner, etc, I wear full makeup. I enjoy makeup. It makes me feel good. Yes, I do wear it for myself.

Paris said...

My parents were pretty strict when it came to make-up but I was determined not to look as if I could get into the movies for the under 12 price when I was 16, but as long as I wasn't too obvious, I could indulge the fantasy. Over the years my make-up bags/drawers have been the receptacle of more than one tried and failed beauty tip. These days, I've pared down my products but the purpose seems to have changed. I'd rather not look older, lol! Sunscreen in tinted moisturizer and lip balm along with some mascara is about as adventurous as I get these days.

jean hart stewart said...

I wear as little as possible, a little powder and some eyebrow pencil. The latter just to prove I have eyes. Allergic to lipstick and a lot of that stuff so it makes it easy for me. Believe me, most people don't notice unless you scare the children.

Ray said...

I've noticed the increased number of women with visible tattoos. Men have done it for years. One interesting tattoo that went from one arm to the other across the shoulders was on a woman who had been a missionary in Africa. It was a series of words that had meaning to the people she was working with. Starbucks is now letting Baristas show their tattoos. Both men and women are decorated.

How long will this trend last? I hope it lasts long enough that the people who do it don't have to regret doing it.

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