It's widely acknowledged nowadays that, contrary to (some) men's beliefs, women don't beautify themselves for men. Sure, if we're going on a date we're likely to make sure we look nice, but nine times out of ten it's the other women in our lives that notice when we've had our nails done, or our hair trimmed, rather than the men in our lives. (And it's probably a good thing, too. According to the men of Reddit, the main thing men notice about a woman's nails is whether or not they're clean, with one bloke saying "as long as they aren't visibly diseased, natural nails are just fine." Cheers, random man of Reddit.)
But it's an interesting question and one that's sparked debate on both sides of the fence: why do women wear make-up? And should they wear make-up?
The history of make-up stretches back to the Ancient Egyptians, who used copper and lead ore to darken their eyes and rouge their lips. As we move forward in time, make-up evolved into the complex variety we have today: concealers, primers, foundations and a spectrum of colour opportunity for eyeshadows and lipsticks.
For some women, make-up is about self confidence
Lisa Eldridge, author of the novel Face Paint: The Story of Makeup in an interview with The Guardian said that after more then 20 years in the field, it's clear to her that women wear make-up for one person and one person only.
"There are many different roles makeup can play in a woman’s life," she said, "There’s the playful and creative aspect – who doesn’t enjoy swirling a brush in a palette of colour? Then there’s the confidence-building aspect – why not cover a huge red blemish on your nose, if you can? Finally, there is an element of war paint and tribalism. Makeup can make you feel more powerful and ready to face any situation.”
This has been confirmed by psychologists, who found that make-up can act as a temporary confidence booster and the grooming ritual itself can increase a woman's self-esteem when walking into an anxiety-increasing situation (first day of work, big meeting or similar.)
69% of women think make-up empowers them
But the table still tips towards women seeing make-up as a tool that they can choose to use, or not use, as a way of making themselves feel good about themselves and express their creativity.
"I know that makeup is totally superficial, but it seems to touch something deeper within... And YES that is empowering," says one user on Debate.org
Another says: "Makeup is a form of art. This allows an individual to express themselves with makeup."
For others, make-up is about exploiting our insecurities
Of course it's not a confidence boost for all women, with some feeling the make-up pressures them into conforming to beauty standards they see in magazines and other women (and men) arguing that make-up exploits women's insecurities to make money.
"Businesses market and sell make up to us because they can make money off our insecurities," says an anonymous commenter on debate.org. "Society brainwashes us into thinking we need to look different to how we already look naturally and sells us products to fix things that don't need fixing. They mask their greed by pretending to help us, when in reality they are the reason we need help to love ourselves."
The importance of make-up is the choice you make
One of the biggest arguments against wearing make-up is the argument that it forces us to judge someone based on their appearance, rather than their personality, prioritising things like looks over internal traits like intelligence.
However, it remains the case that a woman's decision to wear or not-wear make-up is hers and hers alone.
A woman chooses if she wants to wear make-up today or not.
It's the cases where women are told to wear make-up (for example, by companies including it in their dress code) that the question of whether they should wear it or not becomes problematic.
It's not empowering if we're forced to wear it to look 'normal'
Those who argue that make-up isn't empowering point to the double-standard the exists for women. We have to wear make-up in order to appear 'normal', otherwise we're asked if we're hungover, tired, or (worse) ill.
However, the tidal wave of success of the 'no make-up selfie' shows that women know this standard exists, and we're challenging it. We are reasserting it's our decision how, when and if we wear make-up and no-one else's, and if we want to spend the day au natural then we will.
Viva no make-up days, and viva our choice to wear it whenever we want!