(NEWS CENTER) -- When singer/songwriter Alicia Keys got blowback for her decision not to wear makeup, I wanted to know why. Why do people care about other people's makeup?
Anchors at NEWS CENTER (particularly the women) get a lot of comments from viewers about their appearance. I've been called out for my outfits more times than I can count. I've also been told I have "clown hair," and that I look like "a grinning hyena." So I suspected that if I went makeup free for even one night, I would get plenty of comments. I could respond to them, asking the commenters why my appearance bothered them so much, and maybe even interview someone on camera about it.
But when I checked social media and email on that first night without makeup, there wasn't one complaint. No one had called either. So I went makeup free the next night, too. That night, I did get a text... from my friend, Kristin, telling me how much she loved my dress! She hadn't even noticed. So I did it one more time, just to be sure. Crickets.
I then interviewed Rebecca Herzig, a women's studies professor at Bates College, to find out what could be happening. She suspected that part of the reason that Alicia Keys was getting so much grief from people was that she had announced she wasn't going to wear makeup, and people can feel like their view of the world is being threatened when others deliberately violate social norms.
We also talked about where this need for women in the U.S. to wear makeup came from. She said, "For most of U.S. history, makeup use was counter-normative. you weren't supposed to wear makeup. Painted women, that was the phrase that was used in the 19th century, used it with regularity and that had kind of disparaging connotations of sex work or other things that were perceived to be "low" activities."
She went on to say that in the 20th century, there was a rise in consumer culture, and women found that makeup was a business that they could get into. Herzig added, "As more and more people started adopting the practices, as it becomes more routine, it shifts what's routine. And one of the things we learn from social scientific literature is that what most people are doing, what the average is, is considered attractive."
She also explained the concept of "pluralistic ignorance." It's an idea that social scientists have that most people do not think that women need to be super skinny or wear a ton of makeup to be attractive, but most people think other people feel that way. As a result, we wear makeup and diet to make ourselves more attractive to others.
I asked Herzig what she made of the fact that I got no blowback during my experiment and she said, "I love it.. Now, I see what you've done, now that I've read the literature, is that you pierced the veil of pluralistic ignorance. right? So you're helping us all start to wipe it away. Again, if we're all unconsciously doing something becuase we think other people are doing it? What you found is that nobody stopped watching your show because you stopped wearing makeup. I think what the take home point might be is that we can do what we actually want to do and assume that other people are going to find it acceptable as well."
In other words, as Alicia Keys wrote on Twitter, "Do you."
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