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Yass Rad

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With the booming cosmetics industry and Kylie Jenner’s Kylie Cosmetics making her the youngest self-made billionaire, it is clear that people love makeup! It’s so nice to see more and more of the population embrace the creativity and artistry which comes with using cosmetics, but when it comes to women specifically, is our interest down to a subconscious drive to look more appealing to the opposite sex?

 

Studies researching  women’s motivations behind using cosmetics have linked it to their ovulation cycles. Think about it from an evolutionary perspective. During your cycle there will be a time when you are most fertile and least fertile so, from the evolutionary stance which prioritises survival and reproduction, it would make sense for women to want to be their most attractive selves during ovulation as it would maximise their chance of mating and reproducing.

 

I realise nowadays women may have different aims in life and their priority isn’t always reproducing so it is interesting to investigate if these urges still exist subconsciously. In 2012 a psychologist named Guéguen looked into this idea and studied how much time women spent on their makeup at different stages in their cycle. His first study asked participants to estimate how long they spent doing their makeup while two makeup artists judged the quality of the makeup. The results showed that the women did indeed spend more time on their makeup near or during the ovulation phase of their cycle and that the quality of their makeup was more attractive as well. This suggests that subconsciously women still try to maximise their attractiveness during their most fertile phase even if their intention is not necessarily to attract a mate.

If it really is the case that women wear more makeup when they’re in their most fertile stage of their cycle, can this logic be applied to anything else? It seems as though everywhere we look on social media people are getting lip filler or surgery to enhance their bodies and its increasingly becoming the norm. Is the increase in surgical enhancements just an extension of our inbuilt evolutionary need to try and be the most attractive versions of ourselves?

Last year, Psychologists Nicholas and Welling investigated this idea and suggested that it would make sense for women in their most fertile stage to be more open to getting cosmetic surgery. Their findings however were surprising. They showed that actually the trend was the opposite and women were more open to cosmetic surgery in the non-fertile stage of their cycle. They suggest that this trend might be seen as studies have previously found that women feel most self-confident and attractive during ovulation and so would be less likely to feel the need to change their appearance surgically.

Another idea they highlight is that during their most fertile stage, women don’t agree with cosmetic surgery as they consider it an unfair advantage that other individuals can have and they would rather have a level playing field. Although interesting, this idea seems a bit far-fetched especially in the context of the present day where our sole aim in life isn’t always to reproduce and so many more factors affect our desire to do so.

The topic of how women’s cycles affect their use of makeup and surgery is a very interesting one and all boils down to a more evolutionary stance. So, in light of these findings, what do you think? Do our ovulation cycles still drive our behaviour in subconscious ways?

The topic of whether there is a beauty premium in the job market is always discussed as, for obvious reasons, society is trying to minimise discrimination in all areas but specifically within the workplace. The term “beauty premium” refers to the finding that beautiful individuals are paid more and earn higher salaries than less beautiful people. For example, research has shown that ‘attractive’ law grads earn more 5 years into their career than their ‘less attractive’ counterparts (Biddle & Hamermesh, 1998). But is this really the case?

This conversation was first brought to light by Hamermesh and Biddle in 1993. Their study showed that ‘attractive’ people did indeed earn more money than average looking people and that ‘average-looking’ people earned more than ‘plain-looking’ people. So as a result of this they suggested that there is a penalty of between 5-10% on the wages of ‘plain-looking’ people. Importantly, they highlight that this finding is directly due to the discrimination which employers enforce. If their results are true then there is much work which needs to be done to eradicate this effect to ensure that productive people are being rewarded for their work equally, regardless of their looks.

Since their original study, a whole host of other research has been carried out to see if this penalty really exists and whether there’s more to their story. In 2007, Leigh and Borland had an inkling that maybe it wasn’t looks which were affecting pay but self-confidence instead. This could make sense as it is a popular belief that confidence can make someone appear more physically attractive. Although it would be great if this was true, unfortunately their study found that not much of the beauty premium effect in the job market is due to confidence and is mostly down to physical appearance.

But it’s not all doom and gloom! Most recently Kanazawa and Still regenerated this topic and published their findings in 2018. They tried to understand at which point this effect occurs. By doing this they would be able to highlight what needs to be changed to avoid this happening. In their study, they took the idea that the “ugliness penalty” must either result from pure discrimination, self-selection of jobs or that there are other individual differences which cause this effect to be seen. Their beliefs were that…

 

  • If discrimination was the cause then they would expect to see that as pay increased so would levels of ‘beauty’
  • If it was due to self-selection of jobs then there would be no evidence of a beauty premium when they took this into account.
  • If the effect was due to differences between individuals other than attractiveness (e.g. health, personality),then once these were analysed the beauty premium would no longer be found.

 

Their findings were surprising as they showed that “very unattractive” individuals earned more than ‘unattractive’ and ‘average-looking’ individuals and sometimes even ‘attractive’ people. So in other words they found signs of an “ugly premium”.

 

The researchers believe that factors like health and personality are what actually affect our productivity in the workplace and therefore our pay. So they suggests that the “ugly premium” occurs as these individuals happen to have better education and are more intelligent and the beauty premium occurs as these individuals have better health and more suited personalities for the job. To put it simply, to say that your level of attractiveness plays a significant role in your pay bracket  is not entirely correct, health, intelligence and personality all have a part to play – thankfully!

 

This is a much more positive finding than past studies but let’s not forget that this is based off an attractiveness measure of facial symmetry which is not all that goes into the total attractiveness of a person. Attractiveness is a multidimensional concept encompassing several factors that make up one’s social identity including age, culture, ethnicity, personality etc.

 

In general this is a very difficult issue to discuss as more research needs to be carried out in order to clarify the above findings. Also terms such as ‘ugly’, ‘beautiful’ and ‘unattractive’ are used very superficially throughout the research whilst ignoring the fact that numerous factors go into the way we perceive someone as beautiful. Until further research is carried out it is wise for employers to be mindful about the people they hire in order to make sure they are prioritising productivity and suitability over looks, because ultimately, that is what makes a successful team and business.

It’s officially summer which means everyone wants to look and feel their best. Most people’s NewYear’s resolutions would have been to work out more, improve their health and get into the best shape of their lives. I myself started a little later than most and have only become more active in the past couple of months, but one thing I noticed about myself, was my need to buy new workout gear in preparation for my new active lifestyle. This got me thinking, do the workout clothes you wear actually, aid your motivation to work out?

Technically, if you’re just starting to work out, you need nothing but your own body and a little bit of space, so why do people feel the need to invest in clothing before they’ve even started? Brands have started to respond to this need with more and more companies coming out with activewear ranges. More specifically, Lululemon has recently produced an “engineered sensations” range which is activewear based on “how you want to feel”. Although this is an interesting idea, is there any truth behind it, or are brands just trying to capitalise on the fact that people will do anything to feel like they are more active.

Activewear boosts confidence

The classic studies by Adam and Galinsky in the Journal of General Psychology in 2012, showed that wearing a doctor’s lab coat, makes you more likely to be careful and pay attention to things. This highlights that clothing can influence your behaviour, so, in line with this you would predict that wearing good activewear could have the power to make you feel more athletic and therefore motivated to workout. It could have the ability to give you the confidence to go to the gym even if you are someone who suffers from gym anxiety.

But the key finding of the experiment, which is most relevant to the current topic, is that the lab coat only influenced the person’s behaviour if they were physically wearing it. This shows that just buying activewear in preparation to workout does not provide any benefit in motivation. What might be more productive is to get up in the morning and wear those new pieces straight away. That way you will experience the benefits of so-called “enclothed cognition” , feel more athletic and will have completed an effective work out by the end of the day.

Athletic Identity

From another perspective, workout clothes can help you feel more accepted as an athletic individual by other gym goers, which can also help boost your confidence. In 2006, Collinson and Hockey tracked the recovery of two injured runners. During their two year recovery period, the runners wore their running kit even when only going on walks as they felt that if they looked like runners then they would still feel accepted by the running community which would help them maintain their runner identities. This is an interesting observation as it might be that buying and wearing new activewear helps you feel more identified with the other active individuals and therefore gives you a new, more active identity. As a result of this, it may make having a workout routine easier as you link yourself to the identities of other gym goers who work out frequently.

Although you may think that what other people do in the gym doesn’t effect you, having a group identity and feeling like you belong can massively benefit your workout. The most obvious example of this is with group workout classes such as the infamous soul cycle. If you attend one of these classes feeling like you look the part in your new workout gear, you will most likely also act the part by feeling more confident in your personal athletic identity, but also in your identity as a member of the group. If all members of the group feel like they belong then you can all focus on your workout and motivate each other to go harder. The same logic can be seen within a sports team where team members wear the same kit.

So maybe there is some benefit in investing in some good workout clothes to help inspire you with your health kick. But the take home message is… make sure you actually wear them! That way they can serve their purpose and not sit in the corner of your wardrobe gathering dust.

With all the new styles and brands that are creating such innovative, fashion led activewear it has never been easier to rock workout clothes during the day. If that can help motivate you to be more active via giving you a new identity and helping you feel accepted, or by giving you the confidence of a capable athletic person, then I say go for  it!