What Happens When You Go Makeup-Free On Tinder

To be filed under news that surprises no one and confirms what we all already know: A girl on Tinder posted a selfie without makeup and was matched with fewer men than when she posted a retouched version of the same photo. New Mexican beauty vlogger Alexa Mitchell, 22, told BuzzFeed News of a very simple experiment that she performed on Tinder recently. First she posted three completely natural selfies to Tinder, then swiped right on 100 men, signaling to them that she found them attractive. Within five hours, only 16 men responded in kind.

Next she posted the same three photos — after running them through the app Relook, which smoothed her skin tone, whitened her teeth, removed under-eye wrinkles and created an all-around more luminous shot. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: She affirmative-swiped on 100 more men with this "improved" photo and received 73 matches, more than four times as many as the first photo.

The takeaway? It's easiest to say that men prefer women who have even skin, white teeth, youthful eyes, and a natural glow, and blab on about how exasperating that is, but I think that's too facile a conclusion. Both photos look like Mitchell, who is a frequent Instagrammer and obviously uses photo-retouching apps on her selfies. But here's the thing — all cameras are "filters."

The whole #nofilter thing is a scam — depending on the camera one uses, the time of day, the use of flash, the lighting and any number of other factors, a photograph can come out a hundred different ways. This is why we all wax so poetic about the light at the gloaming, why we all whip out our cameras and take selfies when the sun is at just the right angle and avoid being photographed by whatever means possible in, say, fluorescent light.

This is true of life, too — I was just saying the other day that I was loath to take the subway on a particularly lovely first date because I didn't want the guy to see me in that horrible lighting. In photography, as in life, we whether we look better or worse is contingent on so many different possibilities that it's impossible to draw a cut and dried conclusion from this experiment. Yes, Mitchell looks different in the second photo, just as I'm sure she looks different in silky early morning sunrise light versus harsh fluorescent. Mitchell herself illustrates this in a post captioned, "That front camera though!" with two photos side by side — one taken with the regular camera and one taken with the front camera of a smartphone. The regular photo is fine, but the front-camera shot is more flattering.

The same goes for the rest of us. Of course, once we get to know someone and fall in love with them, it doesn't matter if we're basking in the middle of a sunny beach or chilling in moonlight — we look the same, more or less, to them, and we are loved no matter what we look like. But in the beginning of dating — and in the even more judgmental picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words arena of Tinder — a first impression is all you get. This is why we frequent low-lit bars for first dates. "Romantic" lighting is just another way to say half-dark.

If the retouched photo of Mitchell didn't look like her, that would be one thing. But after scrolling through tons of her Instagram photos, it's safe to say that both photos are accurate representations of what she looks like. I'm all about eschewing heavy makeup and I love a good #wokeuplikethis selfie. Tyra Banks looks beautiful in this no-makeup selfie, just like Mitchell looks beautiful in her "before" pic. But in the grand scheme of life, it's not shocking that men (and probably women) prefer the retouched photo.

It's about more than the way we look, of course — but as I've said before, if we're participating in image-based software, from Facebook to Tinder and everything in between, we might as well play the game. I would never advocate posting a misrepresentative photo to Tinder; I had the experience of messaging with someone on OkCupid for a couple of weeks only to find that he was 15 pounds heavier and 10 years older than he had been in his photos. I might have been totally fine with the way he looked if he'd posted accurate photos in the first place — he wasn't unattractive. But the fact that he'd been misleading in his photos was a huge turnoff, and I politely excused myself shortly after he arrived.

If I saw the retouched photo of Mitchell and then met with her in person, I wouldn't think twice about it — though I haven't met her, I feel confident in saying that she looks exactly like both photographs. Sure, it would be nice if everyone ever embraced the way we look on any given day in any given lighting, but that's not reality. "I feel like the experiment shows that men who use dating apps like Tinder are more responsive to a cleaner, more flawless appearance, not necessarily heavier makeup and exaggerated features," she told BuzzFeed. Well, yes.

Here's Mitchell's video on the experiment:

Want more of Bustle's Sex and Relationships coverage? Check out our new podcast, I Want It That Way, which delves into the difficult and downright dirty parts of a relationship, and find more on our Soundcloud page.

Images: Pixabay; maicangirl/Instagram (3)