How Do People React To Different Levels Of Makeup? I Decided To Find Out

The first time he saw me without makeup, my boyfriend asked me if I was sick. The poor guy had only been dating me for a few weeks, and had mistaken my baggy eyes and splotchy skin as symptoms of a frightening illness. Six years later, he rarely sees me with makeup on, and still insists that his initial blunder was an unfortunate result of bad lighting. He assures me with frequency that he prefers my face without cosmetic enhancement, and he seems pretty genuine about it. I got lucky to have a partner who supports me in my mostly makeup-free ways, and isn't the type to say, "I like an all-natural girl who doesn't wear any makeup, like Kim Kardashian." (This is a true story of blissful ignorance, as I have heard multiple guys say it.) He has precisely zero expectations about my beauty regimen, which is one of the many reasons why I appreciate him so much. When I do choose to wear makeup, it's for my own benefit, not his pleasure. 

Not everyone my age is so lucky. Thanks to social networking, young adults are now more susceptible to public criticism than they've ever been, encouraging a culture that is highly concerned with a perfect appearance. We are the "#selfie generation," constantly preparing for the next impromptu photo-op and rarely showing our bad sides. Recently, I overheard a few of my peers critiquing their Facebook friends' profile pictures, and I was appalled. "It's pretty skanky that she's wearing that much makeup to work," one girl said to her friend, and he responded, "I've seen her without makeup, and the work look is definitely an improvement." After this instance I began taking note of the ways I heard others critique appearance, whether it be judging the cuteness of Instagram selfies or noting the incorrect foundation shade on a celeb's magazine cover. Many of the conversations that I listened in on were actually quite positive, commenting on a barista's "strong brow game," or noting a classmate's perfect matte lipstick. After a few days of observing my friends and acquaintances, it became clear to me that physical appearance is one of my generation's favorite conversation topics, for better or for worse.

The Experiment 

Once my peers' preoccupation with beauty was at the forefront of my mind, I set out to test their reactions to my own physical appearance. I decided to perform this experiment over the course of one week, during three of my most conversation-based college classes. I donned a different level of makeup for each of the school days that I had these class meetings: Monday was absolutely no makeup, Wednesday was average/natural makeup, and Friday was heavy makeup. Because I am rather outgoing, my classmates and various people with whom I interacted throughout each day seemed to have no issue commenting on my appearance. This resulted in a very interesting array of responses for me to jot down with my "experiment" note app. 

Day One: No Makeup Monday

On the first day of my social experiment, I was lucky enough (ha!) to wake up with a bright pink blemish on my cheek. While I rarely don a full face of makeup to school, I usually brighten up my under-eyes and cover up any spots with a bit of concealer and translucent powder. After hearing the way some of my peers discuss physical flaws, I was a bit nervous to go through my day with my own unveiled. Here are some of the reactions that I received during my three classes on day one:

  • "Rough weekend?" -Guy sitting next to me in my earliest lecture
  • "You look like you could use this!" -Barista at the campus coffee shop, as he handed me my dirty chai
  • "I wish I was confident enough to go without makeup at school. Props." -Female classmate as we walked to our seats in my latest class
  • "Girl, you look as exhausted as I feel." -Friend in the hallway between classes
  • "You look nice today." -Female classmate in my midday class

FYI, for all you makeup nubes out there, here's how to apply lipstick the correct way (and for more video, subscribe to Bustle on YouTube):


Day Two: Natural Makeup

I was most comfortable on the second day of my experiment, because this level of makeup was the closest to my average look. Concealer, powdered foundation, mascara, brightening eye pencil, blush, and lip balm were my beauty arsenal on Wednesday, covering my so-called flaws but not completely altering my face's normal composition. Predictably, this level of makeup received the most positive responses of my experiment, but I only received reactions from other girls:

  • "You look really pretty today! What mascara do you use?" -Female classmate in my midday lecture
  • "I love your blush." -Female classmate in my last class
  • "Your makeup looks really nice." -Girl seated across from me on the bus home from school
  • "Do you fill in your eyebrows?" -Female classmate after the midday lecture

Day Three: Heavy Makeup

Day three took me way outside of my comfort zone. I tried facial contouring for the first time on the last day of my experiment, despite everybody on Pinterest raving about it for the past couple of years. I rarely wear cream foundation, let alone bronzer, highlighting cream, and setting spray! However, it felt slightly liberating to doll myself up for no particular occasion, feeling Beyonce-level glam simply for attending my daily classes. As I rode the bus to my university, I realized that I was most interested to gauge reactions to this version of my face. Here are the standout comments regarding my appearance on the final experiment day:

  • "You look so fierce!" -Female classmate in my midday class
  • "Are you performing in Spring Awakening?" -Barista at the campus coffee shop, making me laugh by mistaking my dark eyes and heavy bronzer/blush as stage makeup for the upcoming school play
  • "You're ready for the weekend, huh? You look ready to party." -Guy in my last class of the day
  • "Do you have prom tonight? Your makeup is very pretty." -Cashier checking me out at Target after classes, apparently under the impression that I am in high school

My Conclusions

Overall, I expected much worse. While I cannot confidently speak about the things unknowingly said about me, the vocal reactions of my peers were all in good spirit. The less flattering comments were made out of concern for my well-being, and the positive comments were definitely encouraging. 

While this experiment probably won't change my normal beauty routine, it did inspire me to feel confident regardless of which face I have on. My peers' opinions are just that: opinions. What people think about my face is irrelevant, because my beauty regimen is what makes me feel good about myself. People like their voices to be heard, so they will comment on my face, hair, and outfits, but ultimately their statements are just words. Regardless of what my peers think, I'm still proud of all three of my faces.

Images: Brinton Parker

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