In a world in which we’re con­stantly try­ing to present our best selves, what hap­pens when you take #nofil­ter se­ri­ously and go on dates with­out any make-up? ELLE swipes right on go­ing au na­turel

ELLE (UK) - - Contents -

Dat­ing – with­out make-up. Re­ally. We put it to the test

RE­CENTLY, MY FRIEND – who we’ll call Amy

– went on a Bum­ble date. It went some­thing like this: ini­tial at­trac­tion, right swipe, some chat, a date, a kiss, and then… noth­ing. Ghosted. So far, so 2O18. Un­til she What­sApped her match – who we’ll call Sam – to see whether a sec­ond date was on the cards. She’s per­sis­tent, our Amy. ‘It’s just that you had the au­dac­ity to turn up with­out any make-up on. It’s like you couldn’t even be both­ered to make an ef­fort,’ he replied. What the..? Need­less to say: that was the end of Sam. And is it re­ally, in the vein of a Jane Austen novel, that au­da­cious to head out to at­tract a mate with your own un­adorned face? The col­lec­tive ou­trage this story has gar­nered from every an­gle (col­leagues, friends, peo­ple on the bus) very much points to the ob­vi­ous misog­yny at play, yet it haunts me slightly as I con­tem­plate my own cu­rated Bum­ble pro­file. Lik­ing, as I do, to be­lieve the best in hu­mankind, I trust I’m un­likely to run into a spec­i­men like Sam. But I can’t help won­der­ing: do my six best pro­file pho­tos faith­fully rep­re­sent an au­then­tic ver­sion of me IRL? And, even as some­one with the most min­i­mal of make-up rou­tines, would ever date bare-faced?

A stag­ger­ing ma­jor­ity of us now wear make-up reg­u­larly, with 83 per cent of women wear­ing it every day, ac­cord­ing to a 2O17 Min­tel sur­vey*. This, per­haps, goes part way to ex­plain­ing why a lack of make-up, rather than a sur­plus of it, stands out more in the dat­ing land­scape to­day. In­deed, of more than 1,5OO women sur­veyed, 72 per cent seemed to view make-up as a vi­tal part of on­line dat­ing, claim­ing that they would ‘never’ go on a first date with­out make-up**. While wear­ing red lip­stick on a date is hardly a mod­ern phe­nom­e­non, this raises the ques­tion: do the con­tents of our bath­room cab­i­nets now carry greater sig­nif­i­cance, as we aim to live up to the ‘per­fect’ ver­sions of our­selves that we pro­ject to our on­line matches?

The Lon­don-based psy­chol­o­gist Suzy Read­ing, who spe­cialises in well­be­ing, points out the role that make-up plays in the spe­cific con­text of dat­ing. ‘It’s about mak­ing the most of our fea­tures and be­ing con­fi­dent that we are pre­sent­ing our best self. Make-up boosts self-esteem, help­ing us feel ready and poised for the de­mands of the task at hand.’ The crux of this, of course, lies in the con­fi­dence-build­ing as­pect of make-up – ask any woman why she’s spent 15 min­utes this morn­ing in­di­vid­u­ally pen­cilling eye­brow hairs onto her face, and she’ll tell you it’s for her­self. And, while the same Min­tel sur­vey tells us that 64 per cent of women at­test to wear­ing makeup to feel con­fi­dent, more than two in five also do so to feel ‘at­trac­tive’.

De­spite the age-old wis­dom that beauty is in the eye of the be­holder, it tran­spires that

fe­male at­trac­tive­ness can – sup­pos­edly – be sci­en­tif­i­cally an­a­lysed. Bi­o­log­i­cally speak­ing, the con­trast be­tween lips and the sur­round­ing skin, or dark eyes and the rest of the face, di­rectly cor­re­late with ‘per­ceived at­trac­tive­ness’, as does the ap­pear­ance of skin tex­ture.

The idea of a holy trin­ity of so­cially recog­nised beauty – lips, eyes and skin – is sup­ported by con­sumer re­ports, which show that foun­da­tion, mas­cara and lip­stick are con­sis­tently the most pur­chased prod­ucts in the cos­met­ics mar­ket*. So, in the most ba­sic evo­lu­tion­ary sense, make-up’s role is clear: it’s there to help us at­tract a po­ten­tial mate.

How­ever, we thank­fully no longer live in a time when you fancy some­one based en­tirely on their pre­sumed fer­til­ity. Do the peo­ple we’re dat­ing care about the de­gree of eye-to-face con­trast? ‘By mod­ern so­ci­ety’s terms, make-up is an in­di­ca­tion of ef­fort be­ing made, but I don’t think I’d ex­pect a girl to wear make-up on a date,’ says Char­lie, a col­league at Esquire. ‘I’d hope that she would just wear as much or as lit­tle as she wanted. I might even be a bit put off if they were overly made up. Surely first dates are the most im­por­tant time to be as much “your­self” as pos­si­ble?’ The caveat to this state­ment is that Char­lie works in fash­ion (a busi­ness dom­i­nated by women), has a long-term girl­friend, and spends his nine-to-five think­ing mainly about style, so he can’t be said to wholly rep­re­sent the UK’s pop­u­la­tion of straight males. At the other end of the spec­trum, in the case of my friend Amy, the man in ques­tion was also some­thing of an anom­aly, or a less po­lite word be­gin­ning with ‘a’. The gen­eral pop­u­la­tion, how­ever, can give a pretty good in­di­ca­tion and, when sur­veyed, 71 per cent claimed they ‘wouldn’t no­tice’ if a woman turned up to a date bare-faced.**

The male gaze has been end­lessly picked over, but what about the fe­male gaze? Em­manuelle – who’s bi­sex­ual – says, ‘I wear makeup for me. I think on a first date, I’d do the same make-up whether I was dat­ing a man or a woman, but I’d prob­a­bly re­lax my make-up rou­tine more quickly if I were con­tin­u­ing to see a girl. I think women have more re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions of other women.’

My friend Steph, who ex­clu­sively dates women, agrees. ‘There’s less pres­sure when you date women, be­cause they know what you look like with­out make-up on, nat­u­rally. They un­der­stand the trans­for­ma­tive na­ture of make-up first-hand.’ Whereas with men, Steph says it’s the op­po­site: ‘Men have this mis­con­cep­tion that women look a cer­tain way with­out make-up, but when they see you with­out it, they’re kind of star­tled.’

‘I hon­estly wouldn’t think any­thing of whether or not a woman wore make-up to a date,’adds Em­manuelle. ‘In some con­texts, if you can see that some­one’s put more make-up on than usual, you can see they’ve made more ef­fort and want to look es­pe­cially good. You might pick up on some­thing like that.’ This is a sen­ti­ment echoed by 41 per cent of men sur­veyed, who said that al­though make-up, or a lack of it, wouldn’t par­tic­u­larly bother them on a date, they would view it as an in­di­ca­tion of a de­gree of ef­fort.**

And while that ef­fort might be ei­ther to im­press a date or to bol­ster self-esteem, the rit­ual of get­ting ready can carry even more sig­nif­i­cance for some women. ‘It gives me a sense of step­ping into my­self,’ says Rhyan­non Styles, for­mer ELLE colum­nist and au­thor of The New Girl: A Trans Girl Tells It Like It Is, chron­i­cling her tran­si­tion. ‘I view makeup as an ac­ces­sory,’ she tells me. ‘In lots of ways, for a trans woman makeup is a way to rep­re­sent your gen­der; it’s a good sig­ni­fier to peo­ple that you’re a woman.’

This is not sin­gu­lar think­ing in the trans com­mu­nity – in fact, per­cep­tual psy­chol­o­gist Richard Rus­sell stud­ied the ex­is­tence of sex dif­fer­ences in the fa­cial con­trasts of men and women, and found that the de­gree to which fa­cial fea­tures con­trast with sur­round­ing skin in­flu­ences the viewer’s per­cep­tion of mas­culin­ity or fem­i­nin­ity. This reaf­firms the no­tion that women are of­ten seen as ‘more fem­i­nine’ if they darken their eyes or red­den their lips.

For Rhyan­non, it goes fur­ther. ‘For me, when I was dat­ing, it al­most acted like war paint, be­cause when I had make-up on, I felt like I had a layer of pro­tec­tion. I’m for­tu­nate that I am now able to go bare-faced and still have fem­i­nine at­tributes. But for some trans women, it’s ab­so­lute sur­vival that they are seen with a face of make-up, be­cause with­out it they’d feel like peo­ple would only see their mas­culin­ity and not their fem­i­nin­ity.’

‘War paint’ is a phrase float­ing in the fore­most realms of my con­scious­ness when, four days later, I find my­self head­ing for a post­work drink with my Bum­ble match Alex. In con­trast to my pro­file, in which I am golden-hour glow-y (thank you, Guer­lain), I am not only make-up-free, I am box-fresh, post-fa­cial bare.

The fa­cial is not an ad­van­tage: rarely do I find that they leave you ra­di­ant in the di­rect af­ter­math, but rather, vaguely oily. To my mind, I look 12. I feel so vastly, woe­fully un­der-pre­pared that I type out my can­cel­la­tion mes­sage (and delete it again) three times.

Of course, Alex doesn’t even seem to no­tice. At one point, I am so des­per­ate for the poor man to com­ment on my bare face, I want to yell, ‘Look at me! No make-up! Look!’ But I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t make for a good date. Be­sides, it’s only un­der the harsh light­ing of the women’s loos that I feel in need of a good colour cor­rec­tor; at 23, it’s pretty dif­fi­cult to look hag­gard in a dimly lit bar. Toy­ing with the idea of ask­ing Alex whether I look the same as in my pic­tures, I bot­tle it. Of course I look the same, just less fil­tered, per­haps, less golden, cer­tainly, but isn’t Va­len­cia re­ally just con­cealer for the In­sta­gram age? Alex him­self is dis­tinctly less chis­elled than in his own pho­tos, and yet all the more at­trac­tive for it. I ar­rive home (sev­eral glasses of wine later) won­der­ing what all the fuss was about, and feel­ing mildly smug about the amount of cot­ton wool I won’t be need­ing to steal from my house­mate tonight.

If the women in this piece, and my #nofil­ter ex­per­i­ment, have taught me any­thing, it’s that make-up’s real im­por­tance is en­tirely cre­ated by our own per­cep­tions and ex­pec­ta­tions. So would I date barefaced next time? Not a prob­lem (sorry, Alex). And for the record, come the next morn­ing (the ef­fects of the fa­cial some­what negated by the cheap sauvi­gnon), I was once again hap­pily blend­ing three shades of high­lighter into my cupid’s bow with my pinkie. Be­cause, date or no date, it makes me feel good, and that’s the joy of make-up.









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