May 26, 2024

Not to be sexist or anything, but if you’re a woman reading this, chances are you’re doing so through mascara-clad eyelashes and liner-rimmed eyes – unless you’re Dutch, in which case you’re probably not – but more on that later.

I’m rarely seen outside my own four walls without makeup these days; only first thing in the morning or last thing at night when I’m taking the dogs out.

The bright, tight, lightly-freckled skin that I once enjoyed has given way to a dull appearance, fine lines and dark spots. The only silver lining is that acne, which periodically blighted my teenage years and followed me into adult life, has now all but disappeared. Consequently, concealer (or cover-up if you prefer) is now reserved for the puffiness around my eyes and the dark spots on my cheeks. Makeup is now an essential part of my daily routine; without it, I feel bare.

The olive, Middle Eastern complexion so prevalent in Israel, coupled with the hot Mediterranean climate makes a full makeover less desirable here, however.

When I lived in Manchester, England, the tram to work was packed with women sporting the latest bronzer, in an effort to give them that “sun-kissed” glow. Here in Israel, this much-loved powder – impossible to apply subtly and evenly – isn’t an integral part of most women’s makeup routines.

Woman puts on makeup (credit: INGIMAGE)

Women here tend to go for a more natural look, with the help of good, Israeli face creams incorporating Dead Sea minerals – and a little Botox in some cases.

That said, during my regular morning commute to Jerusalem, I rarely see an entirely makeup-free female face on anyone over 20. Most wear a smattering, a dab, or a smudge of something or other on their eyes, lips and cheeks.

The question is – why?

Why do women (and yes – it is women in the main) spend so much time, effort and money on makeup?

First, the science.

According to an article in Science of People titled, “Why Do Women Wear Makeup? The Science Behind Makeup Obsession,” around 44% of women don’t like to venture out fresh-faced and makeup-free. The article cites the two main reasons for this phenomenon:

“1. Camouflage – Women who are anxious and insecure tend to use makeup to appear less noticeable. 2. Seduction – Women who want to be noticeably more attractive tend to use makeup to be more confident, sociable, and assertive.”

Now, you may think that this is utter nonsense and it is social conditioning that leads women to think this way. Whatever the reason, a large percentage of women believe that they will be treated differently if they venture out without makeup – and they may be right.

As the article states, “It may not be fair, but according to the Association for Psychological Science, attractive people are treated more favorably in every area of life, from dating to jobs to criminal trials.”

THIS MAY be the reason why women – from a young age – strive to be pretty: “Women have it drilled into them from a young age that to be successful in everything, from dating to job interviews to forming friendships with other popular girls, they need to be pretty, and the basis for that isn’t entirely cultural.”

No doubt, the increased popularity of mobile phones with good cameras, coupled with the rise of social media, puts added pressure on women and girls to be “selfie-ready” at all times.

Nevertheless, looking one’s best with the aid of makeup is nothing new.

According to teen blogger, Jood, who writes for the Halifax Public Libraries’ Teen Blog: “Makeup dates all the way back to 6000 BCE, starting with the Egyptians. They created it as they believed makeup was next to godliness and it appealed to the Gods.”

And it wasn’t restricted to women or any particular social class either; it was readily available to all and widely used to represent wealth. Interestingly, as this teen blogger explains, “As makeup was available to everyone in Egypt at the time, it was more so the applicators and storage containers that symbolized a person’s wealth rather than the makeup itself. Many poor peasants relied on clay pots and sticks to store and apply their makeup, while the wealthy had access to delicately created boxes and applicators often bejeweled and made of ivory.”

Not only did the Egyptians use makeup to make themselves look and feel good, they also believed that it gave them power, and protected them from the “Evil Eye” as well as from various diseases and sun damage.

Although throughout history, men have worn makeup at various times (it’s not unusual to see paintings by “Old Masters” with male faces covered in white powder), today, male cosmetics are not as widely accepted as female cosmetics. But that is slowly changing.

According to new Ipsos research, there’s definitely a market for men’s cosmetics, although a generation gap exists.

“A younger generation of men has expressed increased interest in purchasing male cosmetics in recent years,” however, “men under 35 and over 50 have very different attitudes and motivations for using grooming, cosmetics and skincare products.”

Finally, regarding the sweeping statement above regarding Dutch people wearing less makeup than people in other countries – I have this on good authority. As Christine Stein Hededam, a writer for DUTCH REVIEW, explained, “one thing you’ll notice after spending some time in the Netherlands is that people (well, Dutch women to be precise) wear way less makeup than what you’re used to.” She is keen to stress, however, “that doesn’t mean they don’t take care of themselves – simply that there isn’t the same culture surrounding makeup as in many other countries.”

Instead of spending money on makeup, Dutchies tend to spend their hard-earned euros on skincare instead. The reason for this is unclear, although Hededam posits that the weather may be to blame, “Imagine putting on a full face of makeup just to venture out on your bike and have it all washed off by the rain – no thanks!”

As someone who hails from cold, rainy Manchester, I fully sympathize with that dilemma.

The writer is a former lawyer from Manchester, England. She now lives in Israel where she works at The Jerusalem Post.