A Badass Challenge to Those Sexist 'Lipstick Myth' Studies


We’ve written about why the so-called “lipstick effect” — the idea that women buy not-so-expensive luxury products during times of financial hardship — is sexist bullshit, but researchers are still hellbent on figuring out what’s up with ladies and makeup and, according to one economist, they’re not doing a very good job.

Researchers behind the recent study “Boosting Beauty in an Economic Decline: Mating, Spending, and the Lipstick Effect” determined that women don’t only buy lipstick to feel rich; they buy it to increase their attractiveness when there are fewer “high-quality men in a woman’s mating pool,” too. Here’s their hypothesis: “Because economic recessions are reasoned to prompt women to expend more effort on mate attraction, is it possible that they may spur women to spend more on products that make them more attractive?”

But Julie A. Nelson, chairwoman of the economics department at the University of Massachusetts and our new hero, said the hypothesis has less to do with evolution than sexism.

“It claims to find that spending more on beauty-enhancing products during recessions is an aspect of ‘women’s psychology,’ and strongly suggests that this is an evolved response to competition for mates in hard times,” she told ABC News. “The first part of this is a gross over-generalization, while the second is speculative.”

Nelson pointed out some crucial facts that none of the zillions of articles based on similar studies about how women are self-conscious messes desperate to attract men fail to disclose, like how the findings are based on information from a very narrow segment of women: young university students from the US who said they were “highly motivated to attract a male romantic partner” to begin with.

“Along with young women not looking for a partner, it is not at all clear that older women, married women, lesbian women, or women from other educational and cultural backgrounds would share this so-called ‘women’s psychology,'” she said. “In reporting the results in overly general terms, the study reinforces stereotypes about women’s lives-and social value-centering on questions of their attractiveness to men.'”

Nelson added that, sure, it was “plausible” that women purchase beauty products as an evolutionary outcome of having to compete for mates, but that “but an explanation being plausible is a far cry from it being scientifically demonstrated.” There are tons of other plausible explanations: maybe the desire to be attractive is more about retaining self-esteem during a recession than attracting a mate? But that would go against everything we know about women!

Is the ‘Lipstick Effect’ Rooted in Evolutionary Psychology? [ABC News]

Image via AlexKol PhotographyShutterstock.

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