Do men really prefer women make-up free?

Beauty Editor Annabel Jones with and without make-up
Beauty Editor Annabel Jones with and without make-up

Two weeks ago, one of the world’s best make-up artists set to work on my bare 48-year-old face. Her brief? To lift and sculpt my features using make-up alone, in order to illustrate that injectables such as Botox aren’t the only route to freshening up a tired complexion. I was pleased with the results, and wrote a piece about the experience, the techniques and products used. What I hadn’t bargained for was the slew of comments from readers, many of them men, who took umbrage at how much make-up I was wearing.

“She looked better before!” more than one male reader commented. “Why do women feel they have to plaster so much on?” someone else said. “Make-up used as camouflage – it’s sad,” another retorted.

I’m not surprised. As the WhatsApps came flooding in, male friends also volunteered that I looked so much better in the “before pic”. It seems that overtly glamorous make-up is as provocative to men as showing one’s cleavage or wearing high heels. Apparently it’s the practicality issue. A psychologist once told me that the real reason men don’t like obvious lipstick on women is because it makes them unkissable – just imagine the mess.

On the other hand, a full face of make-up can signify fearlessness. Take New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who had to defend the bright red lipstick and gold hoop earrings she wore during her swearing-in ceremony in 2019.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came under fire for her make-up choices upon being sworn in in 2019 - Win McNamee
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez came under fire for her make-up choices upon being sworn in in 2019 - Win McNamee

“Lip+hoops were inspired by Sonia Sotomayor, who was advised to wear neutral-colored nail polish to her confirmation hearings to avoid scrutiny. She kept hers red. Next time someone tells Bronx girls to take off their hoops, they can just say they’re dressing like a Congresswoman,” she tweeted at the time.

It wasn’t just men who seemed outraged at the amount of make-up I was wearing. Women weighed in, too. “I haven’t got time for all that before the school run,” a mother complained, perhaps wondering why a fellow female would add another chore to her daily list of things to do. Fair enough.

Many of you also felt betrayed by the headline “How to look 10 years younger with make-up alone”. The overriding sentiment? “Stop putting pressure on women to look younger.” This perspective certainly has merit and is one I’ve contemplated since. Yet the point of the article was merely to draw a comparison between make-up and cosmetic procedures that are becoming increasingly commonplace – both can lift and sculpt facial features but only one washes off at the end of the day.

Learning how to skillfully apply my eyeshadow in a way that lifts my eyes has become an instant way to feel better on those days when sleep has escaped me. A slick of bright lipstick is known to boost confidence, which is why Winston Churchill decided not to ration it during the Second World War.

Of course, it’s very un-British to appear as though one is trying too hard with one’s appearance. As a typical self-deprecating Brit, I understand all too well that the art of subtlety is regarded as the highest form of personal style. And yet there are days when a carefully applied concealer can save me from a confidence crisis or when a pop of sparkly eyeshadow elevates an otherwise ordinary outfit.

Do I like my face without make-up? Yes, absolutely. Would I wear a full face of it on a daily basis? Probably not. But, I defend the right to do so, even if it’s to disguise the sun damage that comes with age. After all, the beauty of make-up is its power to transform not only your looks but your mood too – without permanence or much expense. And now, more than ever, such micro boosts are welcome.

Read last week's article: How I finally got rid of my dark circles at 48

Do you like to wear makeup or prefer to go without? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below