An Initial Test of the Cosmetics Dehumanization Hypothesis: Heavy Makeup Diminishes Attributions of Humanness-Related Traits to Women

Abstract

Objectification theory suggests that sexualization has significant dehumanizing consequences for how perceivers see women. To date, research has mostly documented how sexualized bodies in the mass media are objectified and dehumanized. The purpose of the present work was to test the novel cosmetics dehumanization hypothesis (CDH), that is, that subtler manifestations of sexualization, such as heavy makeup, might influence the way people attribute humanness-related traits to women. Across four experiments, 1000 participants (mostly from the United Kingdom and United States) were asked to evaluate women’s faces with or without heavy makeup. Consistent with the CDH, results showed that faces with makeup were rated as less human while using complementary indicators of dehumanization: They were perceived as possessing less humanness, less agency, less experience (Experiment 1), less competence, less warmth, and less morality (Experiments 2–4) than faces without makeup. This pattern of results was observed for faces of both models (Experiments 1–2) and ordinary women (Experiments 3–4). In Experiment 4, we manipulated the part of the face that wore makeup (eye makeup vs. lipstick) and found that faces with eye makeup were attributed the least amount of warmth and competence. A meta-analysis based on Experiments 2–4 confirmed the robustness of the findings, which were not moderated by either participant gender or sexual orientation. Whereas prior studies suggested that a focus on faces may serve as an antidote for objectification and related dehumanization, the present set of experiments indicates that this strategy might not always be effective.

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Acknowledgements

This research was supported by the National Fund for Scientific Research (FRS-FNRS, Belgium).

Funding

This research was funded by the Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (grant number: 22340437).

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Correspondence to Philippe Bernard.

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The experiments presented in this paper involved participants recruited on Prolific pending monetary compensation. At the start of each study, a brief description of the impression formation was given. And participants were allowed to stop completing the study anytime.

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Bernard, P., Content, J., Servais, L. et al. An Initial Test of the Cosmetics Dehumanization Hypothesis: Heavy Makeup Diminishes Attributions of Humanness-Related Traits to Women. Sex Roles 83, 315–327 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-019-01115-y

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Keywords

  • Objectification
  • Dehumanization
  • Makeup
  • Sexualization
  • Agency
  • Mind
  • Social perception
  • Warmth
  • Competence
  • Morality