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The cost of looking natural: Why the no-makeup movement may fail to discourage cosmetic use


Consumers seek naturalness across many domains, including physical appearance. It seems that the desire for natural beauty would discourage artificial appearance-enhancement consumption, such as cosmetic use. However, across an analysis of the “no-makeup movement” on Twitter and Nielsen cosmetic sales (Study 1a), an image analysis of #nomakeup selfies using machine learning approaches (Study 1b), and three experiments (Studies 2–4), we find that calls to look natural can be associated with increased artificial beauty practices. Drawing from attribution theory, we theorize that calls to look natural maintain the value of attractiveness while adding the consumer concern that others will discount their attractiveness if overt effort is present. Thus, rather than investing less effort, consumers may engage in a self-presentational strategy wherein they construct an appearance of naturalness to signal low effort to others, thereby augmenting their attractiveness. This work contributes to attribution and self-presentation theory and offers practical implications for naturalness consumption.

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    Researchers own analyses calculated (or derived) based in part on data from Nielsen Consumer LLC and marketing databases provided through the NielsenIQ Datasets at the Kilts Center for Marketing Data Center at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business. The conclusions drawn from the NielsenIQ data are those of the researchers and do not reflect the views of NielsenIQ. NielsenIQ is not responsible for, had no role in, and was not involved in analyzing and preparing the results reported herein.


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The authors would like to thank the Georgia Research Symposium, the Aesthetics in the Expanded Field Group at the University of Georgia, and the Eccles Behavioral Group at the University of Utah for their feedback and Adrienne Brauch, Sara Brockmeier, Kimberly Case, Tony Dang, Abby Dunham, Youngtak Kim, and Ashley Old for their research assistance. Corresponding author: Rosanna K. Smith. C332 Benson Hall, 630 S. Lumpkin St., Athens, GA, 30602, Phone: 706-542-8400.

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Correspondence to Rosanna K. Smith.

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Smith, R.K., Yazdani, E., Wang, P. et al. The cost of looking natural: Why the no-makeup movement may fail to discourage cosmetic use. J. of the Acad. Mark. Sci. (2021).

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  • Naturalness
  • Beauty
  • Effort
  • Attribution
  • Social media
  • Image analysis
  • Multimethod