What Men Really Mean When They Say They Prefer “The Natural Look”

Photo: Irina Bg / Shutterstock
woman with light natural makeup

As far back as I can remember, it’s always been trendy for men to make jokes and assumptions about women who purchase or wear makeup. Countless online forums feature men bemoaning before-and-after pictures of celebrities with and without it. They accuse women of trying to trick men as if makeup is a kind of deception they could fall victim to.

We’ve all heard the ever-so-charming piece of advice men give one another to “always take her swimming on the first date.”

Many men claim the amount of makeup worn by a woman conveys a red flag about her character or physical appearance. Some go so far as to conclude that interest in makeup determines the woman is vain, materialistic, insecure, or just plain “ugly.”

I happen to love makeup. It makes me feel sexy and powerful. Yes, I’m aware that the constant inundation of misogynistic societal messages since I was a little girl is undeniably factored into this interest of mine. But that doesn’t change the fact that I genuinely enjoy the ritual of putting on a full face.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, I have another confession to make. It is one hundred percent true that I am an insecure and high-maintenance woman.

I don’t mean high-maintenance as in the urban dictionary definition that men tend to weaponize against women who like to express themselves differently than the “natural beauties” of the world who will always wake up next to them looking the same as advertised.

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I’m high-maintenance in the sense that I take pride in my appearance by celebrating my beauty on a daily basis. I like to take my time when it comes to makeup, hair, fashion, and accessories. (I also take very long showers, which is apparently important to point out.)

In high school, I wore makeup because I believed that I was horribly unattractive without it. Seriously — I couldn’t leave my bathroom unless my face was fully covered in concealer.

While those days are long gone, I’m still working on lingering self-esteem issues. This healing process has required me to reframe my thoughts about the beauty and cosmetic industries, but that doesn’t mean I want to give up on makeup altogether.

I’ve found joy in exploring different colors and creating art on my own face.

There have been several moments in my life where the application of makeup has lifted my confidence and made me feel fearlessly beautiful. I know many other women who would say the same.

That’s why it’s so hard for me to believe that there are men who go out of their way to shame women like me for this form of expression — as if our appearances should have anything to do with their preferences!

What’s ironic is that men (er — the patriarchy) are the reason that the beauty industry has blossomed into what it is today, yet they seem to be more offended by the use of its products than we are. Society has been conditioning straight women to crave male validation for decades through the industrialization of the male gaze in cosmetic advertisements.

Female models are portrayed as sexual objects, usually posed in submissive positions. While the ads are selling products to women, they are pandering to a male fantasy. Women are constantly viewing these advertisements. Everywhere. Every day of their lives.

At some point between childhood and womanhood, almost as naturally as we learn to breathe in and out, it becomes apparent that we must present ourselves in these ways in order to be considered beautiful.

The beauty industry uses these advertisements to make it seem like they are offering women a way to take control over their desirability. But whether their products actually make women happy with the way they look or more insecure about themselves, one thing is for sure; the cosmetic companies continue to make money.

The audacity of these men who judge us for the ways we adapt to our own oppression is astounding.

Centralization of the male gaze has given men the nerve to think that anything a woman does to her appearance is strictly for them. Therefore, their incorrect opinions must be announced to the world!

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The very idea of a straight cis man who has an opinion on makeup makes me shudder. Mostly because I’m confused as to why they think about it at all. There are many typically male interests, such as bitcoin, that I don’t understand the first thing about.

Why would I channel my precious energy into animosity or criticism toward people who are invested? Sounds pointless and honestly, quite close-minded!

In the past, when I conversed with potential male partners, I made a point to discuss my love for doing makeup. 

I found that men often will reveal underlying misogynistic attitudes when this topic is brought up.

I try not to judge their responses too harshly since, as I mentioned, most men don’t know anything about makeup. However, I can’t deny I have an ideal opinion in mind. It is something along the lines of,

“Makeup was pushed onto women in order to keep them down, so however they wish to apply it is fine by me!”

While I’ve never met a single man in my life with this specific enlightened opinion, I usually accept anything similar to “I don’t care,” or “I don’t have a preference.”

Most other opinions are a big red flag for me.

Because it just doesn’t make sense. Why and how does someone who doesn’t use something form an opinion on it?

Well, I guess men have opinions on lots of things that women like but they’ve never taken the time to research. Unless he is a makeup salesman or actually uses the product, his opinions are based on very little and deserve minimal credit. (BTW, I happen to think that men who wear makeup are completely bada**.)

So when men make comments like “Women who wear makeup are using it because they’re ugly.” or “I like natural women, like the hot celebrities I see on TV and in porn.”…it’s based on a total lack of understanding. In fact, if they believe any celebrity is natural, it’s clear they don’t know the definition of the word.

A man who unabashedly professes his distaste for women who wear makeup is usually just saying things to make himself look worthy of someone better than you or whoever he intended to put down with his comments. It feels similar to neggingbut it is often a projection of his own insecurities.

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“I prefer a more natural look” usually translates to “I prefer a woman who has an absolutely flawless face.”

Every man has a right to like who they like, but instead of just admitting they want a 10/10 outright, they say this.

 Why do you think that is?

I suspect they are subconsciously aware that they don’t want to be held to the same unreachable standards that they set for women. Once they put it out into the world that they think they deserve physical perfection, they know that people will start to contemplate,

“Hmmm… what is he bringing to the table?”

This is most likely a thought they avoid themselves and definitely don’t want others to start thinking about. And I’m not saying that men don’t deserve to have their needs fulfilled, but without this introspection and self-accountability, they may not even know what they want.

They could be copying and pasting the male versions of these toxic societal messages to form an idea of what type of woman they feel entitled to. Because men have been fed cultural bullcrap as well. It’s brutal out here!

Accepting nothing less than a 10/10 supermodel is shallow, and so is judging a woman for her love of makeup. That being said, it’s every man’s right to have his preferences.

So why do men collectively lose their sh** whenever a woman dares to prefer a man with a heavy wallet or bulging muscles? Never mind — that’s a conversation for another day.

I do makeup when I want to. Sometimes I cake it on, and sometimes I don’t wear any. What’s important is that I’m never ashamed of my interests or cosmetic habits. These are traits that make up who I am. Nowadays, I only date men who accept women as they are and don’t have misogynistic attitudes about what we do with our own faces.

Who among us is perfect? We all have flaws. Some of us are being exploited by the beauty industry and spend thousands of dollars per year to deal with them. And some are able to bury them with toxic behavioral distractions — such as projecting insecurities onto potential partners.

If you are perfect, feel free to judge whomever you want. Keep doing you!

But in reality, a majority of the men who scrutinize women for their physical expression are far from perfect. Condescension is a significant flaw. But these men are in luck because it is a flaw that can be improved without spending any money at all.

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Alexandria Roswick writes about trauma and recovery and provides a feminist analysis of media, culture, and politics. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.