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Do makeup and mathematics add up?


Life used to be so simple. Questions were black or white. Answers were wrong or right. People were deep or trite.

It's all more complicated now.

Take makeup, for example. Once upon a time, we put on mascara because we liked the way it made our eyelashes look really long. End of story.

Then we had our consciousness raised, and we realized the true subversive nature of said lash goop. Turns out, the purpose of mascara, blush and lipstick was to artificially achieve the appearance of a fertile female -- wide eyes, flushed cheeks and full mouth -- to attract the opposite sex with the intention of breeding. Horrifying! To think that pretty pink and green tube of Maybelline Great Lash was nothing more than a primitive urge in mod packaging! That threw a Darwinian monkey wrench into our ever-evolving self-esteem.

Recently, we came upon the scholarly paper "Identity bifurcation in response to stereotype threat: Women and mathematics" by Emily Pronin, Claude M. Steele and Lee Ross in a 2004 Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. (OK, honestly, we were just surfing the Web and thought, whoa! Cool!)

The study suggested that women in the male-dominated field of mathematics tend to downplay their feminine traits, such as wearing makeup, to appear more serious about math.

"Wearing makeup is not going to make you do worse at math," said Pronin, in a phone interview. "But it's inconsistent with the stereotype of what a good mathematician looks like."

Pronin is a professor in the psychology department at Princeton, in other words, a bonafide brainiac. She also happens to be cute as a bug's ear, judging from her faculty photo. But since she probably would not appreciate that particular description of herself, we will say instead that she does not, in any way, resemble Sigmund Freud.

Pronin's area of interest is the psychology of bias. And apparently, makeup can conjure up a few. That's why the math-ambitious in the study decided to ditch the lipstick.

"Ultimately, these women wanted to avoid the risk of being negatively judged" in the male-dominated math world, she said. "They valued their careers and didn't want to put them in peril."

We made up our minds to never make up our faces again. We would shun lipstick, ban blush and stop brushing that goopy black gunk on our lashes. To raise our IQ score a few points -- or at least raise others' perceptions of our intelligence -- we would face the world with bare naked skin. Of course, we wouldn't actually be any smarter, but we'd look smarter, and that's all that matters.

Or is it?

This got us thinking more: Do male mathematicians worry about being too macho in the workplace? Do they downplay their brawn lest it be viewed as a substitute for brain? And have they ever tried the new Blushcreme Pearl by MAC on the apples of their cheeks and seen the way it makes skin look positively luminescent?

Well, we have! And while it may not make us look more intelligent, we feel way smart for having discovered it.