Appearance enhancement produces a strategic beautification penalty among women

Danielle J. DelPriore, Hannah K. Bradshaw, Sarah E. Hill

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


Previous research demonstrates that women's beauty is rewarded across a myriad of social contexts, especially by men. Accordingly, from a functional perspective, another woman's attractiveness can signal competitive disadvantage-and evoke negative responses-among female observers. Further, because the benefits of beauty are rewarded based on superficial qualities rather than on merit or performance, women may perceive same-sex others who use appearance enhancement to gain advantages as being dishonest or manipulative. We examined these possibilities across four experiments testing whether college-aged women impose a strategic beautification penalty (SBP) on female targets that have enhanced their appearances with cosmetics. We found that women made more negative attributions about, and experienced diminished desire to affiliate with, female targets wearing (vs. not wearing) cosmetics. The SBP was: specific to female observers (Experiment 2); mediated by decreases in perceived trustworthiness (Experiment 3); and driven by less desirable women (Experiment 4). Importantly, the negative effects of beautification effort extended beyond the increased physical attractiveness that resulted from this effort. The results suggest that engaging in appearance enhancement can produce unintended negative consequences for relationships between women.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)348-366
Number of pages19
JournalEvolutionary Behavioral Sciences
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Psychology
  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology


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