Monday, August 1, 2011

French Women, Lying, and Benefit's Mascara Campaign

No, nothing in the realm of falsity about this look.

After the excellent comments on my post about French women and the beauty myth, I was amused to see this survey by Benefit Cosmetics about French women, American women, and lying.

Les françaises and les américaines fib in roughly equal numbers, with roughly equal frequency. But the reasons behind approved lying varied greatly. French women are less likely than American women to approve lying to protect someone's feelings—the only area in which they were less likely to give a deception the thumbs-up. Indeed, more French women said it's okay to lie to get out of trouble (50% of les françaises as opposed to 17% of Americans), to cover up a mistake (36% to 19%), to get someone else out of trouble (43% vs. 25%), and simply to get what you want (27% to 11%).

This jibes with the one thing most commenters (including expats and French women) seemed to agree upon in comments: Les françaises don't particularly give a damn about being "popular" in the American sense, nor do they seem to have much of a problem speaking the truth. So while 64% of American  will lie to protect someone's feelings (which, in my experience, is part of being popular—rather, the skilled employment of lying as emotional protection is key to popularity), only 52% of French women will do the same. (Less beauty-related but still fascinating: Even though American women lie about as much as French women, 31% of American women say it is "never okay" to lie, while only 13% of French women agree with that sentiment. What was that about our puritan moralism?)

But since the study was about promoting Benefit's new mascara, naturally they had to ask about women's must-have beauty product. I was intrigued by the only two statistically significant differences here: Forty percent of French women said they wouldn't leave the house without some sort of eye makeup, while only 20% of American women said the same. The American leader? Concealer.

Now, I'm not entirely sure what to make of that. Concealer is totally my won't-leave-home-without-it beauty product, but it's also the product that makes me feel the crappiest, since there's nothing playful or enhancing about it. It's just me covering up acne scars and making my skin tone more even, and is absolutely the least glamorous makeup application possible. In essence: Using concealer is lying. And given the results around approved lying between the nations, I have to wonder: Do American women use concealer more frequently because we're lying to protect our own feelings? 

Frenchwomen aside, I also wonder what Benefit was hoping to get out of the survey. It's a cute idea, and one that certainly plays into their retro image. In poking around the Benefit site, I see that they have an entire module dedicated to flirting, a video of "beauty confessions" from women hooked up to polygraph machines, and of course my favorite factoid about how the line started when the founders were asked by a stripper to develop a product to pinken up her nipples, all of which fits into their tagline of "the friskiest beauty brand." It seems that by a retro-styled brand doing this cheeky survey while simultaneously promoting a product that promises a look that is fake but that—surprise!—isn't fake at all (that is, it doesn't use false lashes), there's an association between the good ol' days when everyone just caked on tons of makeup and a sort of fun, flirty liberation that we can opt into today. Our grandmothers had to lie; we just get to lie for fun!

Somewhere along the way, the retro look became associated with modern feminism—think Bust magazine, the Feministing mud-flap girl, and burlesque dancing. (Hell, look at the flavor of my header.) Now, I don't think Benefit is claiming feminist cred simply by marketing themselves as a retro brand. But like Make Up For Ever and its non-airbrushed ad campaign from this spring, Benefit is capitalizing on the notion that women are tired of having products thrust upon us that don't really work as advertised (see also: the recent ad ban in Britain). By making it clear that they're approaching lying with a wink and a smile—but telling their consumers that of course they're not lying, and they know you don't really want to lie, is a pretty solid marketing concept that allows them to win from all angles.

7 comments:

  1. "Even though American women lie about as much as French women, 31% of American women say it is 'never okay' to lie."

    Whoops! So we're conflicted.

    Or maybe that just means that 31% of the time, we don't mind doing things we consider Never Okay. Ha!

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  2. I would go for the mascara. I hate concealer, regardless of flaws. I think skin looks better without it.
    I love Benefit's marketing, and I love that they are not a Lauder co. I never knew the history of how they started though. Tres chic!

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  3. Hrmmm.... I must be French at heart, because I'm in the "don't leave the house without mascara" camp. That said... this not so true when I'm broken out. On those days, bring on the concealer.

    Okay, this is the skeptical-of-all-"studies"-put-on-by-cosmetic-companies sociologist in me, but here goes: Maybe French women have clearer skin and fewer under-eye circles, thanks to France's generous health-friendly social policies? I'm pretty sure I wouldn't have any under-eye circles with a government mandated 35-hour work week.... Food for thought!

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  4. When I think about mascara versus concealer, it seems to me that mascara is about flaunting something and making it more noticeable, while concealer is about being "unoffensive" and unnoticeable. French women apparently feel that emphasizing something they like about themselves is ok, even if they have other visible flaws, while American women feel they have a responsibility not to reveal their imperfections, even if it means ignoring the things they might otherwise show off.

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  5. Oh, I definitely NEED some of that nipple makeup!

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  6. Rebekah, we're totally conflicted. A nation of Geminis, I say!

    Cameo, WORD on it not being a Lauder company! Also, you are clearly French.

    Kjerstin, vous et Cameo sommes français, which by extension means you should be getting some of that health-friendly social policy, but alas! That totally makes sense to me, though--between that and our nation's disordered relationship with food, it's no wonder we "need" concealer.

    Anonymous, awesome breakdown of what it means to emphasize versus conceal, and what that means as far as "concealing" the truth too. Thank you!

    Terri, don't we all, sister! Don't we all.

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