Monday, May 5, 2014

Beauty Work and Intrinsic Motivation

Motivational poster, 1937, Works Progress Administration


A friend of mine who's having trouble sticking to her exercise plan asked me what gets me to the gym. The answer, truly, is habit: Unless I'm specifically taking some time off or there's some sort of concrete scheduling problem, strength training is just a part of my routine. That's not particularly helpful advice to someone who's trying to make exercise a habit, though, so I tried to remember what got me to the point of workouts being habit. A common—and useful—bit of advice in this arena is to not focus so much on the weight loss bit, even if you are interested in reducing your body fat, because it's self-punishing. Instead, you're supposed to think about those other rewards of exercise: reduced stress and better mental health, improved functional strength, heightened flexibility, etc. It's often broken down as internal motivation vs. external motivation—that is, what your goals are "for you" versus what other people/society at large tell you your goals should be.

That's all nice and good, and I agree with it to an extent, but A) it's not like we can separate the two so neatly; motivations from society at large fuel our own motivations, after all, B) in order to be functioning members of society, we need to at least consider the collective ethos of said society, if only to then discard it out of hand, and C) sometimes external motivation—the "bad" motivation—can be a lot more effective than internal motivation. Most of the time I'm more driven to get to the gym by the knowledge that it will help with stress reduction, but does the thought of having a more curvaceous rear end (and therefore a "better" one) sometimes get me to do that third set of hip thrusts? Yes, yes, it does, and I'm fine with that. And certainly in other areas of my life, I lean toward people-pleasing, and the fear of disappointing someone has fueled many a project on my end—but of course, I glean my own rewards from it too. So it's reflexive.

But the full definition of internal motivation contains a particularly intriguing leg—intrinsic motivation, a term that's often (and somewhat erroneously, to my thinking) used interchangeably to mean any internal motivation. As I understand it, though, intrinsic motivation is fairly simple: motivation to pursue an activity for the joy of the activity itself. The motivation comes from not any promise of something good happening, nor of avoiding the occurrence of something bad, and not even just from some deep personal wellspring of happy consequences to come, but from the immediate pleasures the activity brings. It's easy to see how this applies to exercise, even if its most-repeated mantra doesn't mention motivation directly: Find something you love to do, and keep doing it. For me, that was strength training; for some, it's yoga; for others it's fencing, or martial arts, or spin class, or running. Whatever it is: The reward doesn't come from the doing; the reward is the doing.

Naturally, as I do with most things, I began to wonder how this applied to beauty work. I've done a good amount of research on the internal vs. external motivators for wearing makeup—like, how it can embue its wearers with a sense of confidence, vs. how women wearing light makeup are perceived as more competent. There's a lot to look at there, but in thinking about intrinsic motivation—the reward that comes simply from performing the act in question, as opposed to simply our internal reasons for doing something—I'm questioning how much I actually like the act of putting on makeup. I've long held that many of us wear makeup for reasons that go beyond glib you-go-girl talk of "I do it for me" or mere conformity to societal expectations. Personally, my internal motivations for wearing it include its meditative-like ritual, its aid in presenting the public vs. the private self, and, sure, a sense that I look more like how I'm "supposed" to (which shouldn't be confused with kowtowing to some sort of beauty standard, though of course the two aren't entirely separate).

But intrinsically speaking, do I get some reward for my beauty work? I'm not sure. There are parts of my beauty/grooming routine that I actively dislike—I dread shaving my legs, for example, but do it nearly every day because I like the feeling of having smooth legs. Same for washing my hair, which I do maybe twice a week. (O for the days of no shampoo!) The face stuff isn't so bad, but I can't say I derive pleasure from the act of putting on makeup, any more than I derive pleasure from brushing my teeth. If the "Find something you love to do, and keep doing it" maxim applied to beauty work, I'd be one of those Grace Coddington-like souls who wears no makeup whatsoever except bright red lipstick. (I love applying lipstick—so sensual!—but don't like how it feels afterward and nearly always wind up biting it off anyway.)

The idea of intrinsic motivation is that because you find the act in question pleasurable, and pursuit of pleasure is one of our chief drives, things that have that sort of motivation are the things you're likeliest to stick with. But here I am, rarely going a day in the past 20-odd years without applying makeup, even though I don't necessarily derive joy from standing in front of the mirror for six minutes and doing my thing. So I'm wondering if beauty work is an exception here, or if I am, or if I'm being too strict with looking at what "pleasure" constitutes in the context of intrinsic motivation. I mean, I get pleasure out of seeing my face perk up a bit with each step of my makeup process, and I take pleasure in knowing that I look the way I want to look, as opposed to the sleepy-eyed, pale-cheeked version of myself I usually wake up with. Is that enough "pleasure" to qualify as enjoying the act of doing something so much that you'd do it without its other rewards? I really don't know.

I think of women who report approaching their face as a piece of living art—playing with color theory, sculptural lines, or just plain old wacked-out looks. (These women, I presume, constitute the entirety of the market for pink mascara.) Same with women who consistently style their hair differently; I remember listening with awe as a chameleon-like acquaintance explained, after I semi-complimented her new ink-black hair by saying, "Wow! New look!" that she knew it wasn't a flattering color for her, but that she'd always wanted to go jet black, and that hair-dyeing had become something of a leisure pursuit for her, so why not? She'd be donning a flattering, "safe" honey-blonde look in a few weeks anyway, most likely. That seems like a clear-cut example of performing beauty work for its intrinsic motivation—and it's something I really can't imagine doing for myself. (I mean, if I really hated putting on makeup, I wouldn't do it, but it's not hatred—more of a meh.) But what other forms besides artistry and play might intrinsic motivation take in the context of beauty work? Does the meditative, ritualistic aspect "count"? What about the act of transforming from a private figure to a public one (at least for those of us who don't usually wear makeup at home alone)—is that considered a pleasure to be had in and of itself, or is it by definition driven by the public end of that equation?

I asked readers before why they do, or don't, wear makeup. Now I'm asking a more point-blank question: How much pleasure do you take in wearing makeup or styling your hair? And how much pleasure do you take in not?

30 comments:

  1. I love how my hair looks styled but take absolutely no pleasure in styling it, and therefore never do it. I just can't be bothered, and the payoff (liking how my hair looks) isn't worth the cost (styling it.) Until recently I felt the same way about makeup. With the exception of mascara, the payoff wasn't worth the cost. I didn't take that much pleasure in it. (I do, however, love seeing myself look more glamorous and awake with mascara. I'm always kind of impressed with the transformation.) I often purchase makeup telling myself "you can use it, you can do it, you look great with this" but I never stick to it...until recently. I purchased some makeup that the people at the counter never really recommended, even though I go to them often for advice. I just had a feeling about it, that the colors, though bold, would make me look like "me" but we more omph. And I was right! I love how it makes me look and I am actually excited to put it on everyday day, tweaking my method to be better or more efficient. I feel confident about the make up, maybe because it was my choice this time? Usually I just buy and wear the recommendations of the make up counter people. And it's not overwhelming to apply, good for my skill level. I don't know what exactly happened (all those things? One of those things?) but I derive a tremendous amount of pleasure out of putting it on now.

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    1. Great point about the payoff (liking the results) is a part of the equation of pleasure in the act itself—I'm likelier to take pleasure in the act if the payoff is high, but that in and of itself doesn't make for pleasure. (I'm with you on hair—putting it up, fine, but curling it when down, which I love, takes FOREVER and isn't worth it even though it's my dream hair.)

      I'd guess that the sense of discovery and autonomy plays at least some role in the pleasure. My favorite item to apply is the opposite—a plum eyeliner I'd never have thought to try on my own but that a makeup artist recommended. Knowing that it's "endorsed" sort of soothes my people-pleaser side, I suppose!

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  2. Funny you should ask. I was just reflecting this morning on the fact that I can't remember even looking at myself in the mirror yesterday. I do think I look better with eye makeup and lipstick, but I probably don't bother more than a few times a month, because it is a bother, not a pleasure. I know that the makeup will eventually smear, it's awkward to apply the eyeliner as subtly as I need to, and I won't be able to rub my eyes; the lipstick will eventually dry my lips. It isn't that I haven't tried, but somehow I have never felt a moment of pleasure putting stuff on my face or dealing with my hair (except for washing it clean, because it feels icky when it's dirty). I always comb my hair out of doors because it's long and it sheds and I think the birds can use it for their nests, and that part isn't bad, but I hate teasing out tangles and resent the time spent doing it. I won't polish my nails because I use my hands vigorously and a manicure won't last more than half a day, if that. To me, beauty work is just plain work - no intrinsic pleasure at all, at all, at all. I envy those who experience it differently.

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    1. I hear you on envying those who experience it differently. I don't hate doing most of my beauty work (except for leg shaving, but the payoff feels worth it) but I'm always in awe of those women who will just play around with their hair in their bathroom and come up with all these fabulous looks, like crowned braids and whatnot. I have exactly three hairstyles because it's my least favorite part of beauty work, and therefore I've never bothered to get better at it. Too much work!

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  3. I know we have talked about wearing makeup IN-DEPTH before but this is an interesting way to think about it. I get intrinsic pleasure from bathing/washing - like exfoliating your skin feels good and my skin feels soft after - but don't think I experience the same when it comes to beauty.

    Putting on makeup isn't pleasurable to me nor is fixing my hair. Although my skin may feel better with makeup I actually strive to make my hair a little gritty/course since my hair is so fine so it ends up feeling less enjoyable to the touch. Sometimes I enjoy how the outcome feels but the act itself is more stressful than pleasurable (maybe b/c I don't know how to do it properly?)

    Here in the South (particularly of an older generation) when we refer to putting on our makeup we say "putting on our face." You might already be wearing makeup but when you "put on your face" it means you are ready to be presentable to the public. Or just ready for the day and your family depending on your choice. It also kind of glosses over the "work" and "makeup" itself - like, we all know we're wearing makeup but it's less... pedestrian to mention it out loud in the old Southern mannerly way.

    So using the same thought process, I do a lot of things to be presentable - mowing the grass, putting on makeup, etc. - that I don't get intrinsic value for. But that doesn't mean it's an EVIL CHORE for me - I like how mowing the grass empties my brain and makes my yard look nice. I like watching my dark circles disappear and feeling the barrier from the public that "putting on my face" might give me.

    But if I could wake up tomorrow and never have to mow again or have a flawless complexion?? Shoooot...

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    1. It's interesting that you brought up grooming! I am the other way around, I never remember to exfoliate or put on lotion because I don't enjoy it. I will walk around all dry but not feeling like it's worth the energy to put on lotion. I hate how it feels. I use body oil in the shower, but sometimes even then I don't think it's worth the hassle! (The same can be said for shaving my legs.) But I am meticulous about my eyebrows. I am kind of a picker/prodder, and searching for those stray hairs to yank is kind of fun. I let someone else shape them, but I do the upkeep. My brow appointment is the only regular appointment I keep. I also like washing my hair, I love how it feels to massage my scalp. But lotion? exfoliation? I feel lucky to just wash my body at this point. :-)

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    2. You and Savages in Memphis are making me think about how results factor into the intrinsic pleasure factor. I mean, it doesn't make for intrinsic pleasure (as opposed to overall pleasure) but I'm wondering how the two correlate, and how that might intersect with personality—like, might achievement-oriented people take more intrinsic pleasure out of something that brings results that particularly please them?

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  4. I get no pleasure from makeup, intrinsic, internal or external, for that matter; I dislike the work of putting it on, I dislike the feel of having it on and the work of getting it off, and I dislike feeling like people see me as normally feminine and... well, blending in with expectations. It makes me feel entirely false, both to myself and to all my friends that are hurt by gender barriers and demands. Rather obviously after all that, I never wear makeup.

    My hair, on the other hand, I adore. I like the color, it's soft and over three feet long; brushing (or really touching my hair at all) it gives me similar feelings to cuddling my cat, but without the risk of claws suddenly getting bored and deciding to investigate my nose. So, naturally, my hair is brushed often, whether it needs it or not. Since I am still uncomfortable with fitting into standard demands for female appearances (and because people have walked up and grabbed it in the past), I typically end up then twisting all my hair up under a hat so it's hidden most of the day. On occasion though I will do things like rearranging the part or putting in clips or braiding it before hiding it, though, just because I like knowing it looks nice and I like working with it. Since it all gets hidden anyway I'm not sure it counts as beauty work, but I do enjoy it.

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    1. I feel like that's the ultimate intrinsic pleasure—liking the process, and making the results private. At least, that's how I see it, given that I use makeup in large part to delineate "public" and "private" spaces. If I'm not seeing anyone all day, I'll do my skin care routine but won't wear makeup most of the time, but I wear it most of the time when I'm going to be out in public. (I also love the tactile sensation you're writing about here—the feeling of liking the softness of your hair. Another factor of intrinsic pleasure, to be sure.)

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  5. I am one of those people whose hair changes very regularly - at one point I think I'd hit a rhythm of one hair change every three months (and when I say change I don't mean a trim or slightly different shade of highlights, I mean shaving half my hair off our going from blue to people). I can't say I really enjoy the physical act of changing my hair a whole lot, because it's tedious and difficult to ensure I have bleach through all of my hair (usually I do not, resulting in brown patches) or that I don't cut too much hair off. I love the process though, of seeing the changes and knowing that in a couple of minutes or hours I will look different. Like your friend, I don't really care about flattering. I know what looks best on me but I would get bored just sticking with that.

    Contrary to my hair, I actually enjoy the physical act of putting on makeup. Mascara, eye-shadow, eyeliner, blush and lipstick are all fun to put on. However, unlike with my hair, I often don't actually like the look of it much. This is mostly because I do it too irregularly to become skilled at it and partly because I'm afraid that if I do get good at it I'll do it so often that I'll lose appreciation for my real face, like you seem to have Autumn (not trying to be rude, just noting that you often talk about your natural face in unflattering terms).

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    1. Interesting delination—liking the process versus liking the actual act. I wonder how the other rewards of hair work, like knowing that you're about to change something distinct about yourself, plays into the idea of "intrinsic pleasure"?

      I have an anecdote in my book about complimenting a friend who was wearing eyeliner for a dance performance, and her being like, "That's why I never wear it!" She liked how she looked with it, but didn't want to start thinking of her lined eyes as being her "real" face.

      I actually hadn't realized I talk about my natural face in unflattering terms, so I'm glad you pointed that out. I don't dislike my natural face, but I do place a premium on my "enhanced" face, to the point where I feel like that's more "really" me than the me that has blotchy skin or whatever. There's a fascinating study I read about how makeup use intersects with personality factors, and I recognized myself immediately: There was a specific personality type that wore makeup most of the time, and rarely varied their "look," like from day to evening or whatever. This type had intact self-esteem but higher social anxiety than women who played around with their makeup styles, and they reported valuing their made-up face more than their natural face. Yep, c'est moi. FYI, the type that had the most resilient personality was that of women who were playful with their makeup yet didn't feel obliged to wear it every day. Sounds like how you describe your hair, in a way!

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  7. Most mornings, unless I'm in a rush, I love putting on my makeup. Like you said, Autumn, there's a meditative quality about it for me--this is a ritual/routine I follow every morning, alone, and during the calm I feel like I am preparing myself mentally for the day ahead (I suppose that runs in parallel with the physical "preparation" of my face).

    I also get a distinct pleasure from trying new makeup and applications. For example, I bought my first stippling brush a few months ago, and have gotten a lot of pleasure out of applying my foundation with it. I think the pleasure comes from mastering a new technique, and experimenting with it to see how it is different. Unless there is something special happening that day, I don't really care if I go to work and realize at noon that my mascara has smudged under my eyes, or my concealer is no longer concealing. It's all about trial and error, and I enjoy gathering the data on what works and what doesn't. I suppose if there stopped being new beauty products to try/research/lust after, that pleasure would probably vanish, but I don't think that will be a problem in my lifetime.

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    1. This is making me want to read more about personality types and makeup use—I tend to think of makeup experimenting as being about playing with color, but what you're describing seems more about almost the technical aspect of it? My hunch would be that someone who enjoyed that aspect of makeup would gravitate toward the sciences, but honestly I'm speaking out of my ass, it's just a hunch!

      Come to think of it, I take a good deal of pleasure in using makeup tools too. Once I discovered that there were concealers that you put on with brushes, that act became a lot more pleasurable to me.

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  8. I take great pleasure in hair, makeup, and body care... ... once every couple of weeks. Anything cosmetic I have to do daily chaps my hide, for some reason. Makeup's the most tedious for me; the idea of swabbing my eyelashes with black stuff for the 2000th time is soooooo boring, even when I like the result. Or maybe hair is worse, and that's why I keep shaving my head? At least with makeup, my efforts won't be ruined by a stiff breeze.

    I recognize that feeling of "ah, here I am caring for my body and preparing myself to face the world," but for me it's only pleasant and meditative when I have plenty of time and haven't gone through the Whole Shebang too recently.

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    1. I'm picturing you à la Cleopatra, drawing a perfumed bath... Wondering how the idea of beauty work as self-care plays into how we prioritize it in our schedules. I'd never be so rushed as to leave to go to work without makeup; I cut out something else (showering, usually, I'm like a cat, hate it) when need be. But when it's a more conscious effort to "do something nice for myself" or whatever, it's a more elaborate ritual. I guess that's just practical—can't do a grand exfoliation every day or I'd do little else—but that's also part of why I tend to look at those things as "treats" as opposed to my daily beauty work, which feels more like maintenance than care.

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  9. Most mornings I like putting makeup on - especially my eyeliner. I enjoy getting the line right (small victories?). But doing things that require a time-out, like manicures, drive me crazy - just knowing I'll have to stop doing much of anything for an hour or so puts me off the whole procedure.

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    1. Nails are absolutely the worst in that regard, I agree. I'm a handsy person and if my hands are out of commission I get cranky. I'm wondering, do you use longer beauty rituals as a form of self-care ever? (See above comment to Rebekah.) Or does that drive you as nutty as the time-out maintenance stuff? I think for me it's in how I frame it: I got a manicure the other day with a friend because it was a fun thing to do together (and because a salon worker will do it better than I can), but I rarely get them as maintenance because I get resentful of it—the time, the no-hands factor, the fact that it'll chip.

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