At the end of 2017, after hurtling full-speed out of a seven-year-long relationship, I became a single adult for the first time in my life. Both electrified and mildly overwhelmed by the newfound liberation, I decided to get organized and make myself a catalog of singlehood goals—a sort of dating bucket list of all the things I wanted to try out there but had never been able to while cooped up in the high tower of long-term heterosexual monogamy. Immediately topping my list were two desires: 1) Try dating apps, and 2) explore dating women.
I'd been curious about the former ever since their invention and curious about the latter ever since, well, forever. At some point, I'd acquired the knowledge that Bumble was one of the least sketchy dating apps on the market. So one day in January, I set up my first-ever dating profile and set it to "searching for women."
My Bumble Pics: With Makeup
I must have been low-key fantasizing about singledom for a while because I knew immediately what photos I'd choose in order to put my best foot forward into the dating world of Los Angeles. I put together a collection of sultry selfies and other pics I'd recently taken before nights out when my makeup look snatched and suggested a subtle come-hither attitude—glowy skin, smoky eyes, and glossy, plump lips, all accompanied by form-fitting ensembles and pouty expressions. I knew the images were a little thirst-trappy, but hey, that was sort of the idea, right?
I wanted the ladies of L.A. to know I was on my best game. These were the photos I felt represented that.
For years, I'd theorized about what "type" of woman I was most attracted to but had never gotten to test the waters IRL. So I went in with a wide-open mind, and when I started consistently matching with stylish, trendy femmes, I was not mad about it. Flirting with these women was instantly so much more fun than flirting had ever been with men. Everyone was off-the-bat so positive, friendly, and complimentary (not overly aggressive, just sweet and enthusiastic). Every opener (both theirs and mine) would be some genuine, effusive declaration of praise for one another's makeup or hair, punctuated with effervescent heart-eye and sparkle emoji. We'd tell each other that we were stunning and call each other "babe" and "cutie": These interactions, even the ones that never went anywhere, were bursting with feminine energy and upbeat appreciation.
I suppose it takes someone who spends a lot of time on their own brows and lipstick to recognize those things in another person.
My Bumble Pics: Without Makeup
After a few months of using Bumble and casually dating around, I recalled an online article that went viral a few years ago—an experiment in which a 21-year-old woman created three Tinder profiles with different levels of makeup (no makeup, "average" makeup, and heavy makeup) to see how men would respond. (Spoiler: The results were that the bare-faced version of her profile attracted the most men, while her "average" level of makeup seemed to garner the most aggressive pick-up lines.)
Over the years, there have also been all sorts of more formal studies about the physical features that men find most attractive in women, like red lipstick and brown hair. A 2016 story written by a woman for The Guardian found that compared to a photo of her with zero makeup, the look preferred by 81% of men surveyed involved 12 products, including foundation, two shades of contour powder, and three shades of eye shadow (though the result, according to these men, was seemingly quite "natural").
Very little media attention, however, has been devoted to the relationship between makeup and what women find attractive in other women. So out of deep curiosity, I decided to conduct a little experiment of my own. For a week, I swapped out all my Bumble photos for makeup-free ones to see if anything about my dating experience would change. This was certainly no formal scientific investigation, but I was interested to see: Leading with a more "natural" version of myself, would I get fewer matches? Would my matches be a different "type" of person? And what would I learn about my self-image?
In my real life, I tend to wear makeup almost every day, though probably in a slightly more natural style than my original Bumble profile. I realized the only photos I possessed of myself totally makeup-free were of me on vacation—fresh off a flight to Hawaii, sailing on a recent family trip to the Galapagos, camping. For that reason, my new makeup-free persona looked way more adventurous than the cosmopolitan indoor-cat image I had been portraying before. Travel is a great passion and a major part of my life, so it actually surprised me that I'd never thought to include more photos reflecting that in my Bumble profile before. Ultimately, these makeup-free pics almost seemed like a better representation of my true self.
Initially, it did seem like the new profile was attracting fewer matches. However, as I swiped on, it became clear that this less made-up version of me was simply alluring a slightly different type of woman. As opposed to the trendy, high-femme girls I'd been pairing with before, now my matches were women who looked, well, more like the new me—a little outdoorsier and lower-maintenance, both in their aesthetic and demeanor. I noticed the pickup lines (again, both mine and theirs) shift to being more about personality rather than makeup and hair, taking note of details in our profiles rather than how cute each other looked.
It's a tale as old as time, I suppose: You attract the energy and aesthetic you put out in the world, and I think among women, those parallels are a little easier to track since for men, not wearing makeup or putting much effort into your hair is the default.
The differences in my two Bumble experiences were overall fairly subtle. Though, the change in my image was palpable enough that I did notice one woman who I'd matched with the day before my experiment unmatched me as soon as I changed all my photos. Perhaps she didn't recognize me in her queue; perhaps she didn't feel the same attraction to the new photos. Either way, my opinion is that's all for the best. If someone isn't into no-makeup, outdoorsy me, then they're not the right match after all.
The most useful takeaway I gathered from going makeup-free on Bumble was deciding to strike a better balance between my heavily made-up profile and my bare-faced one. After all, both accurately represent a certain side of me, so by having both types of photos, potential matches would have a better chance of getting the full picture. That way, everyone is given a better chance of making a genuine connection.
After the experiment was over, I decided to keep two of my makeup-free pics. I'm still talking to a couple of the girls I matched with that week. A little smoky eye doesn't seem to have scared them away yet.
Next: Read my essay about why I don't care about "no-makeup makeup."