Degree Type


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science


Apparel, Events and Hospitality Management

First Advisor

Mary Lynn Damhorst



The purpose of this study is to explore African American women's attitudes toward cosmetics, how women use cosmetics, and how use of the products is related to African American women's self-identity and self-perception of appearance. The sample was 18 African American women who were residents of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, or Ames, Iowa. Recruitment was done by placing announcements about the study on the university Minority Students Office and Southeast Arkansas African American professional listserve. In-depth interviews were conducted with each woman.

The women began wearing cosmetics at different periods in their lives during childhood, or adolescence. Shopping for cosmetics could be a hassle for some participants. Some reported difficulties in finding the right foundation to match their skin complexion. Many participants believed that finding cosmetics was a hit-or-miss experience when it came to shopping for cheaper cosmetics in local stores. Working with a consultant at a department store counter improved the experience. Stores in the predominantly White Iowa location carried few cosmetics appropriate for African American women's skin colors, causing much frustration on the part of the respondents in that location. Many of the women spent more money on quality cosmetics products that they felt made them look better and caused fewer skin problems. Many of the participants preferred the same brand of higher-end cosmetics. The women actively searched for YouTube tutorials to learn new tricks and techniques on how to apply their cosmetics.

For many of the women, wearing cosmetics is a form of "magic" that enhanced their beauty and self-confidence. Many of the women explained that applying cosmetics was needed to enhance their features; for a few, makeup was seen as unnecessary, but a nice addition. All used cosmetics to present an idealized appearance and enjoyed wearing them. The women in Arkansas made greater use of cosmetics on a daily basis, perhaps because of their work versus student roles and location in a larger African American community.

Social comparison, self-objectification, and symbolic self-completion theories were useful in interpreting the findings. Black feminist perspectives considering personal power and issues of inclusion and exclusion in media and retail settings were also incorporated in the analysis.


Copyright Owner

LaPorchia C. Davis



File Format


File Size

106 pages